Research That Goes Viral
Getting your research findings heard, understood, and used should always be your goal. That means more than putting findings into a report deck, presenting results to the marketing team, writing up press releases, or getting media placement for a PR story. It means having your audience engage with it by thinking, sharing, and taking action.
What do we know about the kinds of stories and research reports that can achieve this? A recent study reported in The New York Times provides some clues. Researchers looked at which types of NYT articles get e-mailed by readers the most. One surprising result was that science articles (stories that convey research findings!) get e-mailed the most. The reason is not that readers like science more than other topics – it’s that science articles, at least those in The New York Times, have content characteristics that people find compelling and want to share. The researchers analyzed thousands of articles (both science and non-science) and noted the characteristics of those most likely to go viral. They tend to be articles that:
- Elicit strong emotions
- Have positive themes rather than negative themes
- Inspire awe, or a sense of discovery and grandeur beyond oneself
- Challenge the reader intellectually
- Are surprising in some way
When it comes to market research, this does not mean that all your research presentations need to be awe-inspiring and emotional calls to action. But it does mean that your research should tell a story that relates to people and what they do, feel, and care about. It should show them opportunities as well as barriers. It should provide context. The numbers do not need to be easy, but remember they help tell the story rather than being the story. If you’re writing a story for media placement and would love to see your story leveraged beyond the initial hit, incorporate as many of these characteristics as you can.
A lot of surveys and market research reports today sit buried in PowerPoint charts that nobody has bothered to read – a sorry state of affairs that inspires Versta’s mission to help you turn data into stories. With the right approach, your managers and audiences will not only listen to your findings and act on them, but they will be eager to share them with their managers and their friends and family as well.
Joe Hopper, Ph.D.