What Content Spreads the Best? Researchers at Wharton Analyze Why People Share Content Via Social Media and Propose a Theory of What Messages Tend to Spread

Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

Recently, along with fellow researcher, Katherine A. Milkman, Prof. Berger set out to determine what kinds of stories were the most likely to spread online.

As reported in the Feb. 8th, 2010 New York Times, Prof. Berger found that stories that inspired a feeling of "awe" were among the best at going viral: “If I’ve just read this story that changes the way I understand the world and myself, I want to talk to others about what it means. I want to proselytize and share the feeling of awe. If you read the article and feel the same emotion, it will bring us closer together.”

Using as his database records from the New York Times about which newspaper articles were the most shared (admittedly a limited database that probably did not include large numbers of LOL cats), Berger and Milkman found that articles that involved "opening and broadening of the mind" (even if long and apparently more challenging than other content) were most apt to spread.

According to the Feb. 8th, 2010 NY Times article, awe wasn't the only thing that drove viral sharing: "The Penn researchers found evidence of readers’ sharing other emotions, too, like anxiety— which, based on the old “fear sells” theory of journalism, might be expected to be the most influential emotion on readers. But of all the variables studied, Dr. Berger said, awe had the strongest relationship with an article making the most-e-mailed list."

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