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Go Viral by Sharing Smart

The following is an excerpt from the book Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change by Live Happy columnist Michelle Gielan—available online and at stores near you.

You are a broadcaster, whether you realize it or not. And the messages you choose to broadcast as a parent, colleague, manager or friend change how others see their potential to overcome challenges and create positive change. Broadcasting stresses, hassles and complaints limits the human brain’s potential. Focusing on the meaning in the work we do, things we are grateful for, and recent success fuels us and those round us to be even happier and more motivated. And if we activate others to spread those positive messages, we deepen our network and our influence. The key is to pick the right messages and get them to continue to spread in a ripple effect—to go viral.

The most viral stories raise the status of the broadcaster who shares them. Everyone secretly wants to be in the club: The more intelligent, knowledgeable, or socially connected someone is perceived to be, often the more valuable the person is within his or her network. Therefore, the information broadcasters share is not only a reflection on them—it also builds or decreases their social capital with others.

Status in "the tribe"

If you give people in your network top-quality, useful information to share, you’ll not only be highly regarded by the people in your tribe—you’ll give them the material needed to enhance their status with their audience as well.

Provide your network with smart, unique stories that help raise their status as being people “in the know.” It makes them experts—with high social capital—as they share information with their networks. And the best part is the cycle will continue as the people they share your message with, in turn, share the news with others, making them experts in their own right.

Therefore, putting your high-value stories in the hands of other potential broadcasters not only makes you and them look good, it gets your story out. The key is to include information that makes your activated broadcasters look smart. Find a story no one has heard before and share it with people who curate and broadcast to move it forward.

Passing the story along

While consulting on a project for the Zappos’ Downtown Project Think Tank on Education, I worked alongside a school administrator who armed her teachers with smart data to share each week with students. She believes that when students start their day off learning something new and positive about the world, their minds are better primed to learn.

Every Monday morning she gave her teachers a positive message to broadcast to students in writing—preferably with pictures. She always tried to make the teachers look like rock stars in front of their classes by finding cool stories for them to share. Examples included: fun facts about the brain, a story about kids in India cleaning up their community using graffiti art, and the ways teens had become amazing at a sport or skill.

The stories were all positive and told in a fun way. But here is how the idea was really genius: The administrator, via the teachers, encouraged the students to then broadcast the story to a parent or caregiver that night. Parents were asked to sign a sheet with the story highlights to confirm the students had passed on the story.

Primed for positivity

The administrator’s strategy was brilliant for many reasons. First, it primed the students for positivity first thing in the morning. Second, students had the opportunity to be broadcasters by sharing positive information and practicing their presentation skills. And third, it gave students a story that put them “in the know” and gave them a forum around the dinner table as everyone else quieted down to listen to it. What started as positive stories that caught the attention of one administrator ended up going viral around her school and the wider community.

Creators, curators and consumers

Both online and off, there are three types of people who deal in the currency of content: creators, curators, and consumers. Whether it’s on social media or around the watercooler, most individuals are predominantly one of the three. During this stage in my life as an author, I spend most of my time as a creator as I write this book and other articles and conduct research studies.

For a shorter part of my day, I am a curator, as I collect what I perceive as valuable content to share on social media, and I am definitely a consumer as I peruse news sites in the morning and my Facebook feed at night.

Typically people spend the majority of their time as consumers. The way you turn consumers into curators (and therefore broadcasters to spread your message) is by creating content for them to share with their networks. And the content that will spread the farthest and fastest is smart content that’s fresh and new.

Strengthen your network

The best part is that if you raise someone’s status by providing something smart or valuable to share, you boost that person’s signal as an effective curator or, as Malcolm Gladwell calls them, mavens. People will usually keep coming back to hear what mavens say, which effectively deepens and strengthens your own network. Therefore, one of the best ways to get your messages to go viral is to make other people look good when sharing them.

MICHELLE GIELAN is an expert on the science of positive communication and how to use it to fuel success. She holds a master’s degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and is co-founder of the happiness research and consulting group Goodthink Inc. This essay is an excerpt from her new book, Broadcasting Happiness, published by BenBella Books.

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