Use the Awwwww Factor to make content marketing pieces go viral
Have you seen the piece about the orphan baby kangaroo and wombat who become BFFs? They also have a baby wallaby friend. Because of course they do.
It’s obvious why these bundles of joey are making the rounds on Facebook. But how can you use the same approaches to make your content marketing messages travel the world, while others just languish on the couch?
Write a blog post that’s positive and emotional, suggest Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, two professors at the University of Pennsylvania.
Make messages positive, emotional.
Together, Berger and Milkman reviewed some 7,000 articles that appeared in The New York Times to determine what distinguished pieces that made the most-mailed list. After controlling for placement, timing, author popularity and gender, and story length and complexity, they found that two features determined an article’s success:
- How positive its message was. Positive messages are more viral than negative ones.
- How much emotion it incites. The more extreme the emotion, the more likely it is to move people to act. Messages that make people angry, for instance, are more likely to be shared than those that make people sad.
Articles that evoked emotion — “Baby Polar Bear’s Feeder Dies” — got shared much more on social media than those that did not, such as “Teams Prepare for the Courtship of LeBron James.” And happy emotions (“Wide-Eyed New Arrivals Falling in Love with the City”) outperformed sad ones (“Maimed on 9/11, Trying to Be Whole Again.”)
Spread the word
What characteristics make online messages go viral?
Increase your chances of going viral by increasing these characteristics of your blog post:
Anger: 34%. Sample headline:
“What Red Ink? Wall Street Paid Hefty Bonuses”
Awe: 30%. Sample headlines:
“Rare Treatment Is Reported to Cure AIDS Patient”
“The Promise and Power of RNA”
Practical value: 30%. Sample headlines:
“It Comes in Beige or Black, but You Make It Green”
Interest: 25%. Sample headline:
“Love, Sex and the Changing Landscape of Infidelity”
Anxiety: 21%. Sample headline:
“For Stocks, Worst Single-Day Drop in Two Decades”
Emotionality: 18%. Sample headlines:
“Redefining Depression as Mere Sadness”
“When All Else Fails, Blaming the Patient Often Comes Next”
Surprise: 14%. Sample headlines:
“Passion for Food Adjusts to Fit Passion for Running”
“Pecking, but No Order, on Streets of East Harlem”
Positivity: 13%. Sample high-scoring headlines:
“Wide-Eyed New Arrivals Falling in Love with the City”
“Tony Award for Philanthropy”
Sample low-scoring headlines:
“Web Rumors Tied to Korean Actress’s Suicide”
“Germany: Baby Polar Bear’s Feeder Dies”
Sadness: -16%. Sample headline:
“Maimed on 9/11, Trying to Be Whole Again”
How can you use anger, awe and other powerful emotions in your digital marketing pieces?
Get shared with anger, awe.
So anger is the No. 1 technique to get your target audience to read your blog posts and pass them on. Don’t be afraid of fear appeals: You’ll use anger for the marketing technique, “Make ’em sick, make ’em well.” Build trust by writing headlines that show how your company solves the problems that make readers angry.
And the No. 2 emotion we can tap to make messages go viral (after only anger) is awe. Call it The Awwwww Factor.
So how can you make your messages as awe-inspiring as little orphan animal stories?
1. Look for animals.
Maybe you have your own little orphan animal story. FedEx, for instance, has Ben the Bear.
Yes, my BFF and Chief Distribution Officer — aka FedEx — helped rescue a grizzly-black bear named Ben. The poor guy had been stuck in a 12-foot-by-22-foot concrete cage in a roadside North Carolina zoo. FedEx folks helped transport him — aboard “Bear Force One” — to his new digs, a lush animal sanctuary in Northern California.
Because of course they did. Awwwww.
Obviously, if the folks at FedEx can move a grizzly to California, they can deliver your wedding dress or medical supplies.
Here’s more coverage on Ben. Because when you tell awe-inspiring stories like Ben’s, people want to share them, so search engines rank them higher. (Not to mention the visual appeal!)
2. Look for people.
As the crazy cat lady who lives inside of me can attest: Animal interest is a great way to get your message to go viral. “Sundays at the Shelter” and this Deramaxx campaign also use this approach.
But people are interested in people, too.
So tell your human-interest stories, too — specifically your customer service stories.
I once had to move my microwave-sized toiletry kit from my refrigerator-sized overnight bag into a duffel I keep for just such emergencies when the suitcase proved too heavy to check. When I arrived at my hotel room, I realized I’d forgotten the duffel, which was presumably still making the rounds at a baggage-claim carousel at LaGuardia.
Not wishing to skip lunch at Le Bernardin to retrieve my lost luggage, I called my AmEx travel agent, Katie, and asked her to solve my problem.
When I returned to the hotel, my duffel was waiting in my room. Katie had arranged to have a car service pick it up and deliver it to my hotel. There, she had arranged to have the front desk front me a loan for the car service — including a tip — and deliver the bag to my room.
Because, of course she did.
AmEx has a million such stories. So has your company.
Show us what over-and-above service we can expect from you by highlighting the awe-inspiring ways you’ve helped others.
3. Tell a story.
Finally, the best way to share The Awwwww Factor is to tell a story. Make the most of your awe-inspiring stories by using the PSR model — that’s problem, solution, results — for your blog post template. (I’ve edited accounts of Ben’s journey from FedEx and PETA into this version.)
Problem: Don’t start with a pat on your own back (it gets in the way of the story, and unless you’re really flexible, it’s hard). Instead, jump right into the most provocative details of the story at hand:
Solution: I know, I know. This is the part you care about most: the part where your organization helped solve the problem. Your readers, however, are more interested in your awe-inspiring subject. So make this the quickest part of the piece:
Results: Paint a picture of how great Ben’s life is now:
Because of course he did.
How can you write awe-inspiring stories about your own organization?___
Source: Jonah Berger and Katherine l. Milkman, “What Makes Online Content Viral?” (PDF) Journal of Marketing Research, April 2012, pp. 192-205