Monday, May 6, 2013

CEOs - Relevance & Virality are Critical to Your Company's Social Persona

As a senior manager, it is imperative that you understand the most effective way to use content marketing to engage with audiences and potential customers online.  As a graduate student in the Northwestern Medill IMC program, I have pinned down two articles that directly address this challenge and offer insights into how to increase the chances of your content going viral.  

In the first article, “WhatMakes Content Go Viral”, Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman of Wharton Business SchoolFollowing extensive experimentation, Milkman and Berger identify several characteristics of online content that make it conducive to social transmission.  By controlling for writing complexity, author gender, article length, appearance in the physical newspaper, location of appearance on the home page, the timing of the article’s release and the author’s fame, Milkman and Berger were able to determine that content that stimulates high emotional arousal is more likely to go viral than content that stimulates low emotional arousal.  Characteristics that stimulate high emotional arousal include awe, anger and anxiety, while an emotion that stimulates low emotional arousal is sadness. In addition, as a general rule, positive content was found to be more likely to go viral than negative content.  While these findings may seem obvious, they have powerful implications in the marketing context. Content may be informative and eloquent, but if it fails to stimulate the viewer emotionally it will have a lower probability of being shared.  The graphic below, taken from Berger and Milkman’s study, demonstrates this concept visually by showing his finding of the percent change in probability of being shared (via email list) for a one-standard-deviation increase in the emotional characteristic of an article. 

Here, Milkman and Berger explain these results in further detail:
“More broadly, our results suggest that while external drivers of attention (e.g., being prominently featured) shape what becomes viral, content characteristics are of similar importance (see Figure 2). For example, a one-standard- deviation increase in the amount of anger an article evokes increases the odds that it will make the most e-mailed list by 34%. This increase is equivalent to spending an additional 2.9 hours as the lead story on the New York Times website, which is nearly four times the average number of hours articles spend in that position. Similarly, a one-standard-deviation increase in awe increases the odds of making the most e-mailed list by 30% (Journal of Marketing Research, 8.).”

In the second article that I examined, “The Secret Recipe for Viral Content Marketing Success”, Director of Promotions at, Kelsey Libert,  helps us to identify actionable ways to decrease the amount of time in which a piece of content is consumed and subsequently shared.  Libert maintains that the goal of the content marketer should be to capture the attention of the viewer, and then to engage them emotionally as quickly as possible.  “The faster and more deeply you are able to engage their emotions, the more likely the viewer is to invest themselves enough in the content to share it.” For this reason, visually simplistic, easily consumed, and easily understood content is most likely to go viral.  One can decrease the consumption time by making sure that the content is clear and concise.  Images, for example are much more rapidly consumed than a long form article or blog.  However, it is crucial that the emotional driver not be sacrificed for the sake of consumption speed, as without it virality is inachievable.

From my analysis of these two articles and my Social Media studies at Medill IMC, there are three action items you should consider implementing immediately in order to increase the possibility of social transmission.

1. Make your content emotionally engaging:  This can be accomplished by making the content interactive, by personalizing the content, or by focusing on delivering specific emotions that are more likely to engage the audience such as anger and awe

2. Decrease the consumption time and ease of content sharing:  This can be accomplished by making the content visually simplistic in a way that does not compromise the emotionally engaging aspect of the content.  Including share tools within your content can increase ease of sharing for your audience (Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc.). In addition it is crucial that these sharing tools be set up in the correct fashion so that the proper default title and text will be shared. 

3. Know your target audience: It is essential that you know what kind of content your target audience likes to consume, what topics are important to your target audience, what excites them etc. You can increase your understanding of your target audience through social listening.  Some great free tools that can get you started are SocialMention, Google Analytics, and Kurrently.

It is critical that senior managers grasp the key drivers behind what makes content go viral.  Content marketing is one of the best ways to engage with audiences and potential customers online.  The ability to create viral content has the potential to spike sales, improve search rankings, increase brand engagement, and even increase market share.  Additionally, the creation of a viral campaign, while not easy, is an extremely economical proposition.  To fail to examine opportunities in viral content marketing will not only leave opportunity for future growth on the table, but will also allow competition to enter into that space unchallenged.  For these reasons, as a senior manager, you owe it to your company and to yourself to be actively building your content marketing skill set. 

Sara Gutt - MS Candidate in Integrated Marketing at Northwestern University - Specializing in Media Management & Digital Marketing. Follow her on Twitter @SarabethGutt

No comments:

Post a Comment