Data Says Positivity Outperforms ...


Last year Buffer published the post, “Want to Improve Your Social Media Sharing? Harness the Power of Positivity in Social Media,” that evangelized a keep-it-positive message.

Among the research supporting its position, the post included data from a Facebook study that showed when people read positive updates, they too tend to publish positive content. When people read negative updates, they lean toward publishing negative updates. And an absence of emotion in the content — linguistic analysis reveals neither a positive or negative bent — leads the reader to post less overall.

Here’s the actual chart:

Positive-Negative Chart - PR storytelling

The Buffer post goes on to point that Hubspot’s Dan Zarella’s five scientifically proven ways to gain more followers on Twitter includes, “Don’t be a Debbie Downer.” Zarella’s research revealed for Twitter accounts with 8,000 followers, negativity shows up in less than .005 percent of their tweets.

There’s a certain logic that positive sentiment in a company’s social stream begets more positive content, which collectively delivers a positive halo for a brand or individual.

If only it were this simple.

While I’m not disputing the research, it’s equally true that people gravitate toward train wrecks. We can’t help ourselves.

This plays out  in everyday life, whether it’s the Kardashian reality TV show or politicians dishing on their opponents. I’m sure the Ph.D.’s in psychology have a seven-syllable word to describe the satisfaction — or is it guilty joy? — that people feel in seeing the misfortune of others.

You would think that squeezing the public for donations would also depend on positivity. Yet, fundraising emails from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last year featured these phrases in the subhead line:

  • “Painful Defeat”
  • “DEVASTATING defeat”
  • “bad news”
  • “CRUSHING blow”
  • “throw in the towel”
  • “STAGGERING setback”
  • “Devastating blow”
  • “DOOMED”
  • “painful loss”
  • “all hope is lost”

And they worked. I suppose you can never go wrong with the single word, “obliterated”.

So are we to believe that once people enter that alternative universe called social media, it’s all sugar and spice and nothing of vice?

I don’t think so.

Given the amount of content that rains down on each of us every day, it’s damn hard to move folks to the elusive action called a “click.” That’ why there’s such a premium on headline writing in the social sphere and on techniques such as weirdness, sensationalism and, yes, negativity. They give you a fighting chance in a time of gnat-like attention spans. Of course, the headline needs to align with the content, lest it be clickbait.

My best-performing post of all time is “Open Letter to Toyota Customers Hits Pothole” — not exactly a tribute to the auto maker.

More recently, I conducted an informal study asking which was the stronger headline:

  • One Reason PR Fails at Storytelling
  • Six Journalists Share Tips for Conducting an Interview

Failure won by a landslide.

Like many things in life, it’s about balance.

To be 100-percent sugary does your social media activity a disservice.

Just don’t go Rush Limbaugh either.


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