Featured Writing/Content

Which is Better? Positive or Negative Content

What makes you click more? “The Worst Ways You Can Fail at Marketing,” or “10 Of the Best Marketing Practices You Should Be Using Today”.

Ah, the psychology behind good web content.

Basically, content can be either positively or negatively aligned, and each of these has their own impacts on the audience. You can think about it from the perspective of someone who deals with motivating people. Such a person knows that when you’re trying to get your listeners to take themselves seriously, you can either provoke them into action or encourage them to do something positive.

With your content production, your content can either drive your reader to action or give them an element of fear in order to do what you tell them to do.

The Science of Motivation

The psychological model of positive reinforcement is one that is well known and has been a major part of developing a curriculum for schools. If you’ve ever heard of the carrot-and-the-stick analogy, then that pretty much sums it up. Basically, what positive reinforcement does is motivate the user by dangling something they want just out of reach so that they will strive to achieve it. It can be quite useful with the correct approach, but doesn’t work well for everyone.

Another psychological model that is associated with negative reinforcement can be illustrated with the analogy of a cattle prod and a cow. The motivating factor is fear of what will happen if something is not done or completed. In many places, parents have adopted this type of model for raising their kids. Again, it does appeal to a certain section of the populous but not to everyone.

We as humans know that the best way to get someone to do something is to offer something in exchange. That’s the premise behind going to work. You spend time in work, doing tasks for your employer and they repay you monetarily. The brain usually works on a task-reward system. A good example of this in action is the video game development industry. In video games, the user is treated to short-term rewards that keep them coming back for more. They are motivated to continue the game by these short-term rewards.

The brain is wired in a way that makes reward the reason for doing something. However, we can bypass the learned behavior and traditional motivation by forcing an individual to do something because of the threat or promise of losing something that they hold dear. In a lot of fiction writing, this is the case for the hero’s journey. Emotion is intricately tied with motivation and by tapping into it we are able to access controls that allow us to motivate our audience effectively, either through positive or negative means.

The Art of Making the Audience Like You

Generally speaking, positive content gets results. People are more likely to be inclined to listen to someone if they like them. Positive reinforcement has always been a major part of teaching kids what works best for them. Adults, too, tend to benefit a lot more from positive reinforcement because it removes blocks to critical thinking and learning and deals more with accessing the audience’s positive emotions. Positive emotions can be a very powerful driver for certain people. One of the most successful school systems in the world (that of Finland) demonstrates the benefits of positive reinforcement in motivating children. Adults aren’t really that different.

Positive content is usually built around the idea of making people like you and what you’re saying. You’re not being offensive and you’re not provoking outrage. You’re appealing to their higher instincts. You’re trying to reason with them and have them consider the logical solution to their problem and then providing them with a viable option. Emotional response also forms part of the positive content marketing scheme, usually dealing with positive feelings such as accomplishment and triumph. All these are tactics that well-written content deals with admirably. However, there is the other side of the coin.

Is Negative Content Ever Good?

Despite the fact that it’s called “negative content” it can have quite a positive effect on your readers. A simple example is my post titled “The Worst Advice I’ve ever heard on Content Marketing.” This particular piece of content managed to garner over six thousand views, traction on social media, replies and messages. That says something about the power of negative content.

Using negatively aligned words such as “Worst”, “Awful” or even “Tragic,” brings to the forefront dirty laundry of one type or another. It’s usually never something that you’d expect to hear from someone who’s setting out to motivate you.

Negative content deals with bypassing the area of higher thought that positive content targets and instead focuses more on the emotional responses that certain types of content engender. It accesses emotions as a means of directing the audience to do something and deals solely with emotions such as fear and shame. These emotions are baser than the ones positive content evokes and they can be quite intense, sometimes driving a user to do something that his or her regular personality would never even consider. Negative content can be even better than positive content under the right circumstances.

Developing Content around Positive and Negative Emotions

We already saw how positive and negative content taps into a reader’s emotions in order to garner a response from them. Which one is more effective? If you’re looking at creating content that is viral, then your best bet is positive content. To that end you’re going to need to build content around the carrot-and-stick analogy. Give the user what you think they would feel good about. Good examples of this kind of content are Human Interest Stories or times when the underdog actually won. This type of content usually goes viral because of the propensity of the human animal to enjoy demonstrating their compassion. Understanding how your audience perceives the world is crucial to figuring out how you can best motivate them.

