The science of social media headlines: Dos and don’ts of creating effective and engaging headlines

When it comes to establishing an online presence and standing out on social media, you have to cut through a lot of noise. The pull of the infinite scroll and more content means you have just one chance to make an impression and capture a reader’s attention — so your social media headline needs to pop.

Social media is an important communication channel. Ensure you create content that connects with your audience by downloading our free “White-label social media checklist” now.

Creating great social media headlines isn’t just a shot in the dark. There’s a science behind the art, and you can hone your craft using the tips and tricks below. Read on to learn headline writing tips that will make selling social media packages to clients a breeze.

The power of social media headlines

We all know how extremely online our lives are: we work, play, and connect via social media. So it would stand to reason that businesses (like your clients) need to be online as well if they want to find customers. But if everything is online, how do you make sure potential customers are seeing your message? That’s where the right social media headlines come in.

Let’s take a look at why exactly headlines matter for your clients:

  • 64% of internet users say they find out about brands or products through social media (Global Web Index)
  • Ecommerce and social media are tightly connected: consumers buy products within social apps more often than through brand websites or third-party resellers, according to 80% of social media marketers (Hubspot)
  • 6 out of 10 people will share a link without reading it based on the headline (Washington Post)
  • A headline can influence your mindset before you read the body copy (New Yorker)
  • 80% of people will read a social media headline, while only 20% will click through (Coschedule)
  • Traffic to your site can vary by 500% depending on your social media headline (Coschedule)
  • Only 1% of posts get more than 1,000 shares — meaning your headline really needs to count (Buffer)

The psychology of social media headlines

There’s a scientific reason people react the way they do to headlines: it’s all in our heads. Social media use causes different responses in different regions of the brain, depending on the activity. Receiving likes or viewing photos with a lot of likes can impact the reward system in our brains — the dopamine that makes us feel good (King University Online).

Emotional Headline Example:


The tone of a headline, therefore, can set up a reader for the type of experience they’ll have: aka, will this make me feel good if I engage with it? Headlines like the one above from Self Magazine about exercising with confidence have a higher emotional value and tend to have higher engagement (Buffer).

Surprising Headline Example:


Social media headlines that surprise readers like this example from CNN also do well because the brain likes surprises. They capture the reader’s attention — and keep it (Buffer) thanks to something called the curiosity gap (Coschedule).

Numbered Headline Example:


Numbers are successful when it comes to writing headlines because we’re wired to go towards certainty and away from things that are unpredictable (Buffer). The headline from The Spruce Eats works because it sets up the reader to know exactly what they’re getting.

Negative Headline Example:


A lot of social media headlines use negative words to drive clicks. In fact, even though there were more positive words than negative ones, negative words increased click-through rate. Each additional negative word improved the CTR by 2.3% (Neiman Lab). The headline from Harvard Business Review focuses on the mistake and the action to fix it.

The trick is to make sure the headline actually matches the body copy or content you’re sending people to — if the negative headline is nothing but clickbait, you’ll actually do more harm than good. Use negative words to inform, and never associate the terms with your reader. Remember, social media also plays a role in reputation management as well.

15 tips for writing effective social media headlines

  1. Keep it short and sweet: Try to keep your headline around 60-70 characters or less. Short social media headlines ensure your message is clear and concise, grab a reader’s attention, tend to be more readable and memorable, and look better on small screens — and over 60% of all web traffic comes from mobile devices (Oberlo).
  2. Use attention-grabbing words: Incorporate words that evoke emotions, like "amazing", "stunning", "mind-blowing", etc. Stay away from overused descriptors like better and best, and flex your creative muscles. It might feel silly at first, but it’ll capture attention when readers scroll by.
  3. Make it relevant: Make sure your headline is relevant to your audience and your brand. If you’re offering social marketing for your clients, you need to know who you’re marketing to. If your audience is 20-40 year-old-men in more rural areas, don’t create headlines for the Gen Z crowd in urban centers.
  4. Ask a question that your audience will want to know the answer to: Questions prime our brains to become more curious. Asking questions allows the brain to become active as it reflects and releases serotonin (Government Executive).
  5.  Use numbers: Use numbers to give your headline a sense of structure and organization, such as "5 Ways to Boost Your Social Media Engagement". As mentioned above, numbers encourage predictability and audiences prefer numbered social media headlines.
  6. Use power words: Use words that inspire action, such as "get", "download", "discover", etc. These words create a strong emotional response and encourage readers to take action — the action you want.
  7. Use humor (if applicable): Add a touch of humor to your social media headline to grab your audience's attention. Remember to keep things on brand. If you have to force the humor or it doesn’t fit for your audience, it’s not the right solution.
  8. Keep it simple: Avoid using jargon or complex language that might confuse your audience. The best way to speak to your audience is to speak like your audience. You can use social listening tools to determine the type of language your audience will best respond to.
  9. Use adjectives: Use descriptive adjectives to add color and detail to your social media headline. The more vibrant a picture you can paint, the better you’ll be able to emotionally connect with your audience and the more likely they’ll be to click on it.
  10. Be specific: Be specific about what your post is about, rather than being vague. Readers want to know you can answer their questions or offer what they need. If you’re vague when writing headlines, they won’t feel reassured you can solve their problems and may not bother clicking through.
  11. Use trending topics (if applicable): Incorporate trending topics into your headline to make it timely and relevant. A reference to Y2K probably won’t land with your audience today. Show potential customers that you’re aware of what is and isn’t on trend.
  12. Use action verbs: Use strong action verbs to convey a sense of urgency and importance. There’s a reason it’s called a call to action: you want readers to do something. Use action verbs to urge readers to take the next step.
  13. Use sensory words: Use words that appeal to the senses to create a vivid mental picture for your audience. Just like descriptive adjectives, sensory words in social media headlines like dazzling or flashy can help set the scene and grab attention.
  14. Use alliteration: Use alliteration to make your headline more memorable and catchy. Writing words with the same first letter, like “the sweet smell of success,” can stand out for readers as they scroll by. Just make sure it still makes sense and is relevant to the content.
  15. Test different headlines: Try out different headlines and test which ones perform the best with your audience. One tactic is to write 10 social media headlines, then 15 more, and cross out the worst 15. You can A/B test them, ask other people for feedback, or use a headline analyzer to see which ones have the most potential.

