Ever notice the same business articles show up in your feed over and over again? What is your competitor doing that you are not that gets their article shared all over the place? And why does everyone tell you that virality is based on luck? If so, should the editors of Buzzfeed go buy a lottery ticket?
We’ve done some analysis on content that appears in various social media feeds and have realized that there is some rhyme and reason to virality that can be quantified. The first thing to understand is that Twitter is not Facebook, and vice versa. (We’ll get into LinkedIn another time.) The asynchronous and broadcast nature of Twitter, dovetails perfectly with “professional development” and thought leadership. Facebook, on the other hand, is a closed system with intense privacy settings that is usually reserved for sharing funny, lighthearted things, and broad market personal stories. In essence, if you’d wear your pajamas around your house and have a house party (Facebook), would you wear them to the office (Twitter)? Facebook is more for friends than business acquaintances, and thus, there’s a higher open rate because of some of the reasons below. You wouldn’t put a press release on Facebook would you? But on Twitter it’s OK since technically other businesses are following you. That being said, as a business-to-business marketer, how do you get more shares, retweets, favorites and even the coveted Facebook share?
1) Numbered lists (like this one!)
Being straightforward and concise is important in the attention economy we live in today. We also all love closure; reaching the end of something and able to check it off your list is a great feeling. Let your readers know how much of an investment you are asking for with a numbered list. With video, anything longer than 5 minutes will probably not be watched. (The average YouTube video is 4m 12s.) The headline needs to let people know EXACTLY what they are getting into. If the article is about search engine marketing, don’t also try to squeeze in a section about social media marketing too. This specificity will help you not only attract the right audience, but will also help you in search engine optimization. With link shortening on Twitter, your search engine friendly URL gets changed into a strange t.co link. We won’t be able to read this link and decide what to click on, so the headline you share or the comment you add makes all the difference. And if this is a share or retweet, make sure it’s long enough to convey exactly what’s in the piece (#1), with enough room that I can add my shine (#3).
Buzzfeed appears to have an interesting formula: Some number (usually from 7–30, a number which is usually first alphabetically) + some demographic (the more adjectives the better) that do something (the more specific the better) Example: 23 Things that Enrage New Yorkers.
2) Tell an emotional story.
We make decisions based on emotion and not rationality. That’s why advertisers love buying ads during the fourth quarter, since if the game is close, you’ll most likely see and REMEMBER the ads in between LeBron’s final free throws due to your heightened emotional state. Emotion is also what drives stories; otherwise Brad Pitt might as well just read us bedtime stories. For generations before the printing press, it was how culture was passed from one generation to another. Put the two together and you have a powerful piece that people will remember (and hopefully share). Stories make things digestible and “re-tellable.” No one remembers the exact number in “Inconvenient Truth” they just remember it’s big enough that Al Gore needed a forklift.
Upworthy, a new site in the social marketing sphere can attribute good storytelling to its success. From the headline to the specificity to the bite size nature of the share, they make it easy to show your stance on what you think could be a worthwhile topic. The latest being: “A Debate Between An Atheist and A Christian Has Quite a Surprising Result.”
3) Help me look good; then maybe I’ll help you
“Nobody wants to be your personal megaphone,” Degelis Tufts, COO of TopShelf Clothes says, “but they will share and retweet your story if it helps them build their own brand.” The days of self-serving media and the press release are numbered, since their share coefficient is usually no greater than one; the piece penetrates only one degree of social network, the originators’. If the piece can position me as a thought leader, make me look smart for commenting (does someone want to add a #6 to this list?) or serve my needs first then maybe (just maybe) I’ll share this to my network. After all, my desire to share your “Humble Brag” status message is to just tell everyone how much I despise you! See all different types of bragging here. Don’t be that person. If you help me look smart, I’ll help you distribute your content.
4) Make it easy to share!
Although this one may go without saying, it’s surprising how many stories are out there without a “Tweet” or “Share” at the top of it. Getting these social buttons is so simple now it’s worth taking a few extra minutes to get them right as well as in the mobile version too. After all, you want to control the message and platforms as much as possible. Ironically, Wikipedia has no social share buttons. Also make sure that images, headlines and descriptions show up as desired on Facebook and LinkedIn.
5) Seeding the story
How do people find out about it? Do you have a big following? After all, a lot of book deals, television pilots, crowdfundings, are going to folks that have proven that they have a following. Are you able to be a part of a larger platform, like this one? If so, publishing on it gives you a larger initial base than just going through your own Twitter feed. Quora started by asking some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, like Robert Scoble, to answer questions. Early adopters wanting to know the answers were redirected to Quora.
If you can’t get on a large platform, that’s okay. People have studied the two videos that started the Harlem Shake phenomenon and the Gangnam Style trend. Harlem Shake started from the top down via large platforms but fizzled out quicker while Gangnam Style was more organic from the ground up and had longer lasting power. Spreading your message to the masses in a business-to-business context is much more difficult, since the chain can get broken at any point along the way. Thus, for B2B the top down approach is still the preferred and safer route. (Disclosure: Our company, Cooperatize.com, distributes content to the long-tail.)
Now back to work.
This post originally appeared in Forbes.