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If Upworthy headlines inspire you, the science behind them will blow your mind

If you think Upworthy's success is a fluke, think again
If you think Upworthy's success is a fluke, think againwikipedia.org

Got ten minutes? Here's everything you need to know about how science can change the marketing world forever.

Of course, that headline is a little superfluous, but that's on purpose. There's a reason why websites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed are dominating the content curation scene and climbing to the top of social shares, and it has little to do with their content. It's all about how they frame their content, and there's actually science behind their viral success.

First a case study in why framing your headlines matter:

You may recall one of the first emotionally appealing headlines to hit the Internet a few years back, about a man who was raised by a lesbian couple and gave an inspiring speech to the Iowa legislature about why same-sex marriage should be legal. When the Iowa House Democrats posted the video to their YouTube page with the headline: "Zach Wahls Speaks About Family", the video got around 1,000,000 views.

But when MoveOn.org shared the video with the headline: "Two Lesbians Raised a Baby and This is What They Got", the video took off and now sits around 17,000,000 views.

The reason one did exponentially better than the other one has nothing to do with the content, it's the same video after all, and everything to do with how they were presented to the audience. The first headline is pretty straightforward, and offers no incentive to click. For example, who is Zach Wahls, and why do his thoughts on family matter? The second headline, though, channels our emotions, speaks to a hotly debated topic (same-sex marriage) and entices us that clicking the link will provide some sort of emotional response or exciting conclusion.

And that's the key, according to scientists and executives of these social sharing sites, to going viral: you have to appeal to something deep inside the reader and inspire them to want to become a part of something.

The science behind appealing to a "greater purpose" and "going viral" starts a lot earlier than one might think. Aristotle stumbled upon the idea when searching for a way to make his speeches motivate his audience. He surmised that in order to inspire an audience, one must appeal to either the Pathos, Logos, or Ethos. Meaning, if you want to go viral, you should either appeal to logic, emotion, or ethics.

And it's this theory that scientists in today's world showed still rang true.

Jonah Berger, a graduate student at Stanford, and Katherine Milkman, a professor at Penn, set out to prove this theory of viral appeal through empirical research. They tinkered with headlines from August 30 through November 30 of 2008, studying times, different types of headlines, and their effects on social sharing. What they found at the end of their study was Aristotle was onto something, and that going viral is no fluke: if you want to go viral you either have to make someone laugh, cry, or feel like they are part of a movement bigger than themselves.

But before you go off to make millions curating viral gold thinking you've discovered the key to successful content sharing, consider this: Even though Upworthy and Buzzfeed have discovered the secrets to having a better chance of going viral, achieving true viral success is still a very difficult task. In fact, studies have shown that out of all the content posted on the Internet, only about 0.3% receive over 1,000,000 views. In fact, close to 60% of articles never reach 10,000 views.

But don't let that deter you from going for it, Upworthy did it after all, so why can't you? And, if you want to learn more tips and tricks for social sharing success, or more about the science behind posting content that gets shared, Marketo has a great infographic on the science behind going viral.

And, if you thought this article blew your mind, then watch what happens when you follow this guy on Twitter.