Monday, March 28, 2022

What Makes an Article Go Viral? The Answer May Make You Angry

 At one point social media was supposed to lead to more transparency, which would result in more democracy.

That was the narrative, at least, framing the Arab Spring back in 2010 and 2011. The world's hopes were that pro-democratic protests -- including peaceful demonstrations, marches, occupations of plazas, non-violent civil resistance, acts of civil disobedience and strikes -- that started on Twitter would lead to the overthrow of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, and that that movement would challenge other authoritarian governments in the region.

Mubarak did step down as a result of the protests. But, unfortunately, social media did not lead to more freedoms in Arab countries or anywhere else.

True, social media has impacted how most of us get and consume news. But the trend isn't pro-democratic, as evidenced by increased polarization, hatred and bigotry, and disinformation. Social media played a large roll with the Jan. 6th insurrection. So social media is decidedly not pro-democracy.

We mention this because of a recent New York Times article entitled "What Makes an Article Go Viral: Shares, posts and page views: we examine why an article spreads online." The article says "People share articles to strengthen social bonds." That certainly makes sense. 

But that leads to a new question: why do people share the articles they do?

The answer comes from a 2012 study of over 7,000 Times articles that sought to understand sharing behavior. Researchers led by Jonah Berger, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania: 

Found that articles evoking high-arousal emotions like awe, anger, surprise and anxiety were more likely to go viral. 

Those emotions are easily seen across social media. And of those four, we'd say anger, anxiety and surprise probably drive a lot of the posts we see when doomscrolling.  


Those emotions are the ones that keep us not only up at night but engaged on social media even when we know we should stop. Those emotions keep us glued. 

They are not helpful, and most of know we should stop doomscrolling. 

But understanding what drives us to doomscroll and what makes us more likely to share articles and content that makes us anxious and angry may help us control what we're doing. 

Interestingly while Twitter and Facebook allow you to complain about posts, often times it seems like they don't respond -- and we've seen jaw-dropping bigotry that gets let up on Twitter -- there's a suggestion that by enabling users to complain but then doing nothing to delete those comments, social media increases your anxiety and anger. And that keeps you engaged on their site. That's pretty cynical.

But the answer, perhaps, is to just not engage. Have a specific time limit or reason to go onto social media, and then disconnect. 

Honestly, we could all use less anger.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Axios & CNN Validate Our Prediction that "Vibe" is Trending

 Last week, we issued a secondary set of three trends we think will be important to note, in addition to the to the original 20 we issued back in January. Two of three are connected to the Russian invasion of Ukraine: media coverage about fighting disinformation and about the energy crunch (as a result of higher gas prices -- and both of those have been validated in media coverage that appeared after we published that blog post.

The third trend we identified was that the word "vibe" is trending. We don't exactly know why but we're seeing it and felt it worth discussing on our blog.

As it turns out, CNN and Axios this week validated our prediction by using vibe within the same 24-hour period.

In teasing up it's SXSW coverage, Axios said: "Situational awareness: Kerry is still at SXSW, which continues all week. More on the vibes and highlights of this year's conference below."

Meanwhile, CNN's Reliable Sources newsletter, an excellent source for media news, used the word in highlighting a New York Times opinion piece. Check it out here

This NYT Opinion headline crystallizes the "vibes" of the moment: "There Are Almost Too Many Things to Worry About..." (NYT)

So we dug a bit more and found that New York Magazine wrote a story in Feb. headlined: A Vibe Shift is Coming” by Allison P. Davis. Apparently, “Vibe Shift” originated in 8Ball, a Substack newsletter by Sean Monahan, who is known for coining normcore fashion -- something that had nothing to do with Birnbach Communications president Norman Birnbach, despite some people's assumptions. Here's how Davis describes it: The concept behind 

A  vibe shift ... is that In the culture, sometimes things change, and a once-dominant social wavelength starts to feel dated. Monahan, who is 35, breaks down the three vibe shifts he has survived and observed: Hipster/Indie Music (ca. 2003–9), or peak Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, high-waisted Cheap Mondays, Williamsburg, bespoke-cocktail bars; Post-Internet/Techno Revival (ca. 2010–16), or the Blood Orange era, normcore, dressing like The Matrix, Kinfolk the club, not Kinfolk the magazine; and Hypebeast/Woke (ca. 2016–20), or Drake at his Drakest, the Nike SNKRS app, sneaker flipping, virtue signaling, Donald Trump, protests not brunch.

The idea is that we're now in a post-pandemic vibe shift, and that may be why the word "vibe" is seeing a resurgence not seen since the 1970s.

Will "vibe" survive the "vibe shift"? We think it will because it seems clear there's a lot of societal change.


Monday, March 14, 2022

Five Ways Thought Leadership Can Help Your Organization

We recently wrote about the difference between thought leadership and product PR. But we want to provide additional insight into why thought leadership can help your organization.

