A decade ago, we could get away with the kind of page content which dumped the facts, hit the reader with a hard sell, and then disengaged. Fast forward to 2012, and this is no longer an effective way to use valuable page real estate. We need to attempt to encourage site visitors to take action, such as clicking a Facebook like button, or taking the time to actually publish a Tweet.
Social entanglement is the art of crafting page content which solicits some form of social reaction from the visitor. Whether this be a quick click of a like button, to actually posting the full link to the page elsewhere for further discussion. So how can we, as content authors, attempt to engage visitors at this level?
Reading or Thinking?
It is entirely possible to publish a page which will read extremely well, but never stimulate the visitor into making that distinct mental switch over to actually thinking about the words they are reading. Thought encourages action, and it is action we want the visitor to take. So we need to get them engaged, committed to spending some of their brain power on actually considering what they are reading. So how do we stimulate thought?
Thoughts = Answers
For most people, the thought process is a means to an end, a means to arrive at an answer to a question or problem. So this means we need to actually raise questions in our page content to encourage thought, and we can do this either literally, or we can do it subliminally. A literal question is almost always a good hook. Do you know why?… Because you just stopped for the briefest of moments, to consider the answer after reading that question didn’t you?… Oh look, we just compounded that question with yet another, by now you should be engaged, are you?… OK enough demonstrations of the power of literal questions. Subliminal questions can be much more powerful, but they are trickier to use, as you are attempting to get the reader to actually stop and ask their own question. The two most common questions we can trigger in the mind of a reader subliminally are:
- Is this true? – In response to a stated fact that is somehow extraordinary.
- Why is this so? – In response to a stated effect, with no explanation of the cause.
So we would need to craft some words that solicit these subliminal responses in the reader. If I were to say that there are 17 million hairs on the back of the human hand, you are probably subliminally wondering if this is true right now. It isn’t by the way, I made it up. It does demonstrate how subliminal suggestion works though.
Answers Stimulate Discussion
Imagine taking a person, sitting them in a room, and telling them that you are going to ask them to try and work out the answer to a question. Once they have arrived at what they think is a valid answer and given it to you, thank them and walk away, without telling them if the answer was correct. Most people would find this quite disturbing, for one very important reason. When we answer a question that we are not sure we answered correctly, we like to know if we were right or wrong. This is the basis of all discussion, the airing of views and opinions to judge their validity.
A person reading a web page does not have the luxury of turning to their neighbor and asking if they think their conclusions are right or wrong, they are isolated, alone. Until they spot that comment box at the bottom of the page, or the neat little button that lets them post the link to Facebook and begin a discussion with their friends and family. They have been provided with a vehicle to ease their discomfort at not knowing if they are right or wrong. This is the point at which we have achieved social entanglement; this is the essence of viral content. Social entanglement is achieved by posing questions which the site visitor will need to answer for themselves, questions which they need to discuss, so that they can be sure that they have arrived at the correct answer.
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