You’ve been sharing to social media for some time now, and you’re synthesizing all the great advice out there about what to post, when to post, and how to measure.

Awesome work. You’ve got the content part down pat. Now here’s the next layer: The emotion behind the social media update.

What feeling does your update impart? 

How does someone feel when they read your update?

These are big, ethereal questions, and significantly different than discovering great content and finding the best literary device to share with.

The tone of your tweet, update, and post matters. And studies have shown that positivity in social media wins in online interactions.

Come see a handful of interesting research studies on the topic and what this might look like for the way that you share to social media.

positivity social media

Why positivity beats negativity online

Positivity holds a special place for us here at Buffer. It is one of the 10 values that guides our culture, and we practice it in every way possible—our interactions with each other, our social media posts, our customer communication, etc.

It goes hand in hand with this quote from one of our favorite books (Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People):

I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

It’s amazing validation to find that positivity is not only a great way to encourage one another and run a fun company but also that positivity can have an impact on social media marketing. 

Here are some studies that back up the productivity emphasis.

Positive updates breed positive updates

One of the outcomes of Facebook’s experimentation with its news feed was some interesting data on the effect of positive, negative, and general emotion on sharing.

For one week in January 2013, Facebook analyzed three million posts from users’ news feeds. Linguistic software was used to determine whether an update was positive or negative (or neither), and Facebook tweaked the news feeds to see the effect of showing higher ratios of positive or negative updates.

(This also happened to be one of Facebook’s experiments that got many users thinking about taking a Facebook vacation. Manipulating news feeds did not go over too well for many.)

Here is Wired’s recap of the study:

Facebook has found that seeing positive posts influences people to post positive updates, seeing negative posts influences people to post negative updates, and that an absence of emotion on their News Feed leads them to post less overall.

facebook newsfeed experiment

It’s the last point that has some interesting applications for marketers. The researchers noted that the effect of less posting was slightly stronger when users were fed fewer positive updates, suggesting that Facebook users become less engaged when content on their feed becomes more negative.

The study supports research by BMJ from back in 2008 that pointed to positivity and “emotional contagion” that causes happiness to spread virally through social media. One of the criticisms of that study was the difficulty in analyzing social media over such a long-term space. With Facebook’s research, the results came after only one week, due in large part to the massive reach and volume of posts that come through Facebook on a daily basis.

How to get more followers: Be positive

Hubspot’s Dan Zarella is well-known for his in-depth data projects on social media. Reviewing his learnings from Twitter, Dan published five scientifically-proven ways to get more followers. Number five is especially relevant here.

Those with higher follower counts on Twitter have a proportionally lower percentage of negativity in their tweets than those with lower follower counts.

positivity and follower growth

Dan’s research found in particular that negative remarks including sadness, aggression, negative emotions/feelings, and morbid comments were correlated with accounts with fewer followers.

For accounts with 8,000 followers, negativity appears in less than half of one percent of their remarks.

That leaves a lot of room for positivity!

(Of note, Dan’s research also showed that having conversations on Twitter did not correlate to more followers. Being positive is great. Being chatty? Yet to be determined.)

If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all

Stanford’s Justin Chen and his colleagues put to the test the system of upvoting and downvoting and how it affects the quality of a community.

The results: Downvoting leads to lower-quality content and more downvotes from those who were downvoted.

The research study included the comments sections at CNN.com, IGN.com (video games), Breitbart.com (politics), and Allkpop.com (Korean entertainment). After identifying comments that could be classified as quality, they compared data points to see the effect of votes on comments and future contributions of the community.

Those who received downvotes were likely to contribute lower-quality comments over time and also to provide more downvotes to their peers.

Here’s what an example voting network looks like from the study, where a represents the given post and through G represent how a community votes on the post and on each other.

1-QZVta9rho3oN1VyasvAB1g

One of the takeaways from the study:

That points to an obvious strategy for improving the quality of comments on any social network site. Clearly, providing negative feedback to “bad” users does not appear to be a good way of preventing undesired behavior.

