How do our favourite soaps, film franchises, novellas, games and the news keep us hooked? They’ve all adopted and adapted the cliffhanger.
The lure of the resolution is a powerful tool that keeps audiences coming back for more – and it’s one we can all borrow from to grab attention, and, more importantly, maintain it.
Storytellers have been deploying the cliffhanger for centuries, but Charles Dickens famously turned it into an artform, selling most of his work in serialised formats, with the inconclusion of each chapter tempting the reader to purchase the next. His suspenseful stories were such a hit they influenced the novel throughout Victorian times and beyond.
With the advent of television, soaps and other serials quickly grasped the value of the cliffhanger to maintain audiences. Update that for the Netflix binge-viewing age, and viewers are left on a precipice at the end of not only each episode, but each series, with a lack of a definitive conclusion leaving them hungry for more.
And the technique turns up again in 24-hour news channels, when the promise of resolution stops audiences from tuning away – even during the ad breaks.
So how can we make a cliffhanger do the hard work for us and keep our audiences coming back for more?
It’s not clickbait – it’s capitalising on curiosity
Something as simple as a question in an email subject line, or a Workplace post header, is a type of cliffhanger: it’s an unresolved, open-ended scenario that piques the interest.
Use this technique when signposting to other channels, too, to squeeze out more bang for your buck.
Let’s say you’ve already got a great story on your intranet. Trail it with a cliffhanger approach on enterprise social networks (ESNs) or mailers to entice your audience to click through to the full story.
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One story, told differently
Just as Victorian periodicals kept audiences coming back with serialised content, use regular posts or publications to create a rhythm that your audience learns to expect – each time trailing the next piece with a cliffhanger.
An update from a leader is an essential piece of comms – but what about the perspectives of HR, IT or your operational frontline colleagues? Trailing their takes on it works wonders if you’ve got a local celebrity in your ranks – someone particularly popular who’ll help drive readers in the right direction.
Teeing up future content builds trust and familiarity with your comms output and helps your audiences to implicitly learn the purpose and character of each channel.
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Empower your people
What if colleagues could resolve their own dilemmas? Don’t just tease readers with a cliffhanger: give them the power to conclude it.
Open up the stories to your people. A poll in an ESN post invites interaction and shows that you value colleagues’ input. If they’re engaged enough to vote, they’ll be engaged enough to find out the outcome.
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Using one piece of comms to tease audiences to the next requires planning but why not take advantage of the human thirst for resolution to keep your engagement figures healthy?
Want to find out more about how to make lessons from everyday consumer media work for you? Get in touch.