From the Desk of the Intern: Most Viral Headlines of 2010

Last, week we set about finding out what the top stories were for 2010. It was just a run-of-the-mill environmental scan to scout for trends. Perfect task for an intern. But then we got curious. What were the common features of a headline that inspired lots of sharing across platforms: blogging, retweets, and emails?

Viral headlines have one or several of these features:

Clever: Good alliteration, a turn of the phrase, or some counter-intuitive pun.

Princess Diana, From Huntress to Hunted,

Lists: Overdone, perhaps. But there’s a reason for it. People want quick recipes for self-improvement, or to focus their attention on what’s essential.

10 Apps That Make You Smarter, New York Times

Timely: Any headline that conveys breaking news or states a position on breaking news.

BP CEO Resigns Gets $17 Million Severance, U.S. News and World Report

Gisty: Okay so we made the word up. But headlines that help a reader get the quick gist are like guide posts. And if artfully done, can convey a nugget of information that teach readers something about the topic.

Youth cry out: I Can’t Stand Warcraft and I Can’t Stand to Leave, IGN blog
The brain will learn any word it hears 160 times over 14 minutes. Science Times

Outrageous: These are intensely dramatic, causing a sharp intake of fear, lust, pity, greed, disgust or rage. Great ones conflate a mix of emotions.

Your Money: A Dying Banker’s Final Instructions, New York Times
2 Year Old Indonesian Boy Addicted to Smoking, AP
Fired for Being Too Hot? Village Voice

Best of the best? Our favorite grand slam headline incorporated all three qualities:

Enron’s Last-Minute Bonus Orgy,