HBR: The Three Scientific (and Quite Surprising) Factors that Make a Message Go Viral

Srini Pillay (Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School, teacher, and author), writes about a study in Harvard Business Review, where an MRI scan is used to test for correlations between neural activity and sharing content.

A recent study demonstrated that we can successfully predict which messages will go viral and which will not. This study showed that the ideas that are destined to spread have a characteristic signature at their origin — that is, quite literally, within the brain of the sender. These messages specifically activate key regions in two circuits in the sender’s brain: the “reward” circuit, which registers the value of the message to the sender, and the “mentalizing” circuit, which activates when we see things from the point of view of the person who receives the message…

…The more you value an idea that you want to spread, the more likely you are to be successful at spreading it.  In addition, the more accurately you can predict how others will feel about the message, the more likely you are to be successful at spreading this idea. These findings are profound because they imply that we can predict which messages will go viral…

…when you also register that your actual value is that you are investing in helping to cure people from their illnesses or shorten their durations of suffering (“y”).  You may not be right all the time, but if this is your genuine reward, your brain’s reward circuit will be activated because this will always be true

How will they feel about the fact that you have a history of success in biotechnology investing? How will they feel about their own investment in the well-being of the world? Do they care about communicating this to their families? Would they be excited about the rapid advancements in this field and seeing the newness of the opportunity? Here again, these different aspects of how your audience thinks will help to accentuate the activation in your mentalizing circuit — where you form a mental picture of the audience’s needs and wants.

it would make a difference if he or she actually wanted to spread the message rather than just passively feeling that the message is valuable. This implies that it matters when you think of how a message can be useful to others rather than simply thinking about yourself.

All three factors (value, mentalizing, and intention to spread) point to the fact that the social currency of a message matters at the very source of the message.

On one hand, my initial reaction is that this is too idealistic.

However, the researcher in me can’t argue with experimental data.  Which is why the article leads me to self-reflect.  Oftentimes, I do blog with the objective of just shouting into the void.  Of curation. Very self-focused objectives.  When, if people (including me) and brands would start growing a sincere interest in being useful…maybe, that is all that really matters.

Advertisements

Ev Williams: Different services create value in different ways

Morning inspiration for people who want smart KPIs.

Especially for digital, but also for other things: success is relative.

Ev Williams, CEO of Medium, expounds on how there is “God metric” (Jonah Peretti, 2014).

Read the whole thing.

If you’re in the business of convincing people to refine their objectives.

My many favorite points from the piece:

…If that’s happening, I frankly don’t give a shit if Instagram has more people looking at pretty pictures.

Of course, I am trivializing what Instagram is to many people. It’s a beautifully executed app that enables the creation and enjoyment of art, as well as human connection, which is often a good thing. But my rant had very little to do with it (or with Twitter). My rant was the result of increasing frustration with the one-dimensionality that those who report on, invest in, and build consumer Internet services talk about success.

…Will Oremus’s piece in Slate is the one I saw that didn’t just regurgitate the “bigger” headline. He does a great job of explaining why it’s not that simple. It’s worth a read, but the summary is this:

So is Instagram larger than Twitter? No — it’s different than Twitter. One is largely private, the other largely public. One focuses on photos, the other on ideas.

…our top-line metric is “TTR,” which stands for total time reading. It’s an imperfect measure of time people spend on story pages. We think this is a better estimate of whether people are actually getting value out of Medium…

…everyone is in a “war for attention.” But it uses unique visitors as the way to compare how different outlets are doing in this war…

We pay more attention to time spent reading than number of visitors at Medium because, in a world of infinite content — where there are a million shiny attention-grabbing objects a touch away and notifications coming in constantly — it’s meaningful when someone is actually spending time. After all, for a currency to be valuable, it has to be scarce.

Chartbeat’s Tony Haile has done a great job of promoting the idea of an “Attention Web” (as opposed to the “Click Web”). He’s hopeful a shift to measuring attention will improve the web:

For quality publishers, valuing ads not simply on clicks but on the time and attention they accrue might just be the lifeline they’ve been looking for. Time is a rare scarce resource on the web and we spend more of our time with good content than with bad.

The problem with time, though, is it’s not actually measuring value. It’s measuring cost as a proxy for value.

Advertisers don’t really want your time — they want to make an impression on your mind…

…As the writer of this piece, I don’t really want your time — I want to make an impression on how you think.

But taking people’s time isn’t really the goal. And people wasting time is actually the opposite of the goal.

This is the problem with any one-dimensional metric. As Jonah Peretti says, there’s no “God metric”:

I feel like what you see in the industry now is people jumping around and trying to find the God metric for content. It’s all about shares or it’s all about time spent or it’s all about pages or it’s all about uniques. The problem is you can only optimize one thing and you have to pick, otherwise all you’re doing is making a bunch of compromises if you try to optimize for multiple things.

nice finds about “young” social platforms

I don’t plan on typing anything about my finds.  I promise, someday, I will get around to blogging.

Dang it, why is it so hard to sit down and write about the amazing things I find, when it’s so easy to sit for three hours in front of the computer and search for an endless stream of 2-dimensional visual and information goodies.

The Next Big Trend? It’s All About Curation

Gen Y and Tumblr Launch the Digital Art Revolution

Tumblr, the Next Emerging Platform?

my culture is not a trend.

Examining the Indulgent: Segments, Stats, Brands, Facts

Examining Generation Y: Stats, Demographics, Segments, Predictions

Building a Brand

YouTube Teen Beauty Vloggers: Fashion’s New “It” Girls?

Passion Immersion Drives Niche Luxury

Internet research findings!

Someday, I would want to be able to execute social networking research — some sort of data mining, or content analysis.  I’ve wanted to since I discovered Mimi Ito‘s new media studies.

I am, thankfully, one tiny step closer, what with my boss discovering supposedly newfangled research techniques from the conference she recently attended.

So, today, I shall celebrate my boss’s new learnings with a collection of fun Internet research-related stuff I found on the web!

This surf session led me to see the Pew Research Center.  They describe themselves as a “fact tank”, but I’m just happy to find some leads into research questions and methods on Internet and mobile usage.  Thank you, Good magazine and all the Internet hype about Millenials!

“Even though teens are heavily embedded in a tech-rich world, they do not believe that communication over the internet or text messaging is writing.” — Writing, Technology and Teens

How often do you send or receive text messages to…just say hello and chat–several times a day, at least once a day, a few times a week, less often or never? – Exploring social networking questions from the Pew Research Center

And now, for just some plain old nice things to watch and know:

1.  Know.  I am really happy about the Jon Stewart choice.  More markers that point to the semi-democratization of news and news commentary.  And, because during my brief visit to the US, he and Stephen Colbert (other than Kim Kardashian and Tina Fey) were the few people on TV that made me laugh at loud.

Top 49 Most Influential Men of 2010

2.  Watch – Guggenheim’s Most Creative Web Videos

3. Watch – Influencers

4. Watch – One Hundred Orbs of Floating Light