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The Science Behind Content That Goes Viral

September 13, 2017
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Content Strategy

If you’re serious about content marketing, you probably spend a significant amount of time and effort into creating top-notch content for your audience.  And despite your efforts, mediocre content goes viral while your hard work earns you a few meager likes and shares. 

Why is your content not getting the attention it deserves?

Truth be told, there is a certain amount of luck involved.  However, there are also scientific explanations for why audiences choose to engage with some content over others.

To help make your content more effective, we’ve gathered the research and provided a few helpful tips of our own to help fuel your content creation:

Tap into Your Audience’s Emotions

To boost your content’s social shares, one simple thing is needed—it must provoke strong emotion from your audience.  But which emotions should you incite with your stories?

According to a study published in Psychological Science, people share stories or information that make them physiologically aroused.  This arousal activates the autonomic nervous system, which then boosts social transmission that makes us share information with others.

The study found that feeling fearful, angry, and amused make people more likely to share content, while feeling sad or satisfied can make them less likely to share.

Storylift Tip:  Making your audience feel satisfied isn’t good enough if you want to boost your social shares.  Your content should surprise them, exceed their expectations, and provoke them into action. Tap into their positive emotions by writing a humorous (yet informational) gift guide for the holidays or by sharing photos of your team doing good deeds in your local community.

Craft Powerful Headlines

If you want people to read your content, they first need to click on it.  With an attention-grabbing headline, you are one step further to engaging your audience and achieving your goals.

Marketers have extensively studied which kinds of headlines improve click-through rates.  Tapping into a person’s curiosity has shown to be effective because it creates an information gap that the reader feels compelled to fill.

Another simple yet powerful strategy is to use numbers in your headlines.  Numbers work because they are predictable and give us a sense of what to expect.

Storylift Tip:  According to research by BuzzSumo, the number 10 was seen the most in the top performing headlines, followed by 5, 15, and 7.  Use them in your blog posts to influence more shares.

If you’re a business owner, consider creating a countdown timer in your marketing content to encourage customers to act.  Similarly, you can show the number of steps in the checkout process to reduce your abandoned shopping cart rate.

Use Social Proof

Did you know that displaying the social share count of your content can boost your content’s potential engagement?  This is all thanks to the power of social proof.

The concept of social proof is simple; people look to those around them to assume the correct behavior in a given situation.  We mostly see social proof in the form of customer reviews and testimonials.

However, enabling social sharing buttons allows you to show readers how many people have liked, shared, or commented on your content.  If your numbers are high, this indicates that your content is worth spreading. 

Unfortunately, it can work the opposite way as well.  If you decide to enable social sharing buttons on your site, perform A/B tests to ensure that they’re working in your favor!

Storylift Tip:  It seems unfair that to get more engagement, you need engagement in the first place.  However, this just highlights the importance of targeting the right audience with your content.  The more targeted your audience is, the more likely they are to engage with your content and provide you with valuable social proof.

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Get the Timing Right

Although there are plenty of ways to get more eyeballs on your content, one effective method is to uncover when your target audience is online.  After all, it doesn’t matter how good your content is unless someone is online to read it!

But when is the best time to post on your blog or to social media?  This is difficult to answer because it varies by platform and industry.  You could go by what the Huffington Post says is the best time to post on social media, but our advice is to research your audience and uncover this valuable insight for yourself.

Storylift Tip:  Finding the best times to post your content doesn’t need to be difficult.  All you need to do is look at your analytics and begin experimenting with posting times and frequency.  Even after you have found the sweet spot, keep a close watch on your analytics in case you notice a dip.

Make Content Easy to Digest

Have you ever read an article that wasn’t broken up into neat paragraphs?  If so, then we’re willing to guess that you didn’t get too far into it before giving up and finding something else to read.

No one wants to consume content that feels like a chore.  In fact, many digital marketers go out of their way in their content creation to make it easy to scan and fun to read. 

Why?  Because we live in the age of mobile devices.  With consumers spending more than 5 hours per day on mobile, your content needs to be easy to read or else it will be dismissed.

However, be careful not to mistake easily digestible with shorter content.  While social media posts should be kept short and sweet, studies show that blog posts should be 1,000 to 1,600 words.

Storylift Tip:  Use visuals to break up the monotony and freshen up your content.  If you have the budget, videos are highly effective for grabbing the attention of mobile users.

 

Conclusion

Whether you like it or not, science and content marketing need to work together.  As technology continues to improve at a lightning fast pace, audiences now have higher expectations of your content marketing.

You need all the help you can get to meet and exceed their high expectations.  By looking at the research and leveraging a few physiological hacks, you can give your content creation strategy a much-needed boost.

Have you used science and psychology in your content?  What strategies worked for you?  Let us know in the comments!