Internet users are unconsciously drawn to cat photos for their emotional connection
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Why Your Readers Would Rather Look at Cat Photos

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If you haven’t noticed that cats rule the Internet, you probably fall under the same category as Abraham Lincoln, Garfield, and rocks: not living. In case you need a refresher, here are some of the Internet’s most famous cat celebrities.

Grumpy Cat shares her views on internet cats

Whether you’re thrilled about the prominence of cats online or you think it’s a sign of humanity’s intellectual regression, there’s no denying that the Internet’s obsession with cats is an interesting phenomenon. When those cats make more in a couple of years (about $100 million) than celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Christiano Ronaldo, it’s time to take steps.

One creative agency has taken drastic steps to capitalize on the steadfast trend:


But all joking aside, scientific studies show that there may be some important mechanisms at play in our Internet cat obsessions that marketers and content creators might want to pay attention to.

Why We’re Obsessed with Internet Cats

In a recent study published in Computers in Human Behaviour, researchers theorize and test several important motivating factors for viewing cat-related media online.

One of those motivators is known as “mood management,” a process by which people regulate which emotions they have, when, and how those emotions are expressed. We tend to try to sustain the positive emotions we’re feeling or mitigate the negative ones. Interestingly, this is largely a process that takes place unconsciously, drawing us in to media that’s exciting, absorbing and pleasing.

Case in point: the Twitter account @EmrgencyKittens brings a continual stream of adorable cat photos and videos to 745,000 followers looking for a quick dose of cat.

Another motivator is procrastination, particularly at work or on tasks we find unpleasant. Furthermore, experimental evidence from this study shows that when Internet users do encounter cat content, they tend to interact with that content in multiple ways, commenting and sharing. This level of engagement could stem from a motivation to establish a social and emotional connection to others online.

Finally, some personality traits could predict whether you’re likely to be a bigger cat media consumer online. Introversion and shyness are associated with greater internet usage, and introversion is even linked to a preference for cats over dogs.

How Can Marketers Take Advantage of Our Emotional Motivations?

Before you scrap your current content strategy and change your company’s name to Cute Cats Inc., remember that there’s a time and a place for everything. While cat media might be totally appropriate if you’re a cat food manufacturer, it would be decidedly less so if you were an investment banking firm.

The important point to take away from the research is that we have unconscious drives toward maintaining positive emotions, abating negative ones, and establishing social connections online. When we can do all this, we tend to be more engaged with the content and more likely to share it.

Step 1: What Makes My Audience Happy?

Start by brainstorming what aspects of your company or your product bring about a positive emotional connection for people. While it may be as simple as a love of cats for the cat food manufacturer, for the investment banking firm, perhaps this is aspirational thoughts of the kind of happiness and freedom achievable with greater wealth.

Step 2: When Should I Post Emotionally Appealing Content?

The right time to make use of content that connects with an audience emotionally is the point at which you want to catch their attention.

Maybe Jill is browsing at work, procrastinating on unpleasant tasks that have her experiencing negative emotions, when a colourful photo of a destination she’s always wanted to visit pops up with the headline: “5 Ways To Make Your Travel Dreams a Reality.”

There are unconscious mechanisms at work that make it more likely that Jill will click through than if she came across a photo of a stack of coins and the headline “5 Ways to Become a Better Investor,” (something that doesn’t offer Jill an emotional connection) even if these two headlines lead to the same story.

Unconscious emotional motivations lead us to favor content that makes us feel good

Step 3: How Does This Fit in with My Existing Content Strategy?

Emotional content can be used to capture attention and direct that attention to your existing content strategy. It can serve as an inbound marketing tactic, and works particularly well on social channels where people go to connect emotionally with others.

Emotional content can be a great way to capture new markets that otherwise would never consciously choose to visit your website. You’re also priming new readers to discover your product or service while they’re experiencing positive emotions, creating a beneficial association in their minds between you and that good feeling. The right combination of content that connects emotionally and content that provides information is what determines whether someone ultimately makes a purchasing decision.

If we’ve learned anything in this age of internet cats, it’s that people have a powerful unconscious drive to feel good when they consume content online. Knowing when and where to tap into this can help marketers and content creators get a piece of the viewership pie without becoming Buzzfeed.

I feel smarter already!

To get more tips and advice for how to harness the psychology behind our consumption habits, subcribe to the Content Standard Newsletter.

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