Does Positive Content’s Ability to Create Audience Interaction Make it Better than Negative Content?

Although you can say this, it’s not strictly true. Because of the way positive content is designed to play on the positive and desirable feelings that human beings have, it gets more of an elicited response. Negative content partially relies on the fact that it isn’t used much. The shock value that a negative content headline can have on a reader can be quite impressive. Combined with deeply evocative feelings that can drive a user to do something, negative content can be as effective (or even more effective) than positive content.

What Sort of Emotions does Positive Content Evoke?

Although there are quite a gamut of emotions that positive content is responsible for causing in readers, the most common ones are:

  • Amusement
  • Surprise
  • Interest
  • Pleasure
  • Happiness
  • Delight
  • Affection
  • Joy
  • Hope
  • Excitement

As you can clearly see, these emotions are very powerful ones that positive content can tap into. The power behind positive content is in its ability to make people feel good by sharing. You can benefit from this by using these powerful positive emotions to drive users to get your content out there. The key behind this is selecting the right emotions to tap into. Of the above emotions (the ones that drive viral content) it can be quite easy to see how a positive spin on content production can create interest and inspire shares and readers.

Negative content, too, can tap into these emotions, but in a slightly roundabout way. Take, for example, the emotion of surprise. If there was something negative that shocked and surprised an audience, it would work as a great point from which to build negative content. The content may be negative, but the element of surprise is positive. Although the rest of the top ten list doesn’t generate as much interest from a negative content standpoint it underscores the fact that negative content is most effective in small doses.

Which One Should You Use?

In the long run, your content production should focus on trying to inspire the user in any way possible. Whether this is by giving them goals to aim at or showing them the worst that could happen to drive their passion, both of these content strategies have their niche appeal groups. Negative content should be used far less than positive content. Its power lies in its unpredictability. If you bring out a negative post in every fifteen to twenty total posts, then you catch your audience by surprise and are more likely to get a response out of them. However, nobody likes listening to naysayers of doom, and by consistently creating negative content, people will avoid you because of your focus on the negative.

Keeping your overall content production positive and focused on emotions such as inspiration and awe will get you much further as far as shares and audience interaction. People have always loved feel-good stories. It’s about time you capitalized on that. Check us out today to get high quality content for both a negative and a positive focus that is sure to engage and inspire your audience to greater engagement!

About the author


Julia McCoy

Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. She founded a multi-million dollar content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75 at 19 years old. Today, her team has nearly 100 expert content creators on staff, and serves thousands of clients around the world. She's earned her way to the top 30 worldwide content marketers, and has a passion for sharing what she knows in her books and in her online course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia also hosts The Write Podcast on iTunes.


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  • I’ve been waiting a long time for a dislike button on Facebook – so it’s obvious which content I react to more often 🙂

  • I prefer positive motivation to any form of fear. I like to do things because I want to and not out of fear. I inevitable promote positively motivating contents

  • Always use positive content between users. Because users want only fresh and positive things or content. They never goes with negative things. Thanks for sharing a good articles.

  • Great comparisons between positive and negative content. Thanks for sharing.

  • Do’s and Don’ts have always been my favorite forms of motivation to potential customers and visitors to my blogs and lessons.

    Knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing how to do something.

  • Thanks for sharing the info. I love using positive contents. The power of both types of contents can be great when use at appropriate times. For instance a paper headline which may be either positively or negatively inclined may arouse the curiosity of the prospective readers. Also in an online industry like in products review blogs, while reviewing a product you may need to say the good side of the products and at the same side say the down side of the products and in this way you end up with an effective unbiased product review. By and large, both positive and negative contents can achieve what the are tailored to achieve when properly utilized.

  • Creating positive content and motivating others for it will influence your readers.You may get get loyal readers after that.So always write positive and promote positive content..Thanks for this info 🙂 keep posting..

  • Always use positive content so that you can make a positive life. Thanks for sharing.