There it was, virtual gold: a video of a firefighter resuscitating a kitten trapped in a smoky home.
Neetzan Zimmerman, then an editor at Gawker, a news and gossip site, knew it was destined for viral magic. But before he could publish a post about it, his editor made a request. Mr. Zimmerman was to include the epilogue omitted by most every other outlet: The kitten died of smoke inhalation soon after being saved.
For telling the whole story, Mr. Zimmerman paid a price.
“That video did tremendously well for practically everyone who posted it,” he recalled, “except Gawker.”
Continue reading the main storyFireman resuscitates kitten. Video by GoPro
Why should one sad detail mean the difference between an online megahit and a dud? What makes content go viral?
Social sharing is powerful enough to topple dictatorships and profitable enough to merit multibillion-dollar investments. But scientists are only beginning to explore the psychological motivations that turn a link into “click bait” and propel a piece of content to Internet fame.
Their research may have significant implications for the media and advertising businesses, whose profits hinge on winning the cutthroat race for the attention of Internet users worldwide. Already, some notions of the ingredients in this modern alchemy are beginning to emerge.
If you want to melt the Internet, best to traffic in emotion, researchers have found. The emotional response can be happy or sad, but the more intense it is, the more likely the story is to be passed along.
In a study led by Rosanna Guadagno, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Dallas, 256 participants much preferred to forward a funny video than one of a man treating his own spider bite. But they were likely to share any video that evoked an intense emotional response, Dr. Guadagno found.