A Recipe for Virality – Craft Protent to Your Heart’s Content

Like so many content marketers, I was a journalism major. I romanticized journalism, thanks in large part to films like Anchorman All the President’s Men. The idea that two writers were able to bring down an unethical presidential administration was inspiring to me. I wanted to be that writer who could tell truth to ugly power.

The head of my department at my university said something the day he got hired that still sticks with me – “The best journalists don’t have any attendees at their funeral.” Essentially, to be a world class journalist you have to be vigilant and confrontational to the point of being generally unappealing.

I can’t say that I agree with this 100%, given that I know several friendly and competent journalists. But I don’t think my professor meant to be taken so literally. What he was insinuating was that journalists will spend their respective careers writing a high volume of unflattering stories, stories that will embarrass high-ranking officials, or indeed accuse them of felonies.

An electorate can’t make proper decisions without being properly informed. So in this sense, journalism is essential. Essential, but also kind of a

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“My site hasn’t ranked since I bought all of those junk links in 2010.”

If you consume investigative journalism on a regular basis, you’ll undoubtedly be left with a grim depiction of the world.

Journalism is filled to the brim with negative content. But like many journalism majors, I fled to content marketing. And while the two trades may share some overlap, there is a distinct emotional difference. So I don’t want to talk to you about content or the power of content. We’re in content marketing. I want to talk about the power of protent.

What is Protent?

Before you go referring to a dictionary, let me state that “protent” is a word I made up.

Protent is simple: positive content. It takes the “con” out of content. It’s turning Joseph Gordon-Levitt from mean tweets:

qtip

Into Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer:

you make my dreams come true photo 500-days-of-summer-dance-o-1.gif

Note: A recent Jesse Stoler University study found that Zooey Deschanel makes everything better, with the glaring exception of The Happening.

There’s much power in positivity. Jonah Berger, a professor of social psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has in fact conducted several studies that all conclude that good news travels faster than bad news on social media.

In sharp contrast with the days of the Bubonic plague, everybody wants to go viral in today’s world. Marketing agencies are now opening viral marketing departments.

So what causes virality? There’s no one strict formula, but there are a few common characteristics to be found in viral content. A handful of these include:

  • Timeliness
  • Topical relevance
  • Hilarity
  • Provocation
  • Senior citizens doing the nae nae

These are all powerful elements that can cause something to go viral, but nothing helps more than staying positive.

Why Positive?

To some, this may be counterintuitive. What’s one of the main tenets of customer service? When a customer is treated nicely, they’ll tell one person. When a customer has a bad experience, they tell ten. “Comcast sucks” also would have been an acceptable answer.

Boiling that down, we’re far more likely to relay a negative customer service experience than we are to relay a positive one.

Viral content is the exact opposite of that. When people share, the content they share is much more likely to be positive or life affirming.

What’s the cause of this discrepancy? Why are people more willing to share a negative story in one scenario, but a positive one in a different scenario?

That’s because when we share stories, we instinctively want to tell a story that will enrich the lives of our audience.

When you share a negative anecdote about a bad experience at a department store, you do it as a way to steer your friends and family away from having to put up with a similar nuisance. Part of you is venting, but give yourself more credit, because you’re simultaneously actively campaigning for your listener to make better use of their time.

Now think about what you share on social media. How often do you see your old college classmate share something like

“Six Diseases Likely to Keep You Bedridden in 2016 (Number 3 Will Shock You… Literally)”
“A Statistical Analysis as to Why You Are Responsible for Your Parents’ Divorce”
“This Formerly Devout Nun Just Summed Up the Emptiness of Life in 14 Seconds”

For the state of your own mental health, I hope just about never.

That isn’t to say that you can’t use depressing topics in a positive light.

Can a Negative Make a Positive?

What’s a basic rule of arithmetic? A negative multiplied by a positive equals a negative, right?

This is one mathematic principle that does not apply in content marketing. It’s entirely possible to turn seemingly depressing topics into positives. You just have to add the positive.

One of my favorite books is the fast food exposé Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. For hundreds of pages, it’s a downer, filled to the brim with anecdotes about the destruction of small businesses at the hand of rapacious franchises and rising obesity. This would have been a fitting promotional image for Mr. Schlosser’s book:

breakdown
And yes, yes I have.

But then you arrive at the last chapter. Schlosser brilliantly concocts a call-to-action in which he implores the reader to simply not buy fast food anymore. It’s invigorating. It raises your heart rate so much that you feel like you just, well, ate at McDonald’s, ironically.

It’s been about two years since I finished the book. I haven’t bought fast food since.

It’s perfectly fine to dwell on a problem at great length, but it’s imperative to include a solution. When you find the remedy for the dilemma you’ve spelled out, your audience will no longer feel emotionally drained – they will feel empowered.

So yes, it’s possible to turn a negative into a positive. And this isn’t the only way. Humor can be effective as well.

No matter how you feel about the 2nd Amendment–and I’m not about to open up THAT can of worms – it’s hard to deny that America is facing an epidemic of gun violence. In the aftermath of the shooting in Colorado Springs (where I work), the Washington Post reported this shocking statistic:

mass

Again, no matter where you stand on gun control/gun rights, it’s impossible not to feel disheartened about this. How can you possibly make light out of such tragedies?

Normally, onions make you cry. Apparently, the staff writers at the satirical online magazine The Onion don’t know their way around a cookbook, because they know how to make the entire world laugh.

noway

You might think that The Onion would take heat for making light of such a delicate subject. This backlink report would suggest otherwise.

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Even during our darkest hours, people have an insatiable need for comic relief. Sometimes, ESPECIALLY during our darkest hours.

Stay Positive

So to quote one of my favorite bands, “You gotta stay positive.

In our new era of digital content, the old mantra of “If it bleeds, it leads” doesn’t carry the same weight that it used to. Today, if it cares, it shares.

So turn your frown upside down; don’t worry, be happy; grey skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face.

Pick whichever cliche you prefer best. Before you know it, you will be a pro at producing protent.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Jesse Stoler

Jesse Stoler is a Content Specialist at Upspring, a full-service SEO company in Colorado Springs. His hobbies include stand-up comedy and pretending he has fans. Find him on Twitter.

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