The secret to activating your supporters

February 14, 2013

Do you know what makes your audience tick? Do you know what makes them care enough to promote your organization on their own?

I keep coming back to a fascinating webinar I attended last year on a paper published by Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman of the Wharton School of Business on which types of stories were most often shared by email from the New York Times website. In case you guessed it was the ones with cute kitty photos attached, you are wrong!

NYT most emailedOf the more than 7,500 stories they studied over a six-month period, the most emailed stories consistently generated what are called “active emotions.” These are ones that people can react to, like anger. Anger is an active emotion. We want to do something about it. Sadness is a disempowering feeling, an inactive emotion. People did not forward sad stories.

Some people say that it’s impossible to predict what goes viral, and what doesn’t. These researchers proved that this actually can be predicted. High arousal emotions, like anger, excitement, surprise, or awe make something go viral, not sadness or contentment.

The answer, if you are a nonprofit, is to make your stories evoke these active emotions. Content that moves people is more likely to be shared. And positive news tends to outperform doom and gloom (though negative news still earns more shares than neutral news).

When we care, we share.

Liz Banse