What Does the Data Say Makes Things Go Viral?
I often hear the argument that social media hasn't been around long enough for anyone to be an expert at it yet. And in fact, you'll hear a lot of people spouting theories based on speculation and intuition, some of which are right, and some of which are wrong.
Today, I read a book by Dan Zarrella about what makes content "contagious" that's based on hard data, and it made some interesting points. You can download it for free for a few days -- and if you don't have (and don't want to get) a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle reader app for your computer or smartphone, and read it that way.
Here are a few of the quotes I hilighted:
Have you ever been warned, "don't call yourself a guru"? You'll sound like an arrogant so-and-so, they say. But again, when you look at the data, the rainbow [ie. the fantasy] fades.
It turns out that Twitter accounts that include the word "guru" in their bios have about a hundred more followers than the average account.
Zarrella lists other (more palatable) words, like "official" and "founder" that sport even higher follower counts. I tweaked the bios on two of my twitter accounts after reading that.
Comments and views are both highest for stories published around nine or ten in the morning, but posts published two or three hours earlier, at six or seven, tend to get the most links.
Zarrella goes on to explain the difference (you can read the book for that and to see the graphs). The reason I mention this is that it may affect the way I do my blogging somewhat. In the past, I've mostly written by doing my reading in the morning and Riffing on something that caught my eye. To publish early in the morning, I'd have to schedule my posts ahead of time instead of writing each day for that day.
I'll have to start scheduling my most link-worthy posts ahead of time, and posting those I prefer more comments on later.
Email messages that were sent at five or six in the morning had the highest click-through rates.
Another reason to post early -- so that my blog broadcasts will go out early. (I'm assuming that Zarella is quoting times in US Eastern time, but I'm not certain.)
When I asked people why they share ideas with their friends, they consistently told me that they wanted to build a reputation as a thought leader.
That meshes well with research I've previously quoted (from all the way back in 1966) into what drives word of mouth. The #2 factor was that sharing information increased the user's status.
Information that everyone has isn't powerful. Information that is scarce is powerful.
In my surveys, respondents have explicitly told me that they pass information on to friends who would otherwise not get it. They never told me that'd share the same information everyone has heard thirty times before. They did tell me they preferred to share news-based content, rather than humor or opinion.
That says something not only about what kind of content to produce, but how to release it. If you publish it on a public blog, and your audience thinks you're widely read, they won't feel the need to share it. If you hand it out in private, but give permission to share it, it may travel further.
Another quote surprisingly supports this concept:
I Photoshopped two fake Tweet buttons. One button said that a post hadn't been tweeted yet, and the other button said that the post has been tweeted 776 times... I expected that the 776-tweets button would get clicked way more [because of social proof].
I was wrong. The zero-tweets button was clicked more than double the number of times...
Take a look at the number of +1s and Likes this post has gotten. You've still got time to be one of the first to share it! :-) Once you've done that, head over to Amazon and download the book -- it's a quick read, but packed with good information.