With all the data available these days about what’s getting liked and shared online, researchers have been working overtime to crack the code for virality. A recent post in the Harvard Business Review emphasized the importance of feelings like curiosity and amazement, and a Wharton study from 2012 found that the most viral New York Times stories were positive, and that content that surprises or informs is likely to be shared.
I got to hear all about the science of virality at Salsa’s Community Conference in October. Jonah Berger, who authored that Wharton study as well as the bestseller Contagious, shared several examples from corporate marketing world that illustrated his STEPPS to virality: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value and Stories.
I co-led a storytelling workshop at Salsa’s conference with Marianne Elliot, and we echoed much of Berger’s advice about the importance of emotion. The most effective cause communications speak to the heart first, and the head second. They connect issues to our lives through story rather than trying to convince us to care with facts.
We had attendees that work on everything from endangered species to immigration reform, and each one shared the story of their organization beginning with, “I want to live in a world where….” This prompt was designed to get nonprofit leaders to take off their issue expert hats and reconnect with their personal passion. It was inspiring to listen in.
As a digital media practitioner that spends a lot of time thinking about tools and metrics, I was heartened to see so much talk about storytelling at Salsa’s conference. It was also a key theme at Web of Change the previous week. While both events draw technologists, and both had plenty of talk about the nuts and bolts of communications and organizing, the real focus was on content and relationships.
While we have lots of cool tools for analyzing and predicting the kind of content that will catch on (see Crowdtangle, and ActionSprout’s Inspire tool, for instance), the best content still comes from our colleagues and communities. So perhaps the most powerful tools we have in the quest for virality are our hearts, eyes and ears.