The Norwegian secret to getting an article shared 300,000 times

I fancy myself a student of what gets attention on the internet. Beyond the obvious reasons (sex, violence, and cute animals doing adorable things), why do people choose to click on things and share them?

I’ve been pondering that this week as the Fast Company post I referred to the other day (“The Norwegian Secret To Enjoying A Long Winter”) took on a life of its own. It’s now been shared some 335,000 times, according to the website counter. Since in general I prefer to write things that people read, as opposed to things people don’t read, I’m trying to figure out why.

Obviously, people like the topic of happiness, but there are a lot of articles on happiness. I could tell myself it’s my brilliant writing but eh. I interviewed my subject (researcher Kari Leibowitz) at 3pm on Thursday, and wrote the post in the next hour. I filed it from the lobby of the YMCA during my daughter’s dance class the next afternoon. In other words, not a lot of polish time.

So what explains it? I have a few theses. First, it’s a counter-intuitive take on a familiar subject. Rather than trying to endure winter, celebrate it instead, and you’ll probably be happier. Stuff that twists the standard line has a better hook for sharing. It’s also broadly applicable. We all experience winter (well, those of us who don’t live in San Diego).

I also think the title and pictures play a role — they have to on the internet where you’re deciding based on the title and the picture whether to click. Fast Company chose a beautiful picture of a wintry fjord. “Secret” is a good word because it implies something that you don’t know that you should. Loss aversion and fear of missing out are powerful emotions. But it can’t just be “the secret to happiness” because that’s vague. The “Norwegian secret” implies a specificity — there is something usable in here, something you can grab on to.

As I ponder some other posts of mine that have had velocity, many of these same factors play in. Every version of “What the most successful people do before breakfast” has had an alluring cup of coffee as the illustration. There’s a play on loss aversion (these successful people know something you don’t!). There’s also a specificity: before breakfast is a manageable time. It’s not what successful people do all day, which involves being successful in ways the rest of us will never grasp. But we can probably handle what happens in that first waking hour.

Of course, it’s also just possible that someone influential shared the post early on and that created momentum. I can see on Twitter that a few cold weather locales have seized on the piece and shared it as a statement of identity (“We got this, Boston!”) The internet is a fickle beast, and anyone who claims he has it 100% figured out is lying.

In other news: How’s NaNoWriMo going? This past week was pretty epic on that front for me. I wrote about 20k words, bringing me up to 33,800 or so. I’ll probably write more later today. With any luck, I may finish before Thanksgiving!

21 thoughts on “The Norwegian secret to getting an article shared 300,000 times

  1. Wonderful that it’s getting so much play! For me, the word “Norwegian” drew me in. It made what would follow sound different from the usual garden variety tip, and I’m a sucker for ideas from other cultures.

    1. Me too! Also, the Danish concept of ‘hygge’ is getting a lot of media attention lately, and it seems like it’s very similar to ‘koselig’.

      For Seattleites, complaining about the grey doom of winter is what we do best, so I know that’s why so many people around here clicked on the article! As I mentioned before, it was shared by at least 3 of my friends before I even realized it was yours 🙂

  2. Re NaNoWriMo – it’s made me more conscious of my terrible bad habit of spending quite a bit of time ‘settling in’ at the computer before writing – I can get my butt in the chair but feel the need to check email, blogs, cartoons, headlines etc before getting down to work. I’ve had success defeating other bad habits (the snooze button for one..) but this one is super sticky. Any tips? Or should I say, any tips apart from ‘just get on with it’ which seems to be the only advice people have…

    1. @Lily- disable the internet! Seriously – close the browser, unplug it, whatever. If it’s not available, you can’t do it. Promise it to yourself as a break after (X) number of words.

  3. In addition to everything you mentioned I think the timing of the article was perfect. It’s easy to think about enjoying winter when it’s just starting to get cold and dark and you haven’t had to shovel your driveway yet. I’d guess the same article published in mid-January or February when everyone is sick to death of being cold wouldn’t make quite the same splash.

    Whatever the reason, I loved the article too. As someone who struggles with the dark and gray Pacific Northwest winters, I had already been musing about what I could do to make this year more tolerable, so it struck a chord with me because of that. I was inspired to stock my house with blankets, candles, tea and cocoa, and to take my toddler to the park despite the cold windy weather. We’ll see how well I can keep up the Norwegian spirit through the whole winter!

