Wojcik, technically a social psychologist, has turned his skills to the media, which he thinks has a “profound influence on how we perceive the world and how we interact with it.”
Since 2014, Wojcik has worked at Upworthy, a site dedicated to viral stories with a progressive lean on political and social causes. He collects “a ton” of data and turns it into “knowledge and insights."
His job is to determine how users are engaging with Upworthy’s content. While traffic is one useful set of numbers, Upworthy also prioritizes how much time people spend paying attention to the content, how many shares it gets, and the quality of the experience for the users.
The aim is to optimize content to make it more impactful and shareable and get readers “pay attention on the page for a little bit longer. As a mission-driven company, that’s the goal of our stories, to make a difference in the real world,” Wojcik said. The measurement of engagement can be useful to brand partners, he added.
"[We] try to see how exposure to our stories influences the way people think and feel about [a particular] brand and if they are more likely to make purchases from that brand or look up more information about them,” he added.
With Upworthy's research, Wojcik has found three core emotional experiences that can predict whether content will go viral. If content is positive, activating and empowering, readers are more likely to share it.
For example, Upworthy recently published a story about child brides and found that focuses on "the progress that is being made, and here is what you can do it about it" made readers feel more likely to share it. Watching content designed to evoke empathy resulted in a 97% lift in awareness of the issue, 58% lift in likelihood to share information and 3.5 times lift in likelihood to raise awareness or money.
Another story, published on the 15th anniversary of 9/11 in collaboration with StoryCorps, was about Beverly Eckert’s final phone conversation with her husband, who was trapped in one of the Twin Towers.
“The way the story is told… is about love and inspiration and empathy. You really can’t help but put yourself in the shoes of the woman telling the story,” Wojcik said.
The story “humanizes… something extremely difficult and heart-wrenching” and focuses on “how people should treat each other and what’s important in their life.”
That story was shared 100,000 times in the first 48 hours and has since been viewed 10 million times.
Last week, Upworthy hosted a pop-up "Empathy Lab" event in New York City's Madison Square Park. Participants were monitored with facial-recognition software that mapped emotional reactions while they watched different pieces of video content. Within a few minutes, their empathy score flashed on a big screen.
Upworthy found that women -- especially young women -- had significantly higher empathy scores overall than men. In addition, the average empathy of parents was significantly higher than non-parents.