Thought leadership is generally focused on educating the market on a key issue that's relevant to customers. It's not necessarily about pushing product or directly promoting the organization. Instead, it's about enhancing awareness and perception of the company.

While we know that in the current environment, budgets are such that C-Suite executives are looking for bottom-line results, we also know that thought leadership can breakthrough the sales and marketing noise. For example, one time, a CEO asked us to pitch them. They had a very focused market, with about 100 customers. They had a strong sales team that was hitting a wall. At one point, the CEO asked us, "Why should I hire you, and not just bring on board one more sales rep?" Our answer, respectively given, was this: "You said you know who your customers are and in some cases, they don't return your calls or engage with your sales reps. One more sales rep would be just another person trying to sell customers who aren't interested. But with thought leadership, you might be to get those customers interested by showing how you understand their issues."

So, here are some ways thought leadership can help. 

  1. Thought leadership campaigns need new content -- and that can lead to media coverage. That content can be used to develop blog articles, bylined articles, presentation content and interviews. We've often pitched thought leadership content and generated interviews and requests for bylined articles.
  2. Thought leadership builds credibility, relevancy and trust. This is because thought leadership is focused on educating customers and the market, not on directly selling product. With the right content, your organization is relevant and earns trust among your target audience, which can include customers, employees, partners, etc.
  3. Thought leadership programs can influence the industry. For one company, our thought leadership content not only generated ongoing requests for bylined articles, with editors contacting us but our content was cited by other third parties and was included in at least one peer-reviewed article! Based on the thought leadership we created from content briefings with the client, the client was invited to address a Congressional committee dealing with the client's main issue.
  4. Thought leadership can raise brand awareness. Thought leadership can be connected to product marketing, and in several cases, our work to help educate the market on key issues resulted in significant awareness. In one case, we got a small tech client mentioned in coverage about a larger competitor because reporters responded to the key message we helped the client communicate. In a second case, we helped a security startup be included in coverage that previously only mentioned Microsoft and Cisco.  
  5. Thought leadership can help raise funds or get acquired. When a semiconductor client came to us saying that the industry standard was wrong, and that their approach provided better results, we made that the focus of our communications, and our work not only got the media's attention, it helped get the client acquired after only 18 months by picking a battle in the media over industry standards that took on Microsoft. In other cases, clients have used thought leadership results to help them make the case that convinced VCs and others invest in the company. For nonprofits, we've also seen our work help raise money from benefactors.
In our next article, we'll address some of the components of a successful thought leadership program.

Friday, March 11, 2022

New York Times Validates Our Latest Prediction about an Energy Crunch

 Earlier this week, we issued three additional predictions for trends the media will cover in 2022:

  1. Interest in batteries and energy.
  2. Fighting disinformation.
  3. The widespread use of the word "vibe."
That last one has not been validated yet. And the one about disinformation, particularly about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is certainly validated all over the place.

But the interest in alternate power sources, like car batteries and renewable energy, has been validated by the New York Times in an article that gives a better description than we had. In "As War Rages, a Struggle to Balance Energy Crunch and Climate Crisis" (print headline: "Energy Crunch Spurs Push for Fossil Fuels, but Climate Clock is Ticking"), the Times uses the phrase "energy crunch" to describe the current situation.

There is indeed pressure to drill and tap fossil fuels but as the Times notes, there's also more pressure to find alternate power sources in part because other oil-rich countries are problematic and may not be inclined to help the U.S. by boosting production.

We think there will be continued interest in renewable energy and alternate energy sources because the likelihood is that gas prices will remain high through the summer.

In the meantime, we will continue to track these three trends, especially our favorite of them, the use of vibe in articles and on social media. It's a bit happier than then other two, and the only one of the three not driven by the Russian invasion. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Three Additional Trends for 2022: Fighting disinformation, the Importance of batteries + vibe is everywhere

We don't usually add new trends to our list after we publish our annual set of predictions. But 2022 is turning out to be more unusual than we had hoped.

The good news is that -- right now -- Covid infections seem to be declining. The bad news is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Which is likely to get more horrific. 

One of the cliches of war reporting is the phrase "fog of war," meaning it's hard to report with the usual clarity in a war zone. Complicating reporting -- which is necessary and important for people outside Ukraine to understand what's happening inside that country, and to mobilize and frame a response to it is the disinformation, some of it inadvertent, most of it intentioned, around what's happening.

As an example of inadvertent disinfo is a story about a Ukrainian grandmother who took out a drone by throwing a pickle jar from her balcony. Turns out the can of destruction didn't contain pickles. It contained tomatoes. 

Examples of intentioned disinfo are too many, and we don't want to give them attention. That's part of the problem with disinformation or propaganda: repeating them increases the likelihood that the algorithms and search engines pick up the disinformation, making it harder to refute.

