Becoming Awful or Awesome on Social Media

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The words “awful” and “awesome” are interesting to consider. In common usage, they are essentially antonyms. An awful experience is bad while an awesome experience is good. Yet while their meanings are opposites, curiously they both have the same root word: awe. Either a good or bad experience may be awe-inspiring, leaving you jaw-dropped, perhaps even inducing an involuntary audible “aww” sound. A cute puppy, a stunning landscape, or a thoughtful surprise may inspire awe. So too may an animal in need, a natural disaster, or a feeling of betrayal.

I recently read the book ‘Contagious: Why Things Catch On’ by Jonah Berger. Don’t worry, the book is not related to COVID-19…I am as fatigued by that topic as anyone. ‘Contagious’ is actually a fascinating read about social media marketing and what factors determine whether something may go viral.

Do positive stories get shared more than negative stories? Surprisingly, the data shows that where content lands on that dichotomy isn’t very influential. Both positive and negative stories achieve buzz to a similar degree. It actually turns out that if your goal is to have content shared widely, the most important emotion to illicit is awe.

The importance of inspiring awe wasn’t intuitive for me. But thinking it through further, it makes sense. Why is social media so littered with cute cat photos and videos? Because they’re awesome. Why do GoFundMe campaigns following a tragedy get so much attention? Because the events were awful. Why is the old adage “sex sells” so evident across all social media? Because, well, “awwwww yeah”.

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, has mused on the subject of emotion and what gets shares on social media:

“existing social media incentives frequently lead to attention being focused on content and conversation that sparks controversy and outrage, rather than conversation which informs and promotes health”

It seems to me that Dorsey’s sentiment supports Berger’s theory about awe, as content that’s controversial or outrageous is more likely to inspire the negative type of awe. Informational content or healthy living content? Not so much.

What are the implications for marketers of IT Service Providers? Well, I think it’s fair to say that creating awe-inspiring content is easier when you’re doing B2C marketing than it is for B2B. But there are still many ways to apply Berger’s lesson for B2B. Let’s take a managed service provider for example. What’s more likely to be shared on social media, a white paper about Office 365 or a case study about ransomware? With all due respect to Office 365, it’s about as mundane of a topic as it gets. Ransomware on the other hand may inspire a feeling of potential dread, as a client being locked out of their servers would be an awful experience for all involved, which is conducive to being shared. But it’s a fine line to walk, as you don’t want to come across as a fear monger or sleazeball either, so be mindful of your tone.

It’s more challenging for IT Service Providers to inspire the positive variety of awe. Much of the value provided by IT Service Providers is behind the scenes. Security services in particular are often either invisible or mildly annoying on the surface (until they’re needed). No-one gets too worked up about two-factor authentication or server monitoring on a day-to-day basis. So marketers for IT Service Providers need to get creative. Are there any charitable activities you can promote? Have you helped any clients overcome technical hurdles that have enabled their growth? Have you helped any clients save a lot of money? Are there any wonderful members of your staff to acknowledge? These are all potentially awe-inspiring angles for social media.

There are a few real-life examples that come to mind. Data centers are – no offense – a bland topic for most people. But Microsoft building data centers underwater? Awesome. Machine learning is – no offense – an inaccessible and boring subject for most people. But IBM’s Watson winning on Jeopardy or Google’s AlphaStar beating top Starcraft 2 professionals? Awesome. Elephants are awesome too. But images of GoDaddy’s founder trophy hunting an Elephant? Awful, and this story predictably lead to a public backlash.

Next time you’re working on crafting content for your social media channels, consider it through the lens of trying to inspire the right variety of awe, and you’ll very likely induce more organic sharing and will achieve a greater reach.

Contact eBridge today to discuss social media and content marketing strategies for your IT Service Provider.


About the Author:

As eBridge’s VP of Operations, Devin Rose brings marketing expertise and an entrepreneurial knack to the eBridge team. Devin holds a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from Royal Roads University and a Marketing Management Diploma from the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Posted August 6, 2020
Categories: Advertising and Marketing General, Social Media Management
Tags: ,