In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about the power of headlines and the weaknesses of skim reading. They explore why you should be reading more than just the headline of an article and how sharing content without being fully informed can affect your startup.

Almost 59% of people only read the headline of an article before sharing it. This phenomenon of not having the time or the attention span to delve deeper into the content that you plan to share has numerous implications. There’s no doubt that as a startup it is preferable to be in the 41% who make the commitment to be well informed before sharing content.

Tune into this week’s episode of The Startup Chat to learn about the role that skim reading headlines and content can have on your business and why you should be committed to delving deeper into content. Before assuming that you thoroughly understand a topic. They also discuss the responsibility you have as a content consumer and creator. Also Steli and Hiten, share their top tips, for how to make use of the headline culture as a startup.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:43 Example of how skimming can leave you misinformed.  

01:54 Realizations of misinformation.

02:42 The issue with the headline.

03:05 The power of headlines.

03:25 The headline culture.

04:07 Where headlines are found.

08:21 The influence of content.  

09:04  Exploiting headlines.

09:38  An example of crazy headlines.

10:40 Core message for startups.

3 Key Points:

  • Did you really read more than just the headline?
  • Headlines are designed to peak curiosity not tell the whole story.
  • Be more aware of not falling victim to the headline culture.


Steli Efti: All right. This is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah, and today on the Startup Chat, we’re gonna talk about something that’s been in the news a lot, and there’s been some specific examples we can give, but the way I’ll say it, , is don’t believe everything you read.



Steli Efti: Don’t believe everything you read, AKA, did you really read more than just the headline?



Hiten Shah: There you go.



Steli Efti: That is my big questions because today, honestly … Here’s why I wanted to talk about it, then we can dig a little bit deeper, but here’s an example that prompted wanting to talk about this. We have a common good friend, Patrick, from Price Intelligently and Profit Well. He had posted, recently, a blog post announcing a massive funding round, and they’ve been famous for being a self-funded or customer-funded startup, doing really well with it, so announcing a big VC led round seemed like big news. I saw the Twitter share of the blog post, the preview of the article. I was surprised and thought, “Wow. Really? I didn’t see that coming. I didn’t think that they would go out and raise that much money.” I copy and pasted the link, and I shared it with my co-founder. Then, we started having a little conversation about it, with my co-founder, and then I decided, in the middle of the conversation, to actually go and read the article, which then led me to realize that at the end of the blog post it was like a, “Psych. This is just an April Fool’s Joke. We didn’t really raise money.” That moment made me realize two things, one, I share … Like how many times I’ll a share a piece of information or news without fully consuming it just based on the headline. Number two, how many times I just look at headlines, and I’ll make up my mind or I’ll pick or remember a little, tiny piece of information without having context. Number three, I thought, “Huh? This is actually really interesting because I bet hundreds if not thousands of people will from now on and forever be convinced of the fact that Price Intelligently raised money because they never bothered to read the article.” You can make a joke or just share a headline, and people will never know the whole story. They will always remember or probably share a distorted view of reality because they never bothered to read all the information to really know. So we live in this world where headlines are really kind of the surface level of information that people consume, and that’s the information they’ll base their opinions on or their facts on, and I was just thinking, “Wow. This is so interesting. You can probably fuck around with this. You can play with this, but we need to be more and more aware of it.” That’s why I wanted to talk to you about the headline culture of today, how to make use of it as a startup, but also how it could harm you as an individual, as a founder.



Hiten Shah: Oh, man. I just don’t believe anything I read. Being in content a long time, I know how much the headline matters. Working on content, I know how much the headline matters. The thing is, a good headline pulls you in to the content, but there’s a lot of headlines that, basically, are designed, today, to just tell you the whole story, so we’ve gotten trained to just read the headlines and then only dig into the things that we feel compelled to dig into. Here’s the problem. If I read five headlines, I dug into one story, sure I might have depth on that story, but I also read the other four headlines, and I think I know something. That’s where the problem is. These headlines are designed to pique curiosity, not tell the whole story usually, but when you think they tell the whole story, I think that’s when you have the problem. They just took a nugget out of a thousand word or more article and gave you the headline. I think it’s the culture we live in. Think about it. Every single item in your Facebook feed is a headline. Every single item in a Twitter feed is a headline. Every single thing on Instagram with an image and a few pithy words, it’s a headline. This is just the culture we live in, so I think it’s one of those things where we have to go against what we’re trained to do by everything that we are consuming, and that’s the key. The key is to just learn to do that. Learn to have more depth. Even today, Slack … Let’s talk about Slack for a second. I’m in Slack. I have long conversations with people in Slack, in, let’s say, a group channel with a bunch of people in it. Right away someone pings me at some point or I’m in person somewhere and we’re both in the Slack or whatever, and that person will be like, “Oh, my God. Blah, blah, blah.” I’m like, “Wait. Did you read the thread? Did you actually read the thread, or did you just read that last thing you saw or the thing that really jumped out at you? Did you read the thread?” I feel like an asshole asking that question, but the reaction I get tells me that the person did not read the thread. They didn’t read the thread. They read one line and reacted, but there was like 10 lines of a thread. There was literally 10 lines, and I don’t mean the threading feature in Slack. I mean literally a conversation in Slack that everyone can see, and there’s a reaction off of one statement in it that probably already got dealt with if you read the rest of it, higher up, lower down, whatever right. So I think we just live in this culture of impatience. We live in this culture of immediate gratification/think we know everything just by reading one statement instead of actually digging in and spending the extra few seconds to see what this is about. For me, when I see five headlines, I don’t just get pulled into one of them. I try to at least click through and just look for a few seconds ’cause all these headlines are designed around curiosity, so I think it’s about awareness, to me, to avoid this problem ’cause really what we’re talking about is how do you avoid the problem and waste less time? ‘Cause you’re wasting time if you read something that’s wrong.



