Viral Content, Not What You Expect it to Be

Viral Content, Not What You Expect it to Be

If experts in content development only cared about one thing, it would be the secret to viral content. What elevates content to viral status? Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at the Wharton University of Pennsylvania, attempted to answer this question by scientifically analyzing the virality of New York Times articles for three months. Here’s what he learned:

Believe it or not, positive content is more viral than negative content.

 Emotions that cause arousal are more viral, such as awe, anxiety, or anger.

 Emotions that cause low arousal are less viral, such as sadness.

 Surprising, interesting, and practically useful content tends to be more viral.

This combination of traits makes sense when you turn to Gawker’s Neetzan Zimmerman, who was hired specifically to meet the task of taking over the site’s viral content. Zimmerman made a name for himself through his blog, The Daily What, and the popularizer responsible for memes Double Dream Hands and Rebecca Black Friday.

Zimmerman’s articles have titles like:

Ordinary Housecat Beats Professional Wealth Managers in Year-Long Stock-Picking Challenge

Miss America Contestant Opposes All Marijuana Use That Isn’t Recreational or Medicinal

This Photobomb is So Adorable it Received the President’s Seal of Approval

A Friendly Reminder: Don’t Put Your Explosive Portable Meth Lab Down Your Pants

These stories surprise us, and cause intense emotional responses, usually positive ones (laughter in particular).

But, perhaps more than anything else, the vast majority of viral content on the net shares one quality that separates it from the rest: most people would have never even conceived of the idea in the first place. As Will Nathan of Buzzfeed has written, “Our society now craves a special kind of hyper-concentrated content that can only come from completely outside our minds.”

Viral content consists of:

Images so cute they expand our notion of what cuteness is.

Jokes that we couldn’t possibly have thought of ourselves.

Facts so surprising and bizarre that they must be true.

Actionable advice that we never could have come up with on our own.

In other words, viral content isn’t what you expect it to be. Almost by definition, it can’t be expected. When it comes to virality, your job as a content developer is to put something together that most people could never conceive of on their own.

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