Cat pictures go viral because that is the language of the Internet, according to the four creative content producers who were panelists at this week’s Heritage Foundation Bloggers Briefing.
But how do cat memes relate to policy research?
“If you’re a reporter or if you’re a communication person or if you work in Congress, you have to learn to meet these people where they are, which is the Internet,” said Benny Johnson, viral politics editor at BuzzFeed.
Sure, he said, the type of content that tends to take off online—such as cat pictures, which BuzzFeed is known for—is “silly,” but it can also tell an important story or make a good point.
And it will reach more people because more people want to share it.
So how do you make your audience want to pounce on your content?
You don’t, said Justin LoFranco, digital director for Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA). “If you’re trying to go viral with everything you do, you’re never going to go viral,” he said. “Audiences choose what is successful.”
LoFranco said he looks for “exclusive content” to share with Issa’s social media followers, ranging from the Congressman walking through the underground tunnels on Capitol Hill to eating a sandwich in his district. “Instagram is Instagram. You’re not putting out policy pieces and ideas and trying to create discourse; it’s showing unique perspective,” he said.
The strategy’s working: Issa is one of the top five most popular House Republicans on social media.
Kira Davis, a blogger at Independent Journal Review who also runs a popular YouTube video channel, said there’s no replacement for personal interaction. She recommends meeting people offline as often as possible, but said it’s also important to let personality come through online. Her secret to success is telling stories and sharing her passion.
“I think what we need to get back to … is personality. People want a piece of you. You can’t just get on Twitter and just promote yourself; you’ve got to be personal sometimes. … People like to know that you’re a real person. I think that our politicians could benefit from that, too,” she said.
Everyone on the panel agreed that if you want your followers to listen to you, it’s important to make sure they know they’re heard. LoFranco said he reads every tweet Issa gets on a daily basis—more than 2,500 every day.
“Pay attention to what people are saying to you,” he said. Responding to tweets is one of the best ways to reach into someone’s life and turn that person into a fan or a lifelong follower.
Francesca Chambers, Editor of Red Alert Politics, also added that personality shows through in the quality of the content. “If you’re not having fun making it, they won’t have fun reading it,” she said.