An alternative might be to ignore the negative comments entirely. The study showed that comments that received no interaction often led to lower engagement from the original poster. Those who get ignored tend to dwindle in contributions and comments.

Reputation’s place in the building blocks of social media

In 2011, researchers Jan Kietzmann, Ian McCarthy, and colleagues arrived at a framework to define the most essential parts of social media, synthesizing what they’d learned in studying dozens of other research projects on the subject.

Their conclusion: Social media is made up of seven building blocks.

Identity

Sharing

Conversations

Groups

Reputation

Relationships

Presence

In their report, the team describes these building blocks as “the honeycomb of social media.”

 

building blocks social media

It’s the reputation element in particular that plays a key role in the positivity aspect of social media.

The researchers discussed how best to arrive at one’s reputation on social media, identifying key metrics like follower count and engagement with posts. Beyond these numbers, they also pointed to sentiment being a key component to this piece of the honeycomb.

Positive sentiment in your social media updates and in the responses to your brand leads to a positive reputation.

What positive social media updates look like in practice: 5 tips and examples

Now comes the nitty-gritty: Taking these learnings and spinning them into social media updates.

In looking over some of the positive updates in my social feeds, I noticed a few similarities among the content that stood out as the most upbeat. Here are five tips that I found.

  1. Exclamation points!
  2. Positive language and words
  3. Referencing community members (using “via” or “HT” or direct address)
  4. Engage the community with questions
  5. Bright, cheerful images or pics of happy, smiling people

I pulled several great examples from brands, companies, and individuals who are doing positivity well on social media. Here are several that stood out to me. (Feel free to add your favorites in the comments. I’d love to see them!)

On Twitter

On Facebook

On Google+

google+ post

 

google-plus example

On LinkedIn

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 11.14.06 AM Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 11.14.48 AM

Takeaways

Positivity in social media is a key component to a great experience—both for everyday sharing and for social media marketing.

How can you take this information and put it into practice?

Share with positivity in your social media updates. Avoid negative emotions like aggression, morbidity, and cynicism. Leave the negative commenters alone.

Smile.

Keep things positive on social media, and see your social media marketing bloom. I’m excited to hear how it goes for you!

Please do share here with any thoughts or ideas on how this might look for you or how it’s worked for you in the past.

Image sources: Blurgrounds, Noun Project, Death to the Stock Photo

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Written by Kevan Lee

Director of marketing at Buffer, the social media publishing tool for brands, agencies, and marketers. We’ve got a new podcast! ?

  • Hi Kevan,

    Great stuff once again here on bufferapp. Social shares has also a lot of potential that Google also consider on post. You shared a lot of great tips in this post and hope it’ll work for me.

    • There is usually a direct correlation Sir. If socially your content is popular then their tends to be a steady flow to your site and the Big G will notice social referrals.

    • Thanks, Mustafa! Glad this post was useful for you!

  • Yep. This is a daily balance for my online sanctuary. The goal is to give people a place to honestly share what’s going on, and share quotes with others so we can see that whatever we’re struggling with, we’re not alone. I try really hard to balance the shares with inspirational quotes as well—some dark with the light—to keep a feed that people want to see. To not negate or shame those who are hurting and need to tell their truth—but also not overwhelm folks. Really, it’s a daily gut check to see how we’re tracking.

    • Sounds like you’ve worked out an amazing balance!

  • My most popular tweet was announcing someones death…. https://twitter.com/baghdadinvest/status/520881803784368128 Most of my tweets are negative lol

    • JekaterinaCoppackkpo

      my ste­pmum j­ust purcha­sed Merc­edes GL-Cl­ass GL6­3 AMG b­y wor­king part ti­me of­f of a comput­er… rea­d this arti­cleTAKE ACTION NOW!

  • WebScout

    Thanks Kevan. What do you think about controversial subjects – no positive or negative (or maybe that translates to all positive or negative to some)? Since positive-only is a part of your brand…do you completely ignore any potentially controversial subjects in social that can sometimes spark interest? I’ve been treading lightly in this area for one brand – its SMB audience likes to “beat up” on the “big” guys like Amazon or enjoys when big corporations fail or stumble…it’s kind of a rallying call for them at times. That said, I want to be very careful about building a positive, caring brand. Thoughts?

