The majority of content does not get the reach it deserves. How is it possible for young media companies like Buzzfeed and Upworthy to regularly serve up millions of pageviews per month? Content marketers can learn a thing or two from these companies to make their content more shareable.
Legendary advertising pioneer Claude C. Hopkins once wrote in his book My Life in Advertising, “‘Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.’ People want to be told the ways to happiness and cheer.” Being the man who introduced the habit of regularly brushing teeth in the world (for his toothpaste client Pepsodent), Hopkins knows a thing or two about sharing ideas. Why is it that happiness is a more viral emotion?
1. High Arousal (Awe or Anxiety/Anger)
In an analysis across the most shared The New York Times articles, Contagious author and professor Jonah Berger found that high arousal — either awe (positive) or anxiety/anger (negative) — proved to be more viral over a low arousal emotion (like sadness). For example, the gallery of the bankrupt city of Detroit features next to none of the homeless population. Still photos of the environment evoke more awe. Conversely, if members of the homeless population were included, readers may have felt the less viral emotion of sadness and sympathy.
As the photo gallery example illustrates, it’s very possible to build high arousal into the piece. While photography can evoke awe, writing is particularly effective at leveraging anxiety or anger. As the former marketing director for American Apparel, Ryan Holiday, quoted bestselling author Tim Ferriss: “Study the top stories at Digg or MSN.com and you’ll notice a pattern: the top stories all polarize people. If you make it threaten people’s 3Bs—behavior, belief, or belongings—you get a huge virus-like dispersion.”
A prerequisite to creating a viral piece is to craft a great headline. Not all topics are born equal, but it is possible to frame them in ways that raise the potential reader’s eyebrows. Upworthy, one of the fastest growing media companies of all time, gained its momentum by creating viral content. One of the secrets, as shared in this slideshow, is its content creators write 25 headlines for each piece of content. They pick the best few and A/B test them to see which one resonates with audiences more before picking a permanent headline.
2. For “Less Inspiring” Topics: Public Visibility and Environmental Cues
If you have a product that isn’t controversial or remarkable by today’s consumer standards, what other techniques can you employ to ensure more sharing? As it turns out, this report authored by Jonah Berger and assistant professor Eric Schwartz discovered that while high arousal is more effective to drive immediate short-term word of mouth marketing, ongoing long-term word of mouth marketing results when the topic is cued frequently and publicly visible.
Berger and Schwartz suggest that you may simply not remember the boring things you had mentioned to people. For example, if you’re in Toronto, you likely will remember discussing Rob Ford’s alleged drug video a few weeks ago, and not remember talking about how it was almost 17 degrees at the end of October, despite having conversed about both.
The managerial implications of the study showed that certain types of promotional giveaways are effective to public visibility. Within the content, make it inherently easier for people to share: if there’s a sentence or hook you think will draw readers in, embed it in a click to tweet message with a link back to your post.
Another possibility is to tie your content to regularly occurring events so that your brand naturally comes up. Much like the “Weekends were Made for Michelob” campaign, marketers are creating their own routines for publishing content (e.g., Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Fridays). This trend started in pop culture; Grammy-award winning rapper and producer Kanye West led the trend with GOOD Fridays when he used tracks that didn’t fit the record to promote his 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Today, Justin Bieber engages fans with content on Music Mondays. Over time, this association will naturally lead content consumers to associate content release with specific days of the week.
A simple tactic is to spread messages on social media channels on the same days of the week. Social media’s wide reach has created a new potent group of consumers that have a greater reach than traditional media companies such as CNN and Fox.
3. Leverage the “Bored-at-Work” Network
Huffington Post and Buzzfeed co-founder Jonah Peretti explains how he helped these two media companies grow at such an accelerated rate: their content is tailored towards the millions of workers who take short breaks by browsing the Internet and share links through social media. Peretti calls this massive group of people the “Bored-at-Work” network. The beauty of social media is that it keeps the weak ties between people (e.g., acquaintances) alive — as this study demonstrates, weak ties are particularly important in ensuring a wide spread of information.
To take advantage of the “Bored-at-Work” network, try using what Peretti calls the Mullet strategy: business in the front, and party in the back! Ensure that portions of your content have a high probability of going viral, while keeping the other portions more serious and meaningful to readers.
Another strategy is to look at the content that most of your audience is predisposed to share: for general sites like Buzzfeed, the likes of Perez Hilton, animal lovers, and Apple fanboys (amongst quite a few other demographics) rule a large part of the internet. Content designed to help these people convey their identity to their network naturally gets shared. Also, keep in mind that mobile technology has created another network that you should leverage, called the “Bored-in-Line” network. Think lots of scrolling and feeds, short bits of information, and sites optimized for mobile or built with responsive design in mind.
Newspapers used to have entire departments dedicated to circulation: specific employees would be dedicated to securing specific parts of the newsstand and manage distribution through the paper carriers). As Upworthy co-founder Eli Pariser said in this TEDx speech, these circulation departments started disappearing when the internet took over. However, it’s simply not enough for content marketers to hit publish. Today, the key to wide reach is no longer in the hands of the circulation department, but instead is centered around making your content more shareable.