What makes online content go viral? Good news.
This idea about message being positively focused runs counter to how most digital journalists operate: If it bleeds, it leads.
But this is the conclusion reached by two University of Pennsylvania researchers in an article published in the Journal of Marketing Research.
“While common wisdom suggests that people tend to pass along negative news more than positive news, our results
indicate that positive news is actually more viral,” write researchers Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman, who examined the virality of 7,000 stories appearing in the New York Times.
The study found readers tended to share content they found exciting, funny or that inspired negative emotions or evoked anger. Readers did not pass along items that merely made them sad.
People don’t listen to advertising, but they do pay attention to peers, says Jonah Berger, who is author of “Contagious, Why Things Catch On.” Social networks are really a peer-to-peer form of communication.
Marketers see social networks as a potential gold mine. Social networks provide advertisers a low cost delivery platform that can be tailored to specific audience. The message can constantly updated.
Sounds like a great idea.
But replicating peer-to-peer communication and making it sound authentic is difficult If the message reads like an ad, people are not going to pass it along unless it serves some kind of larger purpose.
Humor helps making the message relevant. Participant in the Berger-Milkman study reported they would be more likely to share the advertising campaign when it induced more amusement, and this was driven by the arousal it evoked.