What Actually Makes Things Go Viral Will Blow Your Mind. (Hint: It’s Not Headlines Like This.)
By now it’s fairly well known that we care a lot about headlines here at Upworthy. We write at least 25 of them for each post. We test them rigorously. Sometimes, we even make up a word to catch your eye.
Why? Because for us, headlines are an important means to an even more important end: drawing massive amounts of attention to topics that really matter, like health care costs and marriage equality and global health.
And good news: It’s working. Last month, 87 million people visited Upworthy for videos about racial profiling, gender bias, reproductive rights, and other issues. We’re constantly amazed and inspired by our community’s desire for really meaningful content.
But coming up with catchy, curiosity-inducing headlines wasn’t the reason Upworthy had those 87 million visitors. It was because millions of members of the Upworthy community watched the videos we curated and found them important, compelling, and worth sharing with their friends.
Upworthy posts don’t go viral because people click — Upworthy posts go viral because people share.
"Clickbait" — overselling content with outrageous headlines in order to get people onto a website — is a totally viable (if totally annoying) way to get a bunch of initial views. But it doesn’t create viral content. By far the most important factor in getting people to share a post is the actual quality of the content in the eyes of the community. To share, they have to love what they see.
And that’s the reason we focus on quality over quantity. We gauge quality on three things:
- Is the content substantive, engaging, and maybe even entertaining?
- If 1 million people saw it, would the world be a better place?
- Does the content actually deliver on the promise of the headline?
Our top curators comb through hundreds of videos and graphics a week, looking for the 5-7 that they’re confident are super-shareable. That’s not a typo: We pay people full-time to curate 5-7 things a week. What are they doing with all that time? Partly, crafting headlines. Mostly? Finding really great stuff people will want to share with everyone they know.
And things are going pretty well in this department, too. NewsWhip, an independent company that analyzes social sharing, recently took a look at shares, Likes, comments, tweets, LinkedIns (whatever those are called), and pins for the top 50 media websites. Here are some of the biggest publishers, ranked by how many social interactions their average post gets:
So, yes, headlines matter. But content doesn’t go viral unless people love it so much they want to share it.
(If this post felt valuable to you, feel free, of course, to share it with everyone you know.)