· 5 min read
A great hook is the only content “best practice” that actually matters. Meta’s been telling everyone since 2015 that users spend an average of 1.7 seconds with a piece of mobile content before deciding to swipe away—a blink of the eye. If you’re gonna spend time agonizing over anything within your content plans, it should be whether your hooks are strong enough to capture attention.
MrBeast is the king of the hook. His 108 million subscribers make him the fifth-most followed YouTuber of all-time, which isn’t by accident—he’s obsessive about his content. He won’t even post if he can’t figure out a hook. His manager Reed Duscher recently revealed Beast canned a half-million-dollar video when he couldn’t figure out a proper thumbnail.
Last week we learned from Casey Neistat about authenticity. Today, let’s look at how MrBeast builds content hooks and what brands can learn from him.
Redefining the hook
Usually a “hook” refers to the first few seconds within video content, but I think we should widen that definition to include every immediately visible element of a social post. These differ a bit per network, but it’s worth considering:
- The thumbnail (YouTube, Instagram grids): the still image previewing the content
- Title/copy hook: (YouTube, Twitter threads, podcasts): self-explanatory
- Video hook (all social networks): the first frames of video content
Any and all of these touchpoints could be what convinces a viewer to stay past that 1.7-second mark. All should be considered when devising your brand content.
Here are a few of Beast’s YouTube thumbnails over the last few months. As you can see, he’s a staunch believer in “YouTube Face,” eyes wide and mouth agape. It’s enough of a phenomenon that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art covered it.
While there’s no official study, conventional wisdom says that a close-up of an over-the-top human reaction brings in views. It doesn’t even matter how obviously photoshopped they are—just that they’re compelling and we know the star’s about to experience something.
I know, I know—your brand probably doesn’t have some iconic spokesperson you can toss in your daily social content. That’s not a reason to not feature human faces, though, especially when your brand invests in YouTube. Whether it’s paid talent, an influencer, or even a staffer making an on-camera appearance, it’s worth finding a YouTube Face.
Here’s a checklist for brands when creating thumbnails, whether for YouTube or the Instagram grid:
- High-quality imagery: clarity matters
- A human face conveying an emotion
- Big, readable text that’s clearly understood (e.g., “Top 10 back-to-school purchases”)
- Action shots: movement always helps
A Social Media Newsletter by Jack Appleby
I know we all wanna make art within advertising, but in my experience, an on-the-nose caption outperforms cleverness. It was a frequent fight when I worked in video game marketing. Trailer drops are traditionally the biggest beats in a game’s launch campaign—those big visual reveals that let players know which weapons they’ll handle, which vehicles they’ll offroad.
The best copy approach: plainly stating why the audience should care. “And now, the first gameplay reveal.” “Your first look at the Tru-Action Electric Baseball Bat” (an actual weapon from an actual game I worked on).
Back to Beast. His latest video features six different hotel rooms, all with different price points. There’s an infinite number of ways he could have communicated all those experiences to his audience via a title.
The copy hook he chose: “$1 vs. $1,000,000 Hotel Room!” Hard to be more direct than that—what human isn’t curious to see the difference between those extremes? He focused on the single-most compelling distillation of the content, not force feeding every element.
I write social analysis + career advice Twitter threads every week. The body bulks out quickly, but I’ll spend twice as long creating my first-tweet hook as the thread itself. With the way Twitter populates threads, you won’t even see most of the content unless you click into that first tweet. Dickie Bush (283,000 Twitter followers) has a great how-to for Twitter thread openers mostly based on headline best practices. Don’t think this is platform-specific; these lessons are applicable all across social.
Alright, this is the hook you usually talk about—the first seconds of video content. TikTok’s rise makes hooks especially important since most viewers scroll the For You page, meaning they don’t necessarily already follow you.
Open your TikTok right now and consider the first visual + words said in each piece. You’ll probably notice a lot of hyperbolic sentence prefixes:
“You won’t believe…”
“Things I wish I knew before I was 30…”
“The only thing you need to know about…”
“Stop making this huge mistake…”
Sorry, copywriters. I know these aren’t clever, but they really do work. Here are 50 to get you started. Start by trying them word for word, then altering as you get comfortable.
On the visual side, we’ll go back to Beast. In his latest video, he points at the camera and immediately yells, “I rented a $1,000,000-a-night hotel room!” as the drone shot pulls back to reveal a mansion. No long-winded introduction, no self-aggrandizing spiel—just the most straightforward reiteration of the video’s core concept.