Sharing stories is part of our human make up. It’s how we connect, build relationships and portray ourselves to others. Telling stories isn’t limited to idle water cooler chat either. Fifty-nine per cent of internet users say they frequently share online content with their peers.
Up until a few years ago, there was little research into which stories are likely to get shared or why…..
Are certain stories more likely to go viral than others?
Positive vs Negative
You might be forgiven for assuming that negative stories elicit the most shares. After all, who doesn’t like to hear about the latest scandal or unfortunate piece of schadenfreude?
But In fact, the opposite is true when it comes to sharing stories publicly on the internet. Stories with a positive undertone are more likely to be shared.
A 2010 study into The New York Times most emailed stories revealed that the most popular articles fell into four categories:
Stories about competition wins, overcoming illnesses and positive chance meetings all topped the bill as some of the most shared articles.
However, the reasons people share these stories differs and falls into two categories:
- Those who want to genuinely share useful content or joyful stories
- Those who want to make themselves appear knowledgeable about a subject or gain some social credentials through being associated with break great stories.
Another interesting factor that comes into play is emotion.
Have you ever arrived at work, having encountered some unprovoked road rage on your commute, and felt the need to share the incident with colleagues?
What about if your child said something funny to you last night and you wanted to re-tell the story to your friends?
Emotion can be a huge motivator when it comes to deciding whether to share a story or not. So rather than just looking at whether a story is simply positive or negative, consider the emotions your reader will be going through as they read your article or watch your video.
The Way You Make Me Feel
A negative story, (or your road rage incident), might arouse feelings of anger, but another type of negative story (maybe you witnessed a car accident) could also arouse sadness.
High arousal feelings, such as anger and anxiety increases your decision to act (or share a story).
Sadness, on the other hand, is categorised by low arousal, and so an individual is less likely to act.
There are some great video examples from charities who have mastered this technique to increase the chance of their videos being shared.
After all, who wouldn’t feel anxious after viewing this?
The Power of Awe
Awe is a high arousal positive emotion. It is categorised by feelings of respect, wonder and elevation.
In The New York Times study, science-related content and other articles inspiring awe, frequently appeared on the twenty-five most-shared articles list.
These results aren’t just limited to text-based articles either. Exhilaration is one of the most effective emotions to encourage a video share too.
Image courtesy of: http://contently.com/strategist/2013/12/16/the-emotions-that-trigger-video-sharing/
Results from an Unruly survey also found that exhilaration can help a person remember a video too, with sixty-five per cent of exhilarating videos locked in viewers’ memories.
WestJet Case study
Canadian airline, WestJet, hit the nail on the head with their 2013 epic tale of good cheer. The video documents shocked passengers as their Christmas wishes are fulfilled, via baggage reclaim, at their destination airports.
The feel-good video achieved over nineteen million shares and on one day alone, there was a sixty-seven per cent increase in WestJet consumption (online and mobile text and video content) than the rest of the previous month combined.
Videos that leave the viewer wide-eyed and open-mouthed are more likely to be shared.
These videos could contain content such as the WestJet stunt or something more physically daring, like GoPro’s edge-of-your-seat videos, technological developments or an animal overcoming adversity.
In recent years, sites such as Upworthy and ViralNova have become key promotors of those good news stories we all seem to love talking about.
Upworthy and ViralNova
Upworthy and ViralNova, curators of heart-warming, inspiring and thought-provoking content, are experts at emotion.
In most cases, these fairly arbitrary stories are framed to sound much more positive, uplifting and emotionally charged. A video of an (albeit, talented) pair of siblings is suddenly framed as ‘The Carpenters reincarnated’
A father’s response to his two sons coming out as gay is billed as ‘extraordinary’ in the headline.
Curation sites like these are well aware that emotive stories with strong, positive content are thirty per cent more likely to be shared than stories with negative or neutral content.
But is there anything else that can persuade a viewer to share?
When it comes to headlines, people like to click on something surprising or mysterious (although, not vague).
Making your reader want to know more is the key objective to any headline, so make sure your article delivers. Article headlines that invite curiosity and interest will of course get more clicks, so be careful that your headlines are not misleading or promising something that has been exaggerated. (Something Upworthy have previously come under fire for.)
So we know that positive stories and stories that encourage high arousal get the most shares. What else can persuade a reader to spread the article around their contacts?
Stanford professor, Jonah Berger looked into the relevance of social currency. Readers want to be seen as not only sharing useful content, but relevant, topical content too.
“Memes like LOLcats, I think, are a perfect example of social currency, an insider culture or handshake.
Your ability to pass it on and riff on it shows that you understand. It’s the ultimate, subtle insider signal: I know without yelling that I know. When your mom sees a LOLcat, she has no idea what it is.”
Of course, a LOLcat isn’t informative, but it is positive. Who doesn’t secretly smile at a LOLcat?
The Hard Facts
Measuring the success of a story based on social shares alone is not conducive to an effective marketing campaign. You should also look at your businesses key performance indicators, such as leads and sales, to find out if your objectives are being met.
There should be a reason behind every emotional story. Think carefully before you hit publish. Is this story relevant? Does the headline fairly reflect the content of the story? Is it really emotional?
The web is evolving now to a point where readers are becoming publishers. If you are serious about creating content that spreads, you need to take into consideration not only whether your story is positive or negative, but the emotional value associated with it too. Consider how it will position your sharer amongst their peers. Think carefully about your customer profile, the platform you are using and question what motivators would drive them to want to share.