Why are social media quizzes so popular?

What kind of social media quiz are you? Read to find out

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 Personality quiz

"Which 'Sound of Music' character are you?" quiz created by the Lyric Opera of Chicago. (May 2, 2014)

Instead of reading this story, you could be learning "Which New Wave Band Are You?" (I am Devo), "Which 'Sound of Music' Character Are You?" (Maria? Really?) or "Which Classic My Little Pony Are You?" (no, I just couldn't).

Click here to take our "What Chicago landmark are you?" quiz.

And in the case of the "Sound of Music" quiz, your participation would be furthering the agenda of a major Chicago arts organization.

If you've spent any time on Facebook or other social media platforms since late last year, you've no doubt noticed the explosion of personality quizzes being shared and shared and shared. BuzzFeed's "What City Should You Actually Live In?" quiz from January tallied more than 20 million views as it linked its results to responses to such questions as "What's Your Jam?" (the only pre-2006 song offered: Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine") and "Pick a Beyonce" ("Super Bowl Beyonce"? "'Single Ladies' Beyonce"?). The New York Times' more systematic "How Y'all, Youse and You Guys Talk" dialect quiz, published Dec. 21, received the most online visits of anything posted on the newspaper's website in all of 2013.

The time it takes you to complete one of those quizzes very well may exceed the time it takes you to read this story. Quizzes are "sticky" that way, you see, and website owners like stickiness.

So it's no surprise that cultural institutions, locally and nationally, are jumping aboard the quiz bandwagon. On March 3, about a month before the Broadway in Chicago opening of "Peter and the Starcatcher," the show's producers posted "Which 'Peter and the Starcatcher' Character Are You?" on the PlayBuzz site, which, unlike the ever-popular BuzzFeed, allows users to create their own quizzes. It was shared and liked 599 times on Facebook, with 2,500 