It’s gotten really crowded in here. Lots of people are talking about the same thing and they’re talking all at once. How can we possibly sift through the noise and find the best stuff when this sea of craft content is constantly rushing past?
If you run an online business, like I do, this is a burning question right now. As part of my constant effort to figure out how to get noticed in today’s online landscape I recently read Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. It is excellent. I haven’t felt compelled to underline phrases in a book since I was in graduate school, but you could hear the sound of my pencil scratching over and over again late into the night as I turned the pages of this book.
Berger is a professor at Wharton and the book is steeped in hard research, unlike many of the business books and blogs out there now that seem to base their ideas on hunch alone. Contagious explains how people behave online and why they share (or don’t share) what they’re seeing. You can take Berger’s theories and apply them right now and they will make your content or products catch on, and perhaps even take off.
There’s a lot in this book and I recommend getting a copy. Today’s post is the first in a small series I’m writing in which I’ll work at applying the ideas presented in Contagious to handmade business issues. First up is what Berger says about the role emotion plays in sharing things online.
Think of a time recently when you shared a video with a friend. Do you remember the SPCA of Wake County video? My friend, Liz Smith, tweeted the link a while ago and I clicked over to watch it. And then I watched it again, crying each and every time. I kept watching it all day. Maybe you’ve seen a video like that?
Here’s the thing about that video: I couldn’t retweet it fast enough. “Oh my goodness, this video made me cry so hard. You’ve got to watch it!”
Why do we feel compelled to share this kind of content? What made me and 65,000 other people watch and share a video made by an animal shelter in Raleigh? Berger’s got a great explanation. He says that sharing an emotional video helps us deepen our social connections with other people. “It highlights our similarities and reminds us how much we have in common. Emotion sharing is thus a bit like social glue, maintaining and strengthening relationships. Even if we’re not in the same place, the fact that we both feel the same way bonds us together.” Knowing that Liz was crying, and now I was crying, and once I shared it, you’d be crying, too, made me want to share the video with my 1,000+ Twitter followers.
Okay, I get that we love cute animals and we feel sad if we think they might be killed. Sharing a video from an animal shelter makes total sense. But what if the thing you want people to share is a sewing pattern?
Don’t worry. Berger makes a very good case that the thing you have to share doesn’t have to be exciting, or sad, or emotionally evocative in any way. It’s not the thing itself that needs to make us feel something. It’s the story we tell about it.
When you’ve worked hard on a new pattern or handmade product it is tempting to write very straightforwardly about it. You are immersed in it and know its features inside and out. This product has sat on your desk for weeks, maybe months, and it just needs to get some sunlight.
One approach is to tell people about the product. You could say, “This is a sewing pattern for a doll. It’s easy to follow even if you’re a beginner. The templates are full-sized. The doll is machine washable and cute. You can buy it in my Etsy shop.”
I’m not knocking this sort of post. I’ve written it countless times and you probably have, too. But it’s important to know that this kind of post isn’t likely to get shared. One or two people might email it to someone, or retweet it, but it will end there. And that should make you nervous because the key to breaking through all the online noise is having people share your content. You need people to share.
Let’s look at another approach. Berger sites a method from the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath in which you drill down to the emotional core of your product. You ask yourself three times, “Why is this important?” So here we go:
Why is a sewing pattern important? Because people want to make things.
Why do they want to make things? So they can give something unique that they can’t buy in a store.
Why do they want to give something unique? Because it’s special and shows the recipient that they care.
Isn’t that nifty? We went from a seemingly emotionless product (a set of craft instructions) to a pretty intense emotion (showing our love for other people). We can, in fact, infuse emotion in our product, no matter what our product might be.
On Friday I gave this idea a try. Did you notice? I needed to write about Liam, my doll pattern that will be released later this week. I chose to do it by telling a story about my middle daughter’s desire for a boy doll. The comments people wrote on this post are, I think, a testament to the effect it had. Here's a sampling:
-Bonnie Ellis said, "My daughter's favorite toys were dinosaurs and Thomas the Train. Here's to being true to yourself! Loving the new boy doll."
-Rachel said, "My American girl doll totally had the wheelchair, too! But I also loved my legos and matchbox cars and identified more with Peter Pan than Cinderella. I love that your daughter has a fabulous boy doll now, and that there is a fabulous new pattern for both girls and boys who loves dolls to relate to!"
-Amanda said, "Ok, the boy pattern is awesome, but that story is the best! A few giggles around here. Sometimes, it's the more realistic things that take over their imaginative play. Good on ya girls!"
A post about a sewing pattern evoked feelings of solidarity, nostalgia, and laughter. This story helped people forge an emotional connection with me, with my daughter, with my inspiration, and, in the end, with my sewing pattern.
The story I told in Friday’s post is true, but I didn’t have to tell it. It’s not vital to the pattern. But storytelling is vital to my business and if you’re running a creative online business, it’s got to be vital to yours, too, because, as Jonah Berger tells us, “Emotions drive people to action. They make us laugh, shout, and cry, and they make us talk, share, and buy. So rather than quoting statistics or providing information, we need to focus on feelings.”
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