Reasons Why Emotion WILL Make Your Content Go Viral
Buzzsumo director, Steve Rayson, recently published an article titled, We Analyzed 100 Million Headlines. Here’s What We Learned (New Research).
*Want to skip my preamble and see the emotional analysis of top performing headlines? Head to The Results at the bottom.
Steve’s article is a plethora of information that content marketers, copywriters, marketers, and well… everyone on social media can learn from. The article only covers analysis performed on headlines, but as I stated in a previous post, 6/10 people who come across an article share it based on the headline.
The driver behind this massive study was one simple question.
Do you know what makes an engaging headline?
Below are the results of the most engaging headline phrases. Steve and the Buzzsumo team organized the results into several different categories. The categories range from Facebook shares of B2C blogs to LinkedIn focused B2B articles. To explore the full article and results, head to the Buzzsumo post.
Room for exploration
The phrases listed in the article are a fantastic way for a marketer to increase the likelihood their content will go viral. However, these phrases are just a start.
Toward the end of the article, I started to think about the entire headline. I wanted to understand the content attached to the successful phrase. Even deeper, I questioned which emotion I should be writing for when inserting a viral phrase into future headlines.
In order to do this, I designed a sentiment analysis study of the full headlines to learn more from the top performers.
In order to conduct the research, I selected 7 of the top performing phrases and made 7 separate categories in Google Sheets. Then I analyzed the top 25 performing headlines from each category. In all, 175 full headlines were analyzed for their percentage rating of Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy, and Sadness using the Boost Editor. Additionally, the number of shares on social media were recorded using Buzzsumo. Finally, if any of the 25 had equal percentage of 2 emotions, i.e 30% Joy and 30% Fear, that headline would be discarded.
Here are the chosen phrases, platforms, and target audiences.
- “The future…” — LinkedIn (B2B)
- “Will make you…” — Facebook (B2C)
- “This is why…” — Facebook (B2C)
- “Things only…” — Facebook/Twitter (B2C)
- “Goes viral…” — Facebook/Twitter (B2C)
- “Need to know…” (only from NY Times) — Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter (B2B/B2C)
- “Are freaking out…” — Facebook (B2C)
Please note that I selected these 7 phrases at random from the article. This means there is a mix of B2B and B2C appropriate headlines. If you’d like to learn about purely B2B headlines in the marketing industry, check out this recent post.
- “The future…” — LinkedIn (B2B)
First up, “The future”. Articles that included this phrase were shared most on LinkedIn. Typical in my opinion because LinkedIn has a business and technology focus so many articles from business and tech outlets are shared there.
The top performer, “Transparent solar panels may be a window into the future.” This very optimistic headline accumulated 46,600 shares on LinkedIn in 2017. This article was written and published on LinkedIn’s article platform.
Displayed in the graph, we can see that 61% of the top 25 headlines were ranked as likely to elicit Joy, meaning their detected percentage of Joy was over 51%. We can also see that 35% of the headlines were likely to elicit Sadness. Lastly, 4% were likely to elicit Anger.
When describing a subject matter that deals with the future of business or tech, joyful posts seem to be outperforming those which elicit sadness and anger. Also, fear and disgust seem to be very poor performers when including the phrase.
2. “Will make you…” — Facebook (B2C)
Headlines containing this phrase can often be found floating around a Facebook newsfeed. These headlines are often the facade of a link to a surprising photo gallery or some very strange objects. Either way, they accumulate hundreds of thousands of shares.
The top performer, “Helix Tattoo Trend Is Taking Over Instagram, And These 10+ Pics Will Make You Want To Get One Too” originated from Boredpanda.com. This headlined drove this photo gallery to 516,200 shares in 2017.
Displayed in the graph, we can see that 68% of the top 25 headlines were ranked as likely to elicit Joy, meaning their detected percentage of Joy was over 51%. More than half of the headlines that elicited Joy were highly likely, meaning their percentage was 75% or more. We can also see that 20% of the headlines were likely to elicit Sadness. Lastly, 12% were likely to elicit Disgust.
When using the phrase, it seems that Joy is the emotion to write for when looking to increase the chances your headline will go viral. Here is an example of a headline that elicits sadness, the second most common emotion, “This New Celebrity-Filled “Farewell Video” To Obama Will Make You Cry.” It’s clear why this article relates to sadness, that emotion drove it to over 380,000 shares.
3. “This is why…” — Facebook (B2C)
This phrase is another that is common to our Facebook newsfeeds. It is always at the beginning of a headline and consistently racks up the shares on Facebook.
The top performer, “This is why you shouldn’t drive slow in the left lane” originated from Districtspeed.com. This headline resulted in 835,300 shares in 2017.
Displayed in the graph, we can see that 52% of the top 25 headlines were ranked as likely to elicit Joy. We can also see that 24% of the headlines were likely to elicit Disgust. Lastly, Anger, Fear, and Sadness all claimed 8%.
