While Gutenberg’s paper-and-ink process is far from dead, the Inter­net dom­i­nates writ­ten and graph­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tion today. So a recent post by Noah Kagan (@noahkagan) was most inter­est­ing. The head­line: “Why Con­tent Goes Viral: What Ana­lyz­ing 100 Mil­lion Arti­cles Taught Us.” [link] Here’s his intro­duc­tion:

A few weeks ago some­one sent me a link to the Buz­zSumo web­site [link]. It is a gold mine of data regard­ing what con­tent is the most shared across any top­ic. Cha-Ching. So I reached out to the com­pa­ny to help under­stand what the main ingre­di­ents for insane­ly share­able con­tent are. You may have seen some arti­cles relat­ed to this but this is backed by pure data. Use their knowl­edge with cau­tion.

What Kagan did was to invite Hen­ley Wing (@HenleyWing), the founder of Buzzsomo.com, to report on that analy­sis of 100 mil­lion arti­cles — and report he did, with 10 major learn­ings that cov­er how the inclu­sion of images help read­er­ship, how “awe, laugh­ter, amuse­ment” pro­vokes shar­ing, and how trust is essen­tial to the spread of ideas and facts on the Inter­net. There’s more, of course, and you should def­i­nite­ly check this out if you have any inter­est in what makes infor­ma­tion go “viral”. Wing says Buzzsomo’s analy­sis was dri­ven by some crit­i­cal ques­tions (and one giv­en):

  • What types of emo­tions did the most pop­u­lar arti­cles invoke?
  • What type of posts typ­i­cal­ly receive a lot of shares? (lists? info­graph­ics?)
  • Did read­ers love to share short form or long form con­tent? What’s the ide­al length?
  • Does trust play a major role on whether some­one will share an arti­cle?
  • What’s the effect of hav­ing just one image in a post vs no images?
  • What’s the effect of hav­ing just one influ­encer shar­ing your arti­cle vs 0?
  • How do we make peo­ple share our post days and even weeks after it’s been pub­lished?
  • What’s the best day of the week to pub­lish an arti­cle?

The giv­en? Says Wing: “Of course, the pre­req­ui­site to get­ting your con­tent shared wide­ly is to write com­pelling con­tent.”

Check Noah Kagan’s site for great infor­ma­tion, which is accom­pa­nied by great charts. For exam­ple, on the sub­ject of how emo­tion­al tugs can affect whether some­thing goes viral, Kagan’s site [OKDork.com] post­ed this fas­ci­nat­ing chart:

Emotions and Virality

While absorb­ing all this, I paused to think about the entire phe­nom­e­non of Inter­net con­tent going viral. When I asked this ques­tion today: “How many things go viral on the inter­net?”, Google respond­ed with 150,000,000 hits. Need­less to say, a lot of items go viral pre­sum­ably every day. Is that a pos­i­tive for the Inter­net? Does the fact that some­thing goes viral indi­cate that more peo­ple are ben­e­fit­ting from such faster-than-the-speed-of-Guten­berg com­mu­ni­ca­tion? In short, is viral healthy?

Of course, I look at the world through a nextsens­ing pair of glass­es. My thoughts on all this? When it comes to mean­ing and sense­mak­ing, lan­guage indeed mat­ters. And so I sug­gest we ask an impor­tant ques­tion when some­thing goes viral: is it mere­ly “trendy” or is it poten­tial­ly “trend­set­ting”?

When some­thing is mere­ly trendy, it is more of a present-tense fol­low on (even pile on!) effect to some­thing that has quite pos­si­bly already changed. It’s being zip-zapped elec­tron­i­cal­ly by and to the mass­es, to guar­an­tee that as many friends and con­tacts don’t miss out on some­thing that seems “hot” in an imme­di­ate sense. Sure­ly, you have received e-mails or direct-mes­sage tweets with sub­ject head­ers such as “You Got­ta Watch This!” or “Stop! Catch This Now” or some such. And every­one who picks up on the sug­ges­tions — and spreads them fur­ther — thus becomes a par­tic­i­pant in the viral phe­nom­e­non.

For exam­ples, you can go “sim­ply zesty” for a nice assort­ment of viral videos: “Top ten exam­ples of viral suc­cess through Youtube” [link].

Those who are more inter­est­ed in trend­set­ting rather than sim­ply trendy should con­sid­er that, when some­thing is real­ly the start of a major, long-term trend, it means that the viral­i­ty of the infor­ma­tion is still in the future. That is, some­thing that is trend­set­ting is a future-tense con­cept and reflects the grow­ing influ­ence of a new or emer­gent trend on the hori­zon that may not yet be ful­ly tak­en root. It is not dif­fi­cult to cal­i­brate the impact on an organ­i­sa­tion between some­thing that is trendy and some­thing that is trend­set­ting.

For exam­ple, last Octo­ber MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review post­ed “The Top Five Trend-Set­ting Cities on Twit­ter” [link]. Data like this seems much more wor­thy of using for exam­i­na­tion of what the future holds for hous­ing, fash­ion, sports, or what­ev­er your inter­est might be. I’ll let you read the post, but it tells you why you might not want your R&D team to be dig­ging into what’s hap­pen­ing in Albu­querque or Oma­ha if you’re try­ing to build your busi­ness around future trends.

So when some­thing goes viral, we should be look­ing for their trend­set­ting capac­i­ties so as not to be con­fused by cir­cum­stances in which the mass­es are mad­ly shar­ing some­thing curi­ous or fun rather than start­ing some­thing pro­found­ly new.

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