Awe and Social Media
Updated: Aug 19, 2019
Ask any woman what kind of man she wants and she’ll likely say: Funny. Nice. Intelligent. Meet her boyfriend and you may find him to be a boring dull dummy. The same disparity between stated values and our actual values occurs every minute of every day on social media. We believe we desire one thing, when in reality what we want is much more complex and hard to define.
In social media marketing circles, there is a myth that humor is the most important factor to achieving success online. Show funny cat videos or their equivalent and certainly your content will go viral. Be a silly character for your brand, and it will be an instant success. In reality, for every “humorous” video or article that goes viral, thousands of similarly funny videos fall on deaf ears.
That’s due to the fact that humor is merely one emotional value individuals hold. Moreover, no one truly desires to laugh every minute of every day. The term "Laughing Idiot" refers to the person who laughs constantly, often at anything.
This is true for the same reason that one woman will find a guy witty and handsome while another woman will find that same guy foolish and grotesque. Humor like a man—or a business message—has to touch the right person at the right time to connect.
Companies seem hell bent on building brands online with humor, even when humor may not be their strength. Of course, if you’re funny, that can be useful to growth online; just as beauty is useful in selling make-up.
Luckily, you can stop trying to be funny online. It’s simply not true that only funny material wins. Serious and ugly people can win, too. In fact, strength of character and inspirational feats are vastly more popular than a 6 second video of a cat being scared by a cucumber.
Take the fat lady who broke the internet. Her name is Susan Boyle. Immediately as she walked on stage for Britain’s Got Talent the laughter began. They were not laughing at a joke she was telling. They were embarrassed by her presence on stage. She was a frumpy middle-aged woman with an odd haircut and she appeared to be wearing some kind of bedsheet for a dress. The camera cut between the exasperated judges to the horrified look of the announcers. Everyone was weary of the trainwreck that was about to occur.
Simon Cowell reluctantly asked her where she was from, and in a moment of panic she forgot. Laughter ensued once again. The crowning jewel is the ironic wolf whistle from the crowd as she announces her age, 47.
The crowd pointed and sneered, and then the snickering really picked up. Someone could be seen whispering in her mother’s ear, probably wondering when the ugly woman would leave the stage.
“Ok, what’s the dream?” Simon asked.
“I’m trying to be a professional singer,” she responded and the camera cuts to a young woman who impishly shrugs her shoulders and rolls her eyes.
“Why hasn’t it worked out so far?” Asked Simon.
“Well I’ve never been given the chance before. But here's to hoping that will change.”
“And who would you like to be as successful as?”
“Elaine paige,” Susan responded. Now the gruff snickering is really picking up.
Simon motions for Susan to sing her chosen song, “I dreamed a dream” from Les Miserables.
The moment the first vibration escaped her throat, Susan’s voice rippled through the auditorium and gripped the heart of every individual in the room. Never had they felt such inspiring power. They were for a moment as an astronaut discovering an unexpected alien force.
They cheered. They were brought to tears. Simon’s face goes ashen as though he has seen a ghost. No one had expected it. The judges were speechless. When she finished the judges took turns lavishing Ms. Boyle with praise.
They were all in awe of her.
Awe, it turns out, is much more powerful than humor. Each person who witnessed the miracle of Susan Boyle, felt lifted. They saw a matronly woman who dreamed a dream and had achieved it spectacularly. It was a spectacle grander than the grand canyon.
This video (below) is one of the most viral videos… ever. Millions of shares. Hundreds of millions of views. Not a bit of humor.
Humor is good; afterall who doesn’t love a good joke? But most business matters deserve to inspire, uplift, educate.
It’s not just humor that isn’t as important as one might think, but other trends too. The New York Times discovered that their most shared articles were not on fashion or politics, but science. This, for the same reasons as Susan’s success. New and major science discoveries, like a mars landing, are awe inspiring.
Social media is not mass media. Today, there are less crusty elites who decide what content is worthy of sharing with the masses. It is our individual behavior and our deepest emotional values that determine what is shared all over the planet. We share when we care, not necessarily when we laugh.
While in the past we had gatekeepers who decided what was seen by the masses, in 2017 we have human emotions such as awe that decides what is seen by the masses. The psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt define awe as a “sense of wonder and amazement that occurs when one is inspired by great knowledge, beauty, sublimity, or might. It’s the experience of confronting something greater than yourself. Awe expands one’s frame of reference and drives self-transcendence. It encompasses admiration and inspiration and can be evoked by everything from great works of art or music to religious transformation, from breathtaking natural landscapes to human feats of daring and discovery… Awe is a complex emotion and frequently involves a sense of surprise, unexpectedness or mystery.”
Susan Boyle’s video should inspire business owners, influencers, and content producers of all types to stop trying to be funny in every post, video and article. Everyone enjoys the court jester, but only the King rules a kingdom.