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!