Viral “content” dominates the Internet. We see it whenever we log in. Articles ask us to recall favorite items from our childhood or smile at funny animals or applaud someone’s accomplishments.
And we almost always click. The top stories from Facebook — and, to a lesser extent, Twitter – confirm it.
So how do they get us to do it?
Once you click, you’ll notice that the information contained therein isn’t long. The articles are filled with pictures and pithy captions—which are almost always exclamatory. The writer wants to bring you into his piece, so, he’ll adopt the conversational tone of the internet: abbreviations, questions, hyperbolic statements.
In fact, without the pictures, these pieces wouldn’t work as well as they do. Take a look at the Tumblr “Buzzfeed Articles Without the GIFs.” It looks like the online journal of a really excited high school student.
But that’s what gets you to read. Most people who are wasting time on Facebook and on Twitter are doing exactly that—wasting time. They’re not taking a break—or slacking—from work in order to read Denis Johnson’s latest story in the New Yorker. They want to zone out for a few minutes. As Derek Thompson observes: ”For lack of a better term: [These stories are] entertainment.”
So people will scroll through something like this and then get back to the daily grind.