What makes content go viral?
It’s a tough question, but when you look around, there’s some people who are able to craft contagious content every single time.
What’s their secret? Do they know something you don’t?
The answer is Yes! They do!
And while they may not be aware of it, they know how to push the little “traffic buttons” on the internet without fail.
How do I know this? Because I’ve done it… for years. And until recently, I was never able to explain exactly how I was able to do it.
But today, that all changes.
What Makes Online Content Go Viral?
There’s an assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business who specializes in discovering what makes ideas and products go viral. His name is Jonah Berger (follow him on Twitter here).
He’s been featured in many of the prestigious marketing research journals and publications like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Economist and more.
So, suffice it to say, when he talks or writes, I listen.
Most recently, Jonah Berger co-authored a research paper with Katy Milkman called “What Makes Online Content Go Viral?” and in it, there are insights that you absolutely can’t overlook.
Here’s the highlights:
1. Positive content is more viral than negative content.
(Amazing, right? When you read the news, you’d think that negativity was a must, heh).
2. Content that evoked high arousal emotions—positive or negative—is more viral than content without emotion.
(What’s a high-arousal emotion? Think awe, anger, anxiety, or anything related to the fear of loss)
3. Practically useful content get’s shared.
(That makes sense, right? People like sharing practically useful content to help out their fans and friends)
How to Create Content That Goes Viral
Now that you have the cliffs notes, the question is, how can you craft contagious content? How can you apply these insights directly to your articles?
Well, that’s where I come in. Social Triggers, after all, is all about breaking down insights from academic research, and showing you how it works for your business.
Positive uplifting content always gets shared. Remember, there’s a lot of unhappy people in the world, and while there are different reasons for being unhappy, content that is uplifting and inspirational helps people get out of their rut… even if it’s only for a few seconds.
However, in my opinion, if you’re looking to generate traffic for business purposes, you’re better off focusing on practically useful content that activates high arousal emotions. It has given me the best results for the last 5 years, and still gives me great results today.
What makes content practical? And how can you activate high arousal emotions?
How to Prepare Practically Useful Content
When you write an article, and finish the editing process, you’re not done. There’s one final step that you must take, and the funny thing is, almost no one does it.
What’s that step?
You must go through your content, figure out the next actions you want people to take, and finish your article with a section that tells people those next action steps.
It seems so simple, but it’s powerful.
Psychologists have long known that people are bad at applying broad concepts to their own lives. It’s why people know the 80/20 rule, but rarely implement it in their lives and business.
And that’s why this simple “next action” section is so great. You show your readers exactly how to use the content you gave them in their lives. And what happens? They use it… get results… and remember you for it.
Pretty cool, right?
Now let’s talk about high-arousal emotions.
How to Activate High-Arousal Emotions
If your content activates a high-arousal emotion, you’re set. The likelihood of people sharing and talking about your content will increase drastically, as both Jonah Berger found in his research study, and I’ve found through personal experience.
What’s a high-arousal emotion?
For starters, a high arousal emotion can be either positive or negative (both types work). I briefly mentioned some earlier in this article, but here’s a more complete list: awe, anger, anxiety, fear, joy, lust, and of course, surprise.
But this is where things get a little more complicated. While it’s simple to activate these emotions, it’s not easy. You’ve got to think about which emotion you want to target, and hit it perfectly.
Since most people learn by example, let me walk you through one example:
Example: The Content is King “Myth” Debunked
In that article, I challenged the widely accepted assumption that “content is king.”
I cited research that backed up my claim, and the article took off. Thousands of hits and hundreds of retweets and Facebook likes later, I had a viral piece of content on my hands.
Why did it take off?
I had data with surprising results. There were some people that were SHOCKED at what I discovered, and thus they had to share it with their friends and colleagues.
The article also did one other thing though…
That article also pissed off a bunch of people that have parroted the whole notion of “content is king.”
I successfully invoked anger, and the angered people tried to poke holes in my claims. They wrote follow-up articles (scoring me links), left tons of comments (that article has more than 140 comments), and shared it with everyone they knew.
Now How Can You Activate High Arousal Emotions?
Once you know what triggers a specific emotion, it’s easy to do it.
Question is what triggers specific emotions?
Let me break it down…
The 7 High-Arousal Emotions That Make Your Content Contagious
What’s awe? It’s quite simply something remarkable. Something that people can’t resist commenting on. This can be in the form of a story, a real-life event, or it can also be something as simple as an exhaustive list of 101 links to helpful resources.
See this Twitter Tips page as an example.
When you piss people off, they’ll work hard attain justice. They’ll talk about it on Twitter, write blog posts, and more.
How can you trigger anger? All you have to do is challenge someones beliefs and it’s a sure-thing.
See the Content is King Myth Debunked as an example.
(Note, I don’t recommend you piss people off for fun all the time. It’s a bad marketing strategy).
People hate anxiety. What creates anxiety? If you’re writing content that talks about potentially losing out on something, that’s one way. People hate losing things they have.
See the #1 Conversion Killer in Web Design as an example.
Fear is one of the biggest motivators on Earth. It targets the reptilian brain, and people can’t resist but take action when motivated with fear.
What’s an example of fear? You can make people worry that they’re making mistakes they’re unaware of. You can also target the fear of loss (aka limited quantities).
As an example, see the article How Images Improve—Or Destroy—Conversion Rates
What makes people happy? There’s loads of things. It can be something funny, inspiring, or anything that’s positively uplifting.
One of my favorite ways to target the “joy” emotion is by telling a story from my life that I know people can connect with. It really takes advantage of nostalgia and bonds with people who read it.
As an example, you might remember the article where I told the story about my dad and chess.
People can lust for more than just sex. They can lust after money, results, women, men, or anything like that. To target that, you simply need to tantalize readers with potential results.
While I don’t have examples of lust in action at Social Triggers, I’m sure you get the idea .
What surprises people? Anything that goes against their expectations. You can challenge assumptions, and prove them wrong. You can share new ways of doing things, or share results of personal tests.
Overall, this is one of the main high-arousal feelings I target with Social Triggers because it works great. As an example, take a look at my previous article “The Problem with Fast Loading Websites.”
The Bottom Line
Now that you’ve read this article, I want you to remember two things:
When you’re looking to get traffic for your business website, make sure you show people how to implement the advice you give them. Take the time to show them an example, and give them next action steps.
And finally, don’t just write content for the sake of writing content. Always target a high-arousal emotion so you know your content will get shared.
Trust me, it works.
Now I pass it to you. What do you think? How do you use these strategies in your business?
Oh, and don’t forget to share this on Twitter and Facebook and everyone else