If you have a business of any kind, then you’re probably using social media as a way to reach your customers.  (If you’re not, then I can only assume you operate in an industry that doesn’t require computers – broccoli farming, for example, or alchemy.)  And if you’ve done so, then you’ve almost certainly shouted obscenities at your computer screen as you’ve tried to figure out how to get more people to pay attention.  There are books written about how to optimize your reach and make your videos go viral; however, since their main suggestion is to get really super lucky, that advice might have frustrated you too.

Which is why I’m certain you’ll enjoy this.  As I’m sure you know, there are computer algorithms that determine which entries make it to the top of a Google search or your Facebook news feed.  However, those algorithms are written by people who almost universally want to elicit a visceral, emotional reaction from their audience.  After all, which would you rather click on:  “Extremely dependable car” or “This car will save your life”?   As much as we sometimes like to pretend otherwise, we are fundamentally emotional creatures.  So the more emotional it is, the more likely we are to click on it – and since the economy of the Internet is governed by the click, the most emotional post usually wins.

So what’s the one word you should be using?  Congratulations.  Turns out that ‘congratulations’ posts routinely outperform their non-congratulatory peers.  Congratulations signifies joy, urgency, excitement, triumph – in short, all the emotions each of us wants to be part of.  Trying to figure out how to get more people to open your Facebook ad?  Try ‘Congratulations to Heidi for saving $395 on her car insurance!’ and you’ll almost certainly get more views than you would otherwise.

But eventually social media outlets will notice when half of their posts are congratulatory in nature, and the wizard people who built their search algorithms will change the parameters to weed out posts like ‘Congratulations on being congratulated for receiving so many congratulations – oh, and by the way check out my band!’

However, the impulse to favor emotional responses over non-emotional ones is never going to go away.  More importantly, we do this regardless of the emotion in question.  That’s the reason news headlines have become so much more terrifying in recent years.  When I was younger, I never – literally never – saw headlines like, “Ebola Arrives to U.S. – Could You Be Next?” or “Is Your Pillow Shortening Your Life?”  News organizations have realized that people pay more attention to incendiary headlines than to calm ones, and so they parade a constant barrage of new and exciting threats and problems in order to encourage our attention.   Could they get the same information across in a more even-handed way?  Of course.  But that wouldn’t get as many viewers as scaring the hell out of us.

As you might have guessed, I’m not a fan of the way the news is delivered today.  Personally I don’t like using emotionally charged words as a ploy to trick people into reading or watching something.  In my perfect world, people would value merit over carefully crafted keywords.  But the game we’re playing is an emotional one, and it’s not going to change anytime soon.

So if you want to improve your social media reach, set aside a list of highly emotional keywords and use them when they make sense.  Congratulations, condolences, life-changing, tragedy, heartbreaking, indescribable, terrifying – any emotional word or phrase you can think of that relates to your message.  Trust me, if I made a video and titled it “What This 6-Year-Old Wrote His Deployed Father Will Melt Your Heart,” people would tune in by the thousands.

Just make sure your titles actually match your content. Because if you ask people to click on “Heartwarming Family Reunion” and they find themselves on your financial services website, they’re going to feel betrayed.  And while betrayal is a powerful emotion, it’s not the one you’re shooting for.

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