social change | October 17, 2013

Make Important Content Go Viral: Sara Critchfield Speaks at the White House

Sara Critchfield, Editorial Director of Upworthy, is helping to change the conversation on important social issues. In a keynote speech at the White House Mental Health Conference, Critchfield shared the secrets of content virality she's employed to make Upworthy such a success. These strategies have helped to get stories about poverty and mental health shared as many times as funny cat videos or celebrity gossip. There is a market online for discussion about important issues, she says—you just need to know how to package that content appropriately to get the reception you want.

"We now know that social and search have flipped," she tells the audience at the conference. Social media is now a more important factor in making content go viral than the big search engines. That being said, a new method of sharing content means that you need a new method for promoting that content in the first place. Instead of thinking of your online impact being solely tied to the your content itself, Critchfield says that impact comes from combining meaningful content with effective packaging. When you do that, your content will become more shareable no matter what it is about.


Above: Sara Critchfield

Here's Critchfield's tips for packaging content for a social media context:

1) Looks Matter: The way people consume and share media can be explained through "the grocery store principle" Critchfield says. That is, when people are shopping, they scan the aisles and make a purchasing decision based on the appeal of the packaging. The same goes for media consumption. "Packaging really really matters," Critchfield says. Not sure how to improve the allure of your content's packaging? "The cheapest and easiest [thing] to optimize by far is the headline," she says, so start with that.

2) The Messenger Matters: "Idea marketing isn't about preaching to the choir," Critchfield clarifies in the talk. "It's about making the choir sing better." To spread a message, you have to get people talking about the idea and have their most trusted source (their friends) deliver the message to them. "Your primary audience is your reader's friends—NOT your reader," she tells the audience. "Unless people start perceiving that their own community, their own friends, their own family, are OK with these issues, nothing's going to change."

3) Context Matters: "Customizing for the context you're in is one of the most important things we can do as people talking about really important issues," says Critchfield. You don't want to be "the kid who showed up to the [casual] party in a suit and tie...and nobody wants to talk to you." Make sure the packaging matches the medium. 

To book Sara Critchfield as a speaker on digital and social media, marketing, big data, or the emergence of the virtual workplace, contact The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau.

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