Good News Trumps Bad for Social Media Stickiness

Jonah Berger, Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania

Unlike news outlets, which play up bad news to get people’s immediate attention, news that is shared online via social media spreads faster and is stickier if it’s good news.

John Tierney’s article in the Science section of yesterday’s New York Times highlights different rules on the spreading of information, which is helpful to PR pros looking to get their messages out.

“The ‘if it bleeds’ rule works for mass media that just want you to tune in,” said Jonah Berger, a social psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, in the article. “They want your eyeballs and don’t care how you’re feeling. But when you share a story with your friends and peers, you care a lot more how they react. You don’t want them to think of you as a Debbie Downer.”

Berger, a James G. Campbell assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, also found that online audiences liked to share articles that were funny or exciting, or that inspired short-term negative emotions like anger or anxiety, but not articles that left them sad. They needed to be aroused one way or the other, and they preferred good news to bad.

Another observation by Berger—the author of the new book, “Contagious: Why Things Catch On”—that is particularly relevant to communicators is that people who are successful in spreading ideas are themselves excited about the topic. But that by itself is not enough. Successful social sharers also think about what appeals to others.

“You’d expect people to be most enthusiastic and opinionated and successful in spreading ideas that they themselves are excited about,” said Dr. Falk. “But our research suggests that’s not the whole story.”

Berger's research highlights the fact that communicators need to put themselves more in their target audiences’ shoes, while remembering the effects of good news on social media vs. bad news in traditional media.

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