Posted February 9, 2010 9:12 am by with 3 comments

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If fear, scandal, sex, and humor sell newspapers, it stands to reason that those topics would make for the most popular articles on news sites and blogs. Right?


Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have intensively studied the New York Times list of most-e-mailed articles and discovered that it was an entirely unexpected emotion that caused the average reader to share an article.

“Emotion in general leads to transmission, and awe is quite a strong emotion,” [Dr. Berger] said. “If I’ve just read this story that changes the way I understand the world and myself, I want to talk to others about what it means. I want to proselytize and share the feeling of awe. If you read the article and feel the same emotion, it will bring us closer together.”

Apparently science-themed articles were among the most popular, with RNA, deer optics, paleontology and cosmology, among those most emailed.

Now, while the study appears to be very well constructed, there’s just one major flaw that I see here:

These were New York Times readers!

While we have many wonderful NYT readers that visit Marketing Pilgrim each day, I’d say that our general demographic is not quite the same. That said, you may want to consider how closely you mimic the NYT’s writing style. Here’s what worked for them:

More emotional stories were more likely to be e-mailed, the researchers found, and positive articles were shared more than negative ones. Longer articles generally did better than shorter articles, although Dr. Berger said that might just be because the longer articles were about more engaging topics.

For me, I think I’ll stick to scaremongering, controversial studies, and wild rumors! 😉