There was a study done at Wharton that they covered on the show “On the Media” this weekend that I think would be very interesting to all of you.
The researchers looked at the most emailed articles from the New York Times web site every 15 minutes for several months. This should have balanced out any effects of time of day and day of the week and part of the month. I don’t think they went for a whole year, so there may have been some seasonality effect.
They used semantic analysis to try to identify what the most emailed articles had in common. Was it importance (Revolution in Egypt, etc)? No. Was it Paparazzi (Lady Gage stories.)? No. It was stories that were awe-inspiring. They took a lot of time to develop a formal definition of what they meant by awe-inspiring and trained their research assistants to measure this consistently. And this was the #1 attribute of these NYT most emailed articles. Secondary to that was articles that made people angry (but not articles that made people sad) and articles written by female authors (even keeping the amount of awe and the amount of anger constant).
Keep in mind that these weren’t the most popular articles or the most read articles. These are the ones that people most wanted to share with their friends/contacts. So we don’t want to inform our friends, we want to motivate them. We don’t want to share information, we want to share emotion. Interesting, don’t you think?!!