What’s the secret to writing stories people will share and talk about? To help you improve your social writing, we’ve made an analysis of the categories of content that go viral each day on social networks.
We see 7 major divisions, based on data we extracted with our pro tool Spike. So here you go – the keys to the viral news kingdom. These categories of content map onto many different emotional states for readers, but with one common feature: the urge to click “share.” To make things easy, we’ve reduced the major categories of viral content to single acronym: FIRED UP.
F – F is for Funny. You might be expecting this one. Funny or highly unusual stories – often the internet’s ‘in other news’ equivalent – get massive social traction each day. These are usually not long, comic pieces of writing, but instead are composed of a headline, and a funny image or video. They’re easy to copy paste, and so almost all publishers do it. The Church that looks like a penis when viewed from space was trending hugely on multiple websites last week, including the Huffington Post and Gawker. Anyone can cash in on this viral gold if they can get to it fast enough and add a decent headline. Remember there’s two types of funny: “Funny Ha Ha” and “Funny Weird.” Both have viral potential.
Funny weird is less thought about but makes up about 8% of all major viral hits we see on the front page of NewsWhip, such as the bachelor who cut off his penis as he could not find a girlfriend. So look out for the weird ones too. We estimate that the “funny” category makes up 25% of viral hits: 17% are “Funny Ha Ha”, 8% are “Funny Weird”.
I – I is for Identity Politics. When a publication targets a particular audience segment, it’s easy for them to tailor their output to appeal specifically to specific viewpoints and interests. This is the reason that your timeline may be either clogged with posts such as ‘10 Reasons Why Obamacare is Doomed’ or ‘10 Reasons why Equal Marriage Rights Have to Happen Now’. Each appeals to a passionate group of people who can’t keep their fingers from the share button. If you want to write a social story that will go big on this trajectory, think about the political or social causes that infuriate or inspire a particular tribe. The tribe can be people who suffer from depression, yoga fanatics, public healthcare haters, public healthcare supporters, gay marriage supporters, feminists, vegans, gun-lovers, gun-haters… it’s cynical, but you get the idea.
We estimate about 15% of all viral breakout stories involve identity politics or social groups. If you define groups more broadly, this number only gets bigger, and these groups often drive sharing for stories in one of our other categories.
R – R is for Real life. Consistently strong in short bursts, hard news and real-life developments gain traction fast on social media. The real-life stories that perform well on social media are ones with an emotional or human component – stories of refugees (yes, Syria is social and much talked about online), issues like international adoptions (emotional) and some crime. Particularly WTF crime – like “Drunken French teenagers abduct a circus llama and take him on a tram ride“. If you’re in marketing, be careful of newsjacking the wrong kind of story. (Or read our guide on how to newsjack successfully.)
Most economic and political news that appears on front pages will not get so much social sharing as people have no reason to share it. By our estimates, real life hard news makes up about 25% of all viral stories.
E – E is for Extraordinary moments. When someone captures footage of what’s believed to be the tallest wave ever surfed, that’s a moment worth sharing. These types of stories can enchant audiences, and can be caught at any time. But it doesn’t take daredevil behaviour or footage of chaotic natural events to provide extraordinary moments. Sometimes the simplest-seeming domestic occurrences are the most extraordinary of all, such as the video of a baby crying with emotion at his mother’s singing, which gave the Huffington Post, the Blaze and many other outlets a huge viral hit last week when they embedded the YouTube video, stood back, and let baby perform. Extraordinary stories make up about 10% of viral news hits.
D – Down memory lane. Perfected by BuzzFeed, focusing on nostalgia makes for perfect ‘evergreen’ content. Grew up in the ‘90s and recognise these particular cartoons/sweets/films? There’s a good chance you won’t be able to resist clicking into the article and probably sharing it with friends. Down Memory lane stories can often take on an “identity politics” component – like BuzzFeed’s “16 signs you actually grew up in Portland Oregon.” Down memory lane stories are almost always in a “listicle” (i.e. list) format, and make up about 8% of viral content.
U – U is for Useful stuff. Another ‘evergreen’, useful tips and ‘life hacks’ have great sharing potential. It seems we like to learn, and also to teach each other, and a useful guide enables your reader to do both. Examples: this Huffington Post guide to improving your life in two minutes or less, and Apple’s iPhone ‘Tips and Tricks Guide‘. Starting to trend just now is a beginners’ guide to Tor. The best guides are written in a frank, friendly style, and will often take the form of a listicle. Much of this content is slower burning – slowly accruing thousands of shares over time. It makes up about 7% of all viral content.
P – P is for Power-challenge. A staple of Upworthy’s output, the ‘kid speaks truth to power’ story often appeals more to readers of particular political persuasions. For instance, this 15 year-old girl argues against gun control, or Russell Brand sticks it to the establishment, or this 12 year-old will ‘restore your faith in politics’. These stories require a small person to stand up to a bully – whether the bully is a powerful politician, society, a political opponent, or a negative attitude.
Needless to say, David has to beat Goliath to make these stories worth passing on. Surprisingly, in recent months these stories have exploded and now make up about 10% of all viral hit stories.
Combinations The best viral stories have a combination of the FIRED UP factors – a Power-challenge story that appeals to some particular political or social group, or an extraordinary moment that’s also a power challenge. Once the fuse is properly lit, there’s no telling where your content could end up.
We’ll write some further posts on vectors for distribution, and how to write guaranteed sure fire social hit news stories. But first – if you think this might be useful for your friends and followers, please share!