Every website depends on traffic to keep the lights on, which means everyone is looking for viral hits. That results in lots of headlines with phrases like “life-changing” and “mind-blowing” slapped onto collections of photos of sad-looking cats. The interesting question, for some, is not whether all this is good or bad, but why such article goes viral. Fortunately, reports the New York Times, academics are studying this viral-content thing, and they think they have it licked.
Scientists are only beginning to explore the psychological motivations that turn a link into “click bait” and propel a piece of content to internet fame.
Their research may have significant implications for the media and advertising businesses, whose profits hinge on winning the cutthroat race for the attention of internet users worldwide. Already, some notions of the ingredients in this modern alchemy are beginning to emerge.
If you want to melt the internet, best to traffic in emotion, researchers have found. The emotional response can be happy or sad, but the more intense it is, the more likely the story is to be passed along.
Upworthy, the left-leaning traffic machine that has become famous for churning out viral hits, is in some sense a spiritual descendent of sensational news. The site’s “viral curators” once made a slideshow describing some of their techniques, and what’s striking is how old-fashioned it is. The keys to “finding epic content” include “a hero,” “a villain,” and “a [sic] emotional story arc”—in other words, the basic building blocks of every story ever told.
As for the existential “Why the hell do people share?” question, the slideshow offers some advice that anyone who has spent a few seconds on the internet should have already figured out: Make people angry and inspired, preferably at the same time. The depressed or complacent don’t share or click, so you have to jolt your audience out of those states.
Like what was discussed on our previous article “Analysis of Clickbaits as a Web Strategy,” sensationalism via the web give us a large number of visitorship, but eventually affects a website’s credibility. As stories get sold, money flows towards the media publisher. But along with selling news through sensationalism, we are often left distracted from knowing the real crises that surrounds us.