I encourage you to give this a read — it argues against Malcolm Gladwell’s point in the Tipping Point that influencers drive virality.
The thesis is — we’ve ended up obsessing about the messenger, and we’ve overlooked the message. This is the first large-scale academic study of its kind.
Properly configured messages spread among non-influencer peers causes virality, not the king-making of a select few. I like this idea of course because it puts emphasis on craft instead of access.
The author is a Wharton professor:
I think the findings are useful to anyone trying to create virality (content, messaging), or amplify virality (PR, advertising), or sell virality (sales and BD).
The emotion of “awe” is the most viral of all — if something invokes awe, it has a disproportionately high chance of going viral.
Awe. ô/. Noun a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder. ”They gazed in awe at the small mountain of diamonds.”
Synonyms: wonder, wonderment
Other factors that drive virility:
- Looking smarter to others, being in-the-know — social capital drives us. What makes us look good goes viral.
- Read: We’re all really self-conscious. Even when we think we’re not.
We share what is close at hand. This is why we share our opinion of the weather — it’s immediate, cognitively close. He gives the example also of Apple changing its laptop logo to face outwards to the world, instead of inwards at the user.
- Read: what is convenient or ubiquitous (or both) goes viral disproportionately. We share the best of what’s near.
Anger and humor are both actually very closely related emotions. More importantly, they’re both very intense. They make our brains especially active. That intensity spurs sharing behaviors.
- Read: controversy and comedy are more inherently viral because of how our brain is wired.
Practical, useful information, no matter how mundane performs really well, even if it’s about something like getting silk off of corn cobs.
- Read: immediate small value is more viral than non-immediate large value.
A much larger percentage of information is shared offline than online, even today. We just can’t track it unless you’re doing a large scale funded study.
- Read: the majority of the conversations about a brand are (for now) still untraceable.
A lot of this is “no duh” stuff — but I think it once again confirms my insistence that the best marketing is great messaging. The best way to increase conversion is to improve the underlying content. You can optimize calls to action and see real gains. But most transformative effects can only be achieved through a shift in the message.
Not everything we marketers do can possibly pull on all or even many of the above levers. And for god’s sake, not everything has to go viral, or should.
In fairness, if you want to read a smart critique/counterpoint to the author’s claims:
Data from the last thirty years lead to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not simply because you need something to think about. The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).
It’s hard for many people to conceive of thinking processes as intertwined with knowledge. Most people believe that thinking processes are akin to those of a calculator. A calculator has available a set of procedures (addition, multiplication, and so on) that can manipulate numbers, and those procedures can be applied to any set of numbers. The data (the numbers) and the operations that manipulate the data are separate. Thus, if you learn a new thinking operation (for example, how to critically analyze historical documents), it seems like that operation should be applicable to all historical documents, just as a fancier calculator that computes sines can do so for all numbers.
But the human mind does not work that way. When we learn to think critically about, say, the start of the Second World War, it does not mean that we can think critically about a chess game or about the current situation in the Middle East or even about the start of the American Revolutionary War. Critical thinking processes are tied to the background knowledge. The conclusion from this work in cognitive science is straightforward: we must ensure that students acquire background knowledge with practicing critical thinking skills.
Google recently made a big change with regards to how it treats press releases. We’ve been watching it play out and are ready to share some conclusions. Their changes have some real meaning for modern PR. We’re sending a summary of our opinion to all of our clients, and you should take a few minutes to read the following.
Essentially, Google has degraded press releases algorithmically. Part one is that releases’ SEO value is now minimal (utility going forward is lower). Part two is that overly promotional press releases **might** also get blacklisted as spam, which can actually downgrade your site’s PageRank overall (punishment may be doled out retroactively for past sins).
Companies of substance should not be worried about this move because in general, innovators are able avoid overly-self-serving, SEO-driven press releases. Few of our clients’ past releases would be considered bad behavior in the way Sullivan and Foremski describe above. Releases should be written in AP style (journalism-grade writing), and they should aspire to be be **actually useful** to real journalists. That is their original purpose. Google has moved to restore that original purpose. The point of a press release is to cause original new articles written by journalists. They are primordial ooze. They should be copy and paste-able. They should always be accompanied by 1:1 media outreach. They should look and feel like the story we would write about ourselves if we were in fact the journalists we target.
That’s a high bar to live up to, yes. Over the years most companies have ceased to even try. This is why Google is intervening. The situation has gotten dire. You may have noticed that Google News and Google Alerts of late have surfaced fewer organic “pickups” of your releases. Such is one immediate ramification. Press release syndication across the web is being counted as one document only, if that. And Google no longer considers press releases to be “news” as such.
How did we get here?
Companies whose “news” is so uninteresting that no journalist actually would ever write a story off their press release? Those companies are the ones who over time moved the make the the press release a stand-alone object, an SEO-driven landing page, essentially. Because their press releases were not causing any earned media effect, they tried to make the release be the effect itself. Essentially, desperation led companies who struggled to get real press results to mutate the press release to approximate the impact of a traditional placement with a real publisher. Press releases are a means to an end, not the end itself. For awhile, that line was regrettably blurred.
We like this move by Google overall. It reduces noise in the system, makes journalists’ lives better, and increases the likelihood that **actually good news** will get noticed, and published.
However, it means that moving forward, your releases need to:
- Be well-written, in AP-style
- Use keyword repetition and links conservatively
- Convey real news
Essentially, if you’re one of the “good guys” you’ll be fine. Spam is bad, always has been. Press release spam is just another species of the same. Finally, Google is pushing back on a practice that has ghettoized PR for too long. This is good for companies who deserve attention on merit.
Thanks for listening!
DontSpy (by brucesflickr)