So, the first of our additional trends is not the rise of disinformation. We've been dealing with that for the worst part of a decade (if not longer). It's that we're seeing the impact of disinformation, and need to find a way to fight against disinformation.

In Russia, where journalism has been outlawed, the New York Times and others have sent reporters home. CNN and the BBC are keeping bureaus open but are not currently reporting from Russia. That country has also cut access to social media platforms -- to which one late night host complained that he wished we could be cut off social media in the U.S., too. But Russians inside the country have no access to what's happening in Ukraine.

We expect to see more coverage about the impact of disinformation and what the U.S. can do to minimize disinformation. A key suggestion from a guest essay in today's Times: "Fighting Disinformation Can Feel Like a Lost Cause. It Isn't," which suggests that we "Teach kids how to assess not only the reliability of the specific information they’ve found online but also who published it and for what purpose." That would be important not just for kids but for all of us.

The second additional trend involves batteries, whether we're talking about batteries to power electric cars or battery life in general. We expect more coverage of the next generation of batteries that need to be cheaper, charge faster, pack more energy, be cleaner, smaller, etc.

The major factor behind this interest is the move to boost production of electric cars while reducing the number of combustion engine cars on the road. China and the U.S. have issued expectations for when all new cars will be electric.

There's also a secondary factor in a heightened interest in electric cars. Rising prices at the gas pump. As everyone now knows, Russia is a major supplier of oil and gas to the West, and that means the West is helping to fund an invasion it opposes and also means the West could be vulnerable to not getting enough oil if the invasion continues over the long haul.

So we expect to see more coverage looking at the impact of rising gas prices, alternatives to oil and fossil fuels, renewable energy, especially for cars.

Okay so this has been a rather heavy look at war-related trends.

There's another trend that is easier to take.

We think that "vibe" will be a heavily used word in 2022. We're not sure why. But we've been seeing the word every day in different news outlets and social media. In fact, it's been hard to avoid the word vibe. We did a Google Trends search, and Google does not show an increase in the use of vibe. But we feel it. The Times published 18 stories that included the word over the past week, including music and art reviews and style columns -- which makes sense. But vibe was used in an obituary, a climate article, a business article and several real estate articles. Even the Wall St. Journal published eight articles over the last week that included "vibe," and we wouldn't have thought the Journal would be so open to vibes but the word was included in articles about design, food, and music as well as a sports article, a look at hybrid work, campaigning in India (though this appeared in the Journal's whimsical A-Hed column), and a look at the fallout of war.

So Google isn't confirming this trend. But it feels right to us.

Let us know what you think.

Monday, March 7, 2022

The Importance of Thought Leadership & Why It Can Benefit Your Organization

Thought leadership combines multiple elements including: 

  • Executive profiles and interviews
  • Bylined articles
  • Blog articles
  • Speaking opportunities 
  • Podcasts
  • Branded content 
From the outset, that could look like a standard PR or media relations program.

But the difference is that many PR programs are focused on highlighting an organization's products or services whereas thought leadership is often focused on key issues.

Thought leadership, on the other hand, isn't about selling. It's about advising. It's offering perspectives on issues that matter to customers so that when they do think about a purchase, they take a look at your organization because leadership clearly understands key issues that keep customers up at night.

The idea is if you provide advice -- as this blog article is doing -- without trying to "sell" the reader on your services, customers will see you as credible and thoughtful, and that may help them decide to work with your organization.

The real difference between a standard PR campaign -- and, keep in mind, touting your products and services is important, too -- and thought leadership is the focus on issues, not product. It's on educating potential customers about what they need to know.

An example of the importance of educating potential customers came from one of our first clients, almost 20 years ago. We conducted a program that communicated information that addressed issues relevant to the customers of a small financial software startup. After a couple of months, the founder, whose still there though the company has grown and operates under a new name, told us what looked like negative news. He said that our work did not increase the number of customer calls but -- and here's the good news -- the calls that came in after our program were 90% more qualified than before. 

By helping the founder provide insight into a problem customers could not solve on their own or with Excel (the standard approach then and now), we helped customers better understand that there was a cost-effective solution for an end-of-month problem that kept them up at night.

Thought leadership in this case raised awareness, spoke to an issue that mattered to customers, and actually made the phone ring.

If you're focused on issuing press releases about your new product, a new feature in your product, etc. -- which can be important, and we've worked on hundreds of those kind of announcements -- you may be able to help with lead generation. 

But product PR generally does not help when a company seeks to raise investment rounds or to get acquired. 

For that, whether your organization is a B2B, B2C or a nonprofit, thought leadership campaigns can showcase their expertise, capabilities, values and successes.

We will be writing more about thought leadership over the next few months. In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions by emailing us at info@birnbachcom.com.