Again, we see that Joy is the emotion most commonly elicited in the top performers. However, for the first time, we see Disgust representing a sizable amount of the top 25. Here is a Disgust headline from the top 25, “This Is Why You Should Never Let Your Dog Lick You!” Disgust, in this case, is being used to provoke curiosity in the readers.
4. “Things only…” — Facebook/Twitter (B2C)
This phrase is also most commonly found and shared on Facebook. Many of the headlines will lead the reader to a list. Lists often describe every day things that people can relate to and can seem very personal.
The top performer, “14 Things Only People Who Adore Print Books Will Understand”, came from Bookbub.com and amassed over 130,000 shares.
Displayed in the graph, we can see that 88% of the top 25 headlines were ranked as likely to elicit Joy. We can also see that 8% of the headlines were likely to elicit Sadness. Lastly, 4% of posts were likely to elicit Anger.
Many of these lists headlines were designed to appeal to the readers one-on-one, making them feel a connection to the subject matter. Take a look at this one that goes one further and personalizes, “17 Slightly Terrible Things Only People Named Sarah Understand” This article for the Sarahs of the world received 47,700 shares on Facebook.
Joy again seems to be the emotion most commonly seen when analyzing the top performers.
5. “Goes viral…” — Facebook/Twitter (B2C)
This phrase leads to very interesting results when analyzing the emotions behind each headline. The top performer, “Photo Of Mom Clutching Her Daughter Before Her Next Child Is Born Goes Viral” originated from Scarymommy.com. It reached a total of 346,000 shares on Facebook.
Displayed in the graph, we can see that 32% of the top performers for “Goes viral” elicit Joy. 28% of the headlines were eliciting Sadness. 24% were eliciting disgust. Lastly, 16% were eliciting Anger.
For the first time, we see a wide spread of emotions that nearly share the same value.
Reviewing 2 headlines may help us understand why.
- Joy: 3-Year-Old’s Joyful Adoption Photo GoesViral
- Disgust: NFL BOYCOTT Goes VIRAL, If Ungrateful Players Can Sit-Out Anthem, Fans Sit Out On Games!
It seems that the “Going viral” phrase acts like an extra push for items that have already made the front page of large outlets. Adding this extra bit seems to help with shares regardless of the emotion.
6. “Need to know…” (only from NY Times) — Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter (B2B/B2C)
The analysis performed on this phrase was limited to one publication, The New York Times. This proved to be an opportunity to see the emotion behind a successful B2B/B2C headline.
The top performer “What Young People Need to Know About Colon Cancer” received 31,000 shares on Facebook and 725 shares on LinkedIn.
Displayed in the graph, we can see that 52% of the top 25 headlines were ranked as likely to elicit Sadness. We can also see that 40% of the headlines were likely to elicit Joy. Lastly, 8% of posts were likely to elicit Fear.
The top performing headlines in the NY Times seems to have a nearly 50/50 split between Sadness and Joy. Neither Anger or Disgust appeared in the top 25 shared headlines. Though the NY Times can be found on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, a large portion of virality came from shares on Facebook.
7. “Are freaking out…” — Facebook (B2C)
Last, the “Are freaking out” phrase. This is another phrase that is most common on Facebook and designed for a B2C audience. Very similar to “Goes viral”, the resulting headline is a different version of an original. Often times there is a gallery or a video behind the headline.
The top performer, People Are Freaking Out Over This Massive Spider That’s The Size Of A Lap Dog, started on distractify.com and accumulated 136,200 shares.
Displayed in the graph, we can see that 40% of the top 25 headlines were ranked as likely to elicit Anger. We can also see that 28% of the headlines were likely to elicit Disgust. 16% of posts were likely to elicit Joy.
Much like “Goes viral” the top 25 included all 5 emotions that were analyzed. Though in this case, it seems that Anger appeared much more than the other emotions.
Many of the headlines that include this phrase are very excitatory and are built for readers to dig deeper. For example, “Reporters Everywhere Are FREAKING Out About What Bill O’ Reilly Said On TV Last Night… THIS IS BAD!”. This headline could elicit a variety of emotions based on the reader, but regardless of personal bias, it will still prompt a reader to investigate.
There are a few lessons to be learned from this analysis of the top performing headlines.
First, if 50% or more of the 25 performers elicit a single emotion, i.e “Things only”, that emotion seems to be a safe bet when looking to optimize for shares. Second, phrases that can be attached to an existing headline, i.e “Goes viral”, is a way of breathing new life into already circulated content. Third, the “Goes viral” and “Are freaking out” phrases do not rely on a single emotion, instead, they are aimed at an excitatory response.
There was a trend that wasn’t particularly related to emotion. Headlines that have a lot of shares on Facebook do poorly on other outlets, however, LinkedIn and Twitter seem to have a cross sharing relationship worth taking note of.
Thanks for reading, feel free to reach out with comments, questions, concerns. @jefwnk on twitter.