    1. @Lisa- I think you’re right on timing. We’re just in sweater and boot weather. In the days before driveway shoveling and chipping ice off windshields it’s easier to try to change one’s outlook…

  4. Lisa, I now live in Northern CA, where winter weather is more forgiving But when I lived in Seattle & Bellingham, after the solstice, I started recording the sunset hours in my journal every evening. It was so uplifting seeing how I had 1-2 more minutes of daylight every day!

  5. I shared the article on FB, then several of my friends read it and shared. Unfortunately, I used it to complain about the local weather (“someone remind me of this in February… can I get a coffeehouse with a fireplace?”) and so did they … kind of the opposite of your positive thesis. Sorry! 🙂

  6. I saw it several times in my feed, from Nordic ski friends who embrace winter. I don’t ski, but I tromp out in the snow and take photos of my kids’ teams in action. I always feel invigorated after spending time outside, even in 0 degree weather. For two winters, I helped my middle school daughter with her paper route. While I cursed the deep snow drifts as I walked house to house, I felt so good — when I was done.

  7. A couple things I can think of: the time change, so that our afternoons just got a whole lot darker; and at least in my area, the forecasters just issued their winter forecasts. Unusually cold and snowy in my area, so I was very happy to find your article.

    I think, too, your articles are unique in that your focus on the positive is very practical and straightforward. That makes them stand out from the majority of similar blog posts, which can get a little “woo-woo,” for lack of a better term.

  8. I agree, the timing was perfect. I was just starting to get the winter-is-coming woes, when the time changed. The tone of the article was also so practical & hopeful—like “you too can have a wonderful winter, just do these simple things!”

  9. Lol! It showed up on my FB feed and then I read it thinking “exactly! I love this!” Then I laughed when I got to the byline.

    I am in Buffalo… many of my friends shared it and then on to another friend (who I discover was a Fan of yours) in Minneapolis….

    It was a nice take on graditude too. As we start the thankful, joyful and graditude season.

  10. I saw links to your piece on a few (very unrelated) blogs that I follow. I thought, “wow, she’s everywhere now!”


    1. @Christine – I’m trying! But I do bet that less than 1% of readers looked at the byline. It was fun to have it go viral, but the overall effect was different from if it had been a personal essay.

  11. I thought maybe the norvegians knew something that we didn’t. And boy do we need tips for the months ahead! 😉 i’m a french canadian blog writer and I too don’t always know why some posts are more attractive then others… thanks for your blog! Always feels good to read you!

  12. I first read the article as a share from one of my FB friends… and I don’t normally read many shared articles, to be honest. Now I’m trying to figure out why I clicked through. I think the “Norwegian secret” is what drew me in; surely they know something about snow that could help us lesser folk! I’ve been thinking about the article quite a bit ever since. It even inspired me to have all my kids try on their winter clothes, so I could buy ahead (and as an underbuyer, I rarely buy ahead) and make sure they are ready for colder weather. We live in the snow belt of northeast Ohio, so this is really pretty essential, but I hadn’t fully acknowledged the link between good clothing and enjoying the snow before. My favorite line was, “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.” Truth! And the implications of that thought go beyond winter enjoyment. What else in life would I enjoy doing if I was better prepared to do it? Many things come to mind… Thanks for the thought-provoking thoughts!

    1. @Sarah A – I agree that the idea of preparation is huge. I’m debating whether to go through with running the half marathon I’m signed up for this weekend. I think part of it is that I really, really hate being cold. My fingers and toes go numb and stiff very easily — always have. My left three fingers can almost be numb at room temperature. But I do have little handwarmers I could put in my pockets, and I could find an old coat or sweatshirt for the start that I could discard when running.

  13. I thought it was great because it was a *genuine* reframe. Winter blues are a cultural truth here, so much so that it’s difficult to imagine there’s another way to look at it. After all, Seasonal Affective Disorder is real! So winter MUST be bad for you.

    Except it turns out that SAD might be more like Korean fan death and we could instead look at winter in a really affirming and enjoyable way. It’s the sort of novel insight that makes you look SUPER smart to your network, so I’m not surprised it was shared so widely.

    OTOH, it’s really hard to come up with a novel insight. But I hope you crack the code!

    1. @Shanna – the reframe is key. I don’t doubt that seasonal affective disorder is real and serious. But people who aren’t dealing with mental health issues can re-think how we look at winter, and yes, articles that make you go “hmm…” are good for sharing.

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