The Biggest Mistake in Content Marketing: Creating Negative Motives to Share

For viral content to succeed, it must create strong motives to share.

Soon after I developed the BUMP Viral Content algorithm I was sitting at my desk putting together some notes for a night class I was scheduled to teach, when I got a phone call. The woman calling introduced herself as Cheryl, and explained that she was the director of a boutique advertising agency in Sydney Australia. Her voice was rushed and forceful, and she sounded stressed. She explained she heard I was researching about viral movies, and wanted some advice.

I was flattered, and curious.

We chatted for about 5 minutes, whereafter some small talk and pleasantries she explained her predicament. She told me her agency had recently taken on a new client who wanted to launch a new brand of underwear. Her brief was to produce a high engagement advertisement. Or as she put it, something that would “go viral”. The problem was that the advertisement wasn’t creating buzz—after several months it had barely 400 views, and the client wanted answers. Cheryl had no idea why it wasn’t working, and wanted to find out if anything could be done to make it work.

Before the phone call ended I promised Cheryl I would have a look, though suspecting that it would be unlikely anything could be fixed.

I set aside my class preparation, and began watching. It was a personalized story type advertisement—a technique I had seen before where the viewer was asked to upload a photo of themselves that would be included in the story. I followed the instructions – uploaded a photo of myself, and selected male for my gender.

The movie loaded and revealed a dimly-lit studio apartment. A woman appeared from the shadows wearing lingerie. Gliding past a coffee table she picked up a magazine, headed towards her bed, and lay down. She opened the magazine, flicking through the pages before pausing. The camera zoomed in on the page she paused on. It was a fit male model wearing underwear. The camera zoomed in to the face—it was me! They had superimposed my face from the image I uploaded at the start.

The women began to touch herself, and moan… I felt awkward.

It was obvious to me why the ad had not gone viral. The problem was not the quality of the production—it was the content. Incorrectly assuming that sex sells was where it went wrong. Or more precisely, they had wrongly assumed that by showing provocative content it would somehow make people want to share it.

One of the reasons why something goes viral is because it motivates people to share it with other people. Worse than creating no motive for viewers to share, Cheryl’s advertisement actually created a negative motive to share. Most people would not feel comfortable sharing soft-pornography with people they knew, let alone publicly on social networks, since most people don’t want to risk their reputation, and there is no social capital available from sharing. Cheryl’s campaign actually created an incentive to not share.

The lesson to be learnt from Cheryl’s experience is important: For viral content to succeed, it must create strong motives to share.

How to use Affinity to Increase Content Engagement

When you create content to post online, what’s the number 1 thing you care about? Engagement right? Affinity is the key to engagement. In this blogpost I describe what affinity is, how to create affinity, and why it drives engagement.

What is ‘Affinity’?

Affinity is something that people deeply care about. Ultra strong relevance, usually tied to people’s value system. If people don’t care about the story you’re trying to tell, they’re not going to share it.

Technically, affinity is a feeling of warmth, respect, and deep appreciation for an activity, idea, or object. Affinity is different than emotion, which is characterised by more of a short term physical response to a stimulus. Affinity is an enduring quality of feeling radiating from the heart, that doesn’t necessarily have any physical symptoms.

The most important thing to note about affinity is that it’s a requirement for something to go viral. If somebody doesn’t relate to or care about your Marketing, then they most certainly won’t share it. Although emotion might be important when creating marketing content, affinity is critical.

One of the ways to create affinity is to remind people why they love something. The biggest problem with this however is that not all of your target audience might like the same thing. It’s of course easier if you’re selling something where your target market is bound together  by a shared passion, like motorcycling, but for many brands their target audience is more mixed. In this situation, activating meaningful memories that a wider range of people care about is a better choice.

Here’s an example. This is a well-known surf brand here in Australia, and this type of advertisement is often used by surf brands – a pic of someone surfing inside the barrel of a wave.

How to use Affinity to Increase Content Engagement 1

Did this go viral and get a lot of engagement? No. Although it appeals to their target market’s main interest – it doesn’t tap into their value system (create affinity).

Compare that example to this example from a competitor. They realised that their target market cared deeply about 2 things – (1) location – where they had surfed. And (2) the health of the ocean – surfers care about ocean a lot – it taps into their value system.

How to use Affinity to Increase Content Engagement 2

So in this image we have someone surfing in an iconic surf location for those who surf – Java – an island in Indonesia. And it’s also showing the amount of pollution in the ocean. You think this went viral? Its sure did – the engagement was through the roof.

So that’s affinity – before you start creating content – figure out what your target market deeply cares about, and use that in your campaigns.

You can learn more about Affinity in my book, or in my Virology Viral Marketing Masterclass

Rejoinder: The difference between Affinity and Emotions

Affinity is a powerful feeling that creates the foundations of sharing. Affinity manifests itself as a feeling of warmth, respect, or deep appreciation for an activity, idea, or object. Affinity is different from emotion for several reasons.

An emotion is characterised by some kind of physiological effect. Adrenaline is released, or blood pressure increases. Facial expressions might change to match the emotion. Emotions are characterised by energy and a physical change in the body. They’re usually short term, and can come and go quickly.

Affinity in contrast is a long term quality of feeling. It is a passion that somebody has for something that radiates from the heart. It is a closeness to something, characterised by passion.

Operationally, affinity has greater importance for the prediction of viral content than emotion.

How Social Currency drives Content Engagement

Think about how many jokes you’ve heard in your lifetime. Dozens? Hundreds? Now think about how many jokes you can remember. If you’re like most people, it’s a struggle to remember more than a few. Jokes are basically short messages that have gone viral, but they aren’t really that memorable. So if jokes are not that easy to remember, how do jokes survive and not just disappear?

It has to do with the speed of transfer. Jokes don’t just survive because they’re written down somewhere—most jokes have been around since long before the internet, and not everyone reads joke books. Jokes are spread by word-of-mouth—one person telling another. If people stop telling each other jokes, the joke will eventually disappear, unless of course someone reads it somewhere and begins telling the joke again.

It’s the word of mouth sharing of a joke that keeps it alive. The motive that causes word-of-mouth sharing is related to the emotion that the joke creates. Jokes are designed to be humorous, which explains why they’re shared. Someone will tell someone else a joke, to make them laugh. But why would an individual feel compelled to make someone else laugh, by telling them a joke? The reason is because all people have a desire to build something we call social currency.

Social currency is intrinsic value we use to help us interact with others, and build social status. When people respect or admire us, we have social currency. When we have social currency we have a good reputation, people respect us, and we feel sense of belonging. For example, one reason why men keep up with popular sports, even though they might not play the sport themselves, is so they can use sports knowledge as a conversation piece with other men. This earns them social currency by helping them build bonds based on shared interests. Building social currency is something all people desire to do, and therefore efforts to build and retain social currency control much of our behavior.

Social currency therefore acts as a powerful motivator for people to share information with others. People share a humorous image, a joke, an idea, a movie, or any other information if they feel that other people will appreciate their efforts to share something that has value. People appreciate others who share useful information, which results in the sharer earning social currency.