According to "What Makes Online Content Viral?" a 2011 study by Wharton School assistant professors Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, the primary factors that drive people to share content online are anger, and content that is "positive" and "activating" (that is, things that make people feel good) as opposed to "negative" content that elicits emotions such as sadness, which the authors found de-activating. Berger and Milkman came to their conclusions by studying about 7,000 New York Times articles and how they performed on the list of most e-mailed stories. They controlled for factors such as story placement, the length of articles, the relative fame of the author, and a host of other variables. They discovered that an article that aroused anger increased that story's chance of making the list by 34% above the mean, while an article that engendered sadness decreased its chances by 16%. An article's practical value increased the odds by 30%.
Obviously, these insights are of great interest to marketers, who these days seem entirely obsessed with piling up tweets, posts, and links, but just as obviously they address the concerns of journalists like me, the success of whose stories, thanks to web analytics, can now be calculated objectively.
So, taking a cue from Berger and Milkman, this will be an angry but positive blog, designed to resonate with their conclusion that "virality is partially driven by physiological arousal."
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is trying to figure out how to "allow children under 13 years old" to use the site. Under parental supervision, of course.
Well, naturally. Facebook's IPO flop, among many, many other things, underscored its problem of how it's going to grow ad revenue in an increasingly mobile environment, so why not try to expand its pool of users in order to sell them to advertisers. In other words, Facebook wants to sell children. Doesn't that make you angry? Isn't selling children a bad thing? Don't you want to alert others to this looming danger?
At the same time, according to Consumer Reports, in 2011 there were already 7.5 million kids under 13 using Facebook. So if Facebook developed a way to make sure their parents knew what they were doing on Facebook, who they were friending and (more importantly) who was friending them, that would be a good, positive thing.
Maybe the only way to make sure that Facebook does the right thing is to forward this angry, but positive blog.
On a related front, Microsoft announced last week that its next version of the Explorer browser, IE10, in Windows 8, will have "Do not track" as its default setting. This means that users will have to opt-in to get targeted ads. Naturally, this has made advertisers very angry. Privacy advocates, on the other hand, were positively awe-struck by Microsoft's announcement, seeing it as a great step forward in returning control over their personal information to users, as well as a move that will put pressure on other browsers, such as Google's and Mozilla's, to follow suit.
Microsoft's decision certainly doesn't make me sad; it activates me and gives me positive hope that some small shred of personal privacy is still possible in the digital age.
Finally, a bit of practical advice: Don't skip breakfast. It's the most important meal of the day.