  • rmadala

    Kevan, that’s a great compilation of social media marketing tips, good takeaway. From now on, it will be all positive posts on my timeline 🙂

  • Sharing failures and difficulties tends to also work well. Although most people tend to like it only if you follow up with some kind of positive lesson or twist at the end. But agreed–overall, people tend to reshare inspiring quotes and pictures, or positive updates in general! Plus, why is there a need to be negative all the time? There isn’t.

  • Great post, Kevan!

    In the digital world tone is EVERY thing from email to text and social media. It’s interesting to me that when I receive communication from people I know to be “debbie downers” – I READ everything they send in that voice. I mentioned it to my boyfriend just a few weeks ago – “Do you think I sound happier in texts because I use words like ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing’ and lots of !!!!!!’s?” — we agreed that it helped. It shows excitement and genuine intrigue vs the responses of the others who I read in very “meh” tones. I’ve been told too that when people meet me for the first time this, to them, showcases that I’m authentic & exactly who I appear to be online is who I am in real life (which is just about the best compliment ever!).

    Reading things, of course, always offers a variety of tones (there’s a great parody video out there on this very subject right now that cracks me up!) but I like for my tweets/texts/emails to try their darndest to convey enthusiasm and positivity.

  • Marc

    Nice post. :))

  • Marc

    Do you have blog posts about fashion blogging?

  • MJ

    Not sure I agree with this at all. I get the studies, and I’m sure they’re right, but given that it’s about how a social media update makes you feel, positive updates do not make me feel positive.

    Quite the opposite actually. I find things like inspirational quotes, smiley selfies and food updates hugely annoying. When people post positive things about their achievements, it can serve to remind me about that I’m not necessarily achieving the same, rather than inspire me.

    People have such a lack of awareness on social media these days. They spend more time trying to convince the world (and themselves) that they are wonderfully busy and happy, rather than just expressing themselves, which is what I feel social media was meant to be for.

    Just another point of view. When you put happiness out there, not everyone takes it that way. That’s no-one’s fault, but it’s most certainly the truth

  • Allow me to add my 2 cents to the mix. Positive always wins, its not always the case. Let me elaborate what I have found.

    In some cases the sarcastic cynical remarks like the ones you see on eCards often, which can be considered anything but positive, are heavily shared and reshared. There are plenty of cynics and its the tribe they form. eCards websites have actually built a business form it. Its a niche, and like any other niche it attracts special kind of people. The idea that being negative is always going to produce bad results is not accurate.

    There are examples where it works. Not because its negative but because it has a sarcastic element to it. That is the key. Sarcasm. In other words it asks the audience to work for their meal, sort of speak.

    In fact if you do the same thing with a positive post it will outperform the positive posts that is passive in its message. Here is an example of a positive post that has you thinking…

    “After 5000 years of recorded human history, you wonder, What part of 2,000,000 sunrises doesn’t a pessimist understand?” That one will probably outperform a generic, feel good positive quote along the lines of.

    Same is true for a negative cynical rude comment vs one that has a sarcastic element to it. Here is an example:

    “I’m not so good with the advice… Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?”, obviously a rude but sarcastic comment. Compare that to “Some people are such idiots” rude and cynical but has no value to the readers, because it requires nothing from them. No sarcasm component.

    They are both negative, but one outperforms the other. Same is for the positive comments one outperforms the other. The key is that people want to work for their meal, sort of speak. It has to have value for them that is more than simply being positive or negative. Anyway, just my 2 cents on top of this post that I enjoyed.

  • Ashely

    Hi,
    My name is Ashley Hemme and I’m doing a research review paper and presentation about the effects a simple compliment can have on someone mentally. I think that some people overlook the idea of giving compliments and don’t always understand the effects, short or long term, that it can have on someone. I think that if people were more positive and more aware of people and the compliments that are said around them the world would be a simpler and kinder place. We could change the world be being positive and giving one compliment at a time. Thanks!