Want to Win Friends? Forget About You and Get People Talking About Me

Five Tips From the Friendly Freuds in the Fourth Estate

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Technology, it's said, is rewiring our brains. Without question, it's creating new behaviors and social norms.

Ever see a toddler try to swipe-touch a TV screen? This behavior has become virtually automatic with early and frequent exposure to touchscreen smartphones and tablets.

Similarly, have you noticed that our will to resist checking email in a social setting wavers once another member of the party caves? Then it's game on. The dominoes fall, group dynamics take over and everyone is once again sucked into his screen.

Ellen jumped on the Psy bandwagon.
Ellen jumped on the Psy bandwagon.

Social networks have a subconscious side as well.

The dirty little secret about social-network sharing is that a lot of it really is designed to shape how others view the sender. All those links, photos and status updates are autonomic marketing. They're part of a subliminal effort to get people talking or thinking about the messenger more so than the message.

The most successful marketers in the digital age will be those that don't try to get people talking about a brand but rather create branded content that makes people look good for sharing it.

This means that we need to prioritize psychology over technology and understand how the two intersect.

The good news is that we have a great role model: the media.

The press has earned a virtual master's degree in online psychology. The most sophisticated among them know how to package content in a way that 's gratifying not only to consume but to share. They recognize that content sharing can be like wearing a brand of jeans -- a status symbol.

Here are several tips from the friendly Freuds in the Fourth Estate:

1. An infographic is worth a thousand shares. News sites have long known that photos boost sharing. Infographics do so even more. Geek-culture site Bit Rebels found that its infographics see 800% more retweets than either photo or text posts.

2. Know your memes. The media's love for digital culture and memes is more than just about storytelling. It's also about benefiting from global moments of sharing. Ellen DeGeneres' "Gangnam Style" video featuring Psy and Britney Spears, for example, has racked up more than 43 million views in just two months.

3. Stress emotion over logic. Sharing is an impulse behavior that sometimes addresses deep emotional needs. BuzzFeed, therefore, organizes its content not just by logical verticals (tech, politics, etc.) but also horizontally by emotion (LOL, WTF, etc.).

4. Keep it simple. Content is infinite; time and attention are not. If people can't grab a concept and see why they should share it quickly, they won't. A new Akamai-University of Massachusetts study found that many people abandon videos in under two seconds if they fail to load.

5. Shamelessly copy. Picasso famously once said that "good artists copy, great artists steal." The most sophisticated media innovators are alchemists. They borrow strategies from other companies and industries and then add their own spin. Don't reinvent the wheel.

Every marketer wants to create talk-worthy programs, but often they miss the point. It's not about building our brands but about elevating the image of those we wish to reach. The sooner we grok this the more successful we'll be.

Steve Rubel is exec VP-global strategy and insights for Edelman.

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