This Incredible Chart Predicts Which Articles Will Go Viral

Viral Chart

Photo: Wharton

Wharton Professor Jonah Berger’s forthcoming paper on what makes a story go viral has already generated a ton of buzz. We looked at an early copy of the paper to figure out the secret.Berger analysed over 7,000 New York Times articles over a three month span to determine what type of articles go viral. It all comes down the chart on the right.

Stories that provoke anxiety (one standard deviation beyond average) are 21 per cent more likely to go viral. Stories that provoke anger are 34 per cent more likely. And so forth.

Other takeaways from the study:

  • More positive content goes viral than negative articles.
  • Eliciting emotion is key and positive words are better than negative words. “While more positive or more negative content is more viral than content that does not evoke emotion, positive content is more viral than negative content.”
  • Awe-inspiring content is more viral than sadness-inducing content. However, “more anxiety- and anger-inducing stories are both more likely to make the most e-mailed list.”
  • Try to evoke the three A’s: Awe, Anger and Anxiety: “Content that evokes high arousal emotions, regardless of their valiance, is more viral.” It’s not just about positivity or negativity,
  • Advertisements with a high level of amusement will register the best. In a study comparing two Jimmy Dean commercials, one featuring a farmer hired as the company spokesman and one in which a rabbi is hired, the rabbi commercial was the most liked. “Participants reported they would be more likely to share the advertising campaign when it induced more amusement, and this was driven by the arousal it created.

What Business Insider stories have gone viral? Our greatest hits include Google Interview Questions That Will Make You Feel Stupid, 10 YouTube Stars Who Are Getting Rich and The Best iPhone 4 Apps.

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