Steli Efti: Yeah. I think just the Delta X between how much information we used to consume and how much interpretation we used to add, I don’t know. I haven’t lived hundreds of years, but it seems like that ratio today is at an extreme level where we require very little real information consumption, and we will add a ton of interpretation on top of it, and we will act as if we are 100% informed about this. We’re gonna talk with it about … I guess the day before yesterday I had a conversation, casually, at dinner, where somebody brought up something horrible a comedian has done recently, and they’re in trouble now because of it, something super inappropriate. I asked, “Where did you get all of this information from? Did you hear a recording of this phone call and of these statements that this comedian supposedly has done?” The person was like, “No, of course I didn’t listen to the … But somebody … I read the article.” I’m like, “How long was the article? How well researched? Who published the article? How do you know that this …” If I don’t hear somebody say the words, it’s very hard to really know what the context of a conversation was. Who was he talking to? What were they saying before and after that specific quote? I think that people … I think today we’re more trained to take a tiny bit of information and then instantly fill an incredible amount of additional information that we didn’t really get anywhere from. We are very comfortable with having very little information and a ton of interpretation to it, where, back in the day, I think the ratio was much healthier. That’s not just important to observe with yourself, the way you consume information and data, the way you make up your mind about things and people, but it also is important in terms of the information you consume or take on board from other people on your team or other people you work with or friends and family, people that influence your opinion. When people come to me today and they’re like, “This company does X, Y, Z. They do really poorly with blah, blah, blah”, I don’t just take that as face value. I always go, “Where do you have this information from? How do we know that this stuff is really true?” Because you can’t just read two Twitter headlines and then come and give me a speech about what’s really going on with this company. It’s not enough information to make really, truly informed opinions or judgments about people. But I see this more and more. Now, I’m wondering the opposite end of this. And this might be a weird question, but I was wondering, “Will companies and marketing teams start exploiting this by saying things in headlines that they really want people to believe and then clarifying more details in the real article, knowing that nobody will read the full article?” I don’t know if this is a weird question to ask, but I was wondering, will we see people misinforming the public more and more just in the headline and then clarifying it with more context way down the line in an article, for instance, because they know nobody ever will get there, so people will think all these positive things about them that are not really fully true? Do you think people are gonna start fucking around with that?



Hiten Shah: Yeah, check it out. This is TechCrunch right now, “Facebook Starts it’s Facial Recognition Push to Europeans.” “This Robot can Build you IKEA Furniture.” “Twitter doesn’t Care that Someone is Building a Bot Army in Southeast Asia.” “Square Acquires Corporate Catering Startup, Zesty.” Dude, I don’t know. Out of those four, I’m like, “Okay. The Twitter one.” ‘Cause it’s like, “Wait. Is that really true? That doesn’t make sense. Why would Twitter not care about that?” Do you get what I mean? It’s probably … I can already guess that there’s something weird going on with that one just by the way that it was titled, and I’m just opening up TechCrunch and this is what it’s saying. So I think you’re right. People are already doing this, though. They’re already getting these headlines out with the core message whether it’s hoping people won’t read it or clarifying what it really means after they click.



Steli Efti: Yeah. All right. So I think the core message for us, or for me at least, exploring this, is to, A, be more self-aware in the way I consume information and use tidbits and snippets or previews of content anywhere online and on social sites, but also to educate and coach and check the people around me to be more aware and to be more mindful of how they consume information, how quickly they think they have arrived at, “I already know everything I need to know about this article by just looking at an image and a headline, and I don’t need to read more to now be able to go in to the world and tell other people about this news or this company’s recent issues or whatever the hell it is.” Just be more aware of not falling victim to a headline culture, which I think is really corrupting and destroying the way most people are now consuming information. It’s harder and harder for people to really go deep on what they’re reading and what kind of content they’re consuming, so if you make an effort to do that, I think you’ll really have massive advantages in your thought and in the level of context you have when you make up opinions about things in the world.



Hiten Shah: Yeah. Couldn’t agree more. I think it’s definitely been an interesting conversation.



Steli Efti: All right. That’s it from us for this one.



Hiten Shah: See ya.