Here’s one of the fundamental flaws of social media:
Negative posts get more engagement than positive posts.
A new Cambridge University study suggests that posts are TWICE as likely to go viral if they are NEGATIVE about politicians rather than positive.
The university analyzed 2.7 million tweets and Facebook posts from US media outlets and politicians over five years. It found that negative posts are also twice as likely to be commented on.
In the world of social media, being hateful and derogatory always trumps being kind and positive. In fact, it is being REWARDED.
One of the researchers at Cambridge said:
“Social-media companies desire engagement and virality from us at all costs to produce ad revenue, and we as individuals desire engagement and virality to get our message out or promote a political campaign.”
THE CULT OF NEGATIVITY
What kind of a sick cycle is this, that rewards trolls and punishes positive content?
Before I get to what I think is the root of the problem, I want to tell you something you already know. We’re not just talking about the polarization of politics on social media that accounts for this negative trend.
I think we’re in the midst of an anti-intellectual coarsening of our culture. The relative anonymity of the online world just makes it easier for people to show their true colors and be more extreme.
As someone who has been in journalism for many years, I know that the most sensational headlines get the most attention. “If it bleeds, it leads,” is the phrase we use. Controversial and scary stories are way more popular than positive news. I can even tell by the way you respond to this blog.
THE NETHERVOICE TOP THREE
Whenever I firmly kick the pants of certain Pay to Plays in the voice over industry, the story is widely read, shared, and quoted. My blog post Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy? is still one of the most popular stories on this website.
It is followed in popularity by The Voice Arts™ Awards. The New Pay to Play? And number three on the list is 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice Over.
No matter how hard I try to stay positive, helpful, and uplifting, it tells me that contentious stories do much better than any other content. These are the stories people remember when they meet me in person. What’s up with that?
AN EVOLUTIONARY FOCUS
I think it may have to do with our focus. You see, our brain has a lot to pay attention to on any given day. It needs to decide what to focus on and what not. Otherwise it gets overwhelmed.
It makes sense not to focus on the ordinary and the predictable, and to concentrate on the extraordinary and the unpredictable. Evolution has taught us to pay attention to the things that stand out. The things that are possibly dangerous.
That’s why we notice that ONE driver on the road whose behavior is erratic, and filter out all the others who drive predictably and safely. In a way, were all proofreaders searching for that one mistake taht stands out (in this sentence alone there were 2 mistakes).
So, if you wish to be noticed, go for the unusual, the bizarre, the ridiculous, the nasty, the alarming, and the negative. Those posts are most popular. It’s one of the reasons I gave my book the unusual title “Making Money in your PJs” and not “Useful Tips for Voice Overs.” And frankly, it’s also one of the reasons I wear ridiculously fluffy yellow Dutch clogs to voice over conferences.
That, by the way, is also the good news in this story about negative news and trolling. You don’t necessarily have to resort to rudeness and negativity to get attention. You can be colorful and silly and stand out in a crowd. The other positive takeaway is something I used to tell the participants in my media trainings. They were always complaining:
“Why is the news so negative?” “You reporters always show up when there’s trouble, and never when things go well.”
I had to tell them:
“This has to do with the nature of news. It focuses on the exceptional and on the things that are extraordinary. One thousand airplanes taking off and landing safely is not newsworthy. That ONE plane that crashes, is. As long as the news focuses on the exception, it means that OVERALL our world is still a pretty decent place.”
So, what to do if you want people to notice your content on social media? Do you go to the extreme, knowing that the most polarizing content wins the day? I think it’s a matter of knowing your audience.
Radical right wing influencers know exactly which buzz words to use to get their base all revved up. They also know what to say to get their left-leaning opponents up in arms. It’s a game of stimulus – response. I think the readers of my blog know better and deserve better.
In the past year or so, I chose to be less controversial and less confrontational. My opinions haven’t changed, but the way I try to express them is generally milder (at least that’s my intention). It’s more in line with who I really am, but making that choice has had its repercussions.
Since I’ve become less of a militant barnstorming persona, my blog readership and number of subscribers has gone down a bit. For me, it’s never been about the numbers, but I do want people to read and respond to my stories. Otherwise, what’s the point?
The BBC writes:
“Social-media algorithms are often designed to promote the most popular material – meaning the more engagement a post has, the more likely it is to pop up in the feeds of a wider audience.”
I really want that “wider audience” but not at any price.
Some people in the community call me an “influencer,” but I see myself more as an ENCOURAGER.
To “encourage” comes from the word “courage” which goes back to the French word for heart, “coeur.” I put my heart and my soul into my writings, hoping that my words will resonate. But it doesn’t all have to come from this blog. There are other platforms besides nethervoice.com where I can share my message.
This week I was Val Kelly’s guest for her “Live with Squacky” podcast.
I also had a fun conversation with Linda Bruno and JJ Wilson who produce the Voiceover Gurus podcast (as always, the bold text in blue is a hyperlink taking you to additional content).
As far as the success of this blog is concerned, I’ll do my best to keep it fresh, entertaining, and relevant. I won’t shy away from controversial topics, but I’m not going to be needlessly confrontational to increase my readership.
Is that a good approach?