The dos and don’ts of social media headline writing


  • Use action-oriented language to make your headlines more engaging.
  • Include numbers and statistics to make your social media headlines more specific and credible.
  • Keep your headlines short and sweet, using as few words as possible to get your point across.
  • Test multiple variations of your headlines to see which performs best with your audience.
  • Use strong verbs and descriptive adjectives to make your headlines stand out.
  • Make sure your headlines are relevant to your content.
  • Use humor or wit when appropriate to add personality to your brand.
  • Use questions to pique your audience's curiosity and encourage engagement.
  • Include keywords relevant to your industry to improve your search engine optimization (SEO).
  • Make your headlines visually appealing by using emojis or symbols.


  • Use clickbait headlines that accurately represent your content to attract clicks.
  • Use clear and informative language that engages and informs your audience.
  • Using excessive capitalization or punctuation in your headlines, as it can appear spammy and unprofessional.
  • Using jargon or buzzwords that may not be understood by your audience.
  • Making unrealistic claims or overselling your content in your social media headlines.
  • Using offensive or controversial language that may alienate your audience.
  • Giving proper credit and avoid plagiarizing or copying headlines from other sources.
  • Using an appropriate number of hashtags in your headlines to enhance visibility without overwhelming readability.
  • Using all caps in your headlines, as it can appear aggressive or shouting.
  • Forgetting to proofread your headlines for spelling and grammar errors.

5 social media headline generation tools

The good news is that when it comes to writing headlines, you don’t have to do it alone. There are a plethora of headline writing tools you can use to help when you get a little writer’s block. If you’re stuck on the post before you even get to the headline, check out this roundup of what to post on social media in 2023.

  1. Coschedule Headline Analyzer. This free tool evaluates your social media headlines on word balance, sentiment, character count, clarity, skimmability, and readability.
  2. Sharethrough Headline Analyzer. This headline analyzer looks at length, structure, grammar, and engagement potential. It provides a quality score, strengths, and suggestions to make your social media headline stronger.
  3. Hubspot Blog Idea Generator. You can use this tool to create content ideas and come up with social media headlines from there by simply entering a topic.
  4. ChatGPT. Not strictly for headlines, this AI tool can take the content of your ad or website and provide headline recommendations. It works best when you use the right prompts, so be specific about how many characters or words you need. You may need to iterate on it multiple times with ChatGPT.
  5. Small Business Trends Headline Generator. Enter your topic in this free tool and get a list of potential headlines in different forms: lists, best, how-to, questions, love, sex, celebrities, snark, business, motivation, and what they call “the kitchen sink”. Not every headline will be appropriate, so you’ll have to use your best judgment here.


Whether you just manage social media for one client or are ready to offer white-label social media services, with these headline writing tips you should be well-prepared to create great headlines for your clients — or even start selling social media management packages with Vendasta.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should social media headlines be?

When it comes to the length of social media headlines, it depends on the platform. Best practice is 60-70 characters or less. A shorter headline means your message will be clear, concise, and on topic without losing a reader’s interest. Ensure it’s compelling and grabs attention while encouraging readers to click to read more.

How can I test the effectiveness of my social media headlines?

You can test the effectiveness of a social media headline in a number of ways. There are tools like Coschedule or Sharethrough’s headline analyzers, which will give you feedback on things like readability, word and character count, sentiment, word balance, and more. You can also use multiple headlines in one campaign and A/B test them to see which one performs better. You can also analyze performance over time to see engagement, likes, shares, and click-through rates to see what types of headlines resonate more with your audience.

About the Author

Lawrence Dy is the SEO Strategy Manager at Vendasta. His career spans from starting as a Jr. Copywriter in the automotive industry to becoming a Senior Editorial Content Manager in various digital marketing niches. Outside of work, Lawrence moonlights as a music producer/beatmaker and spends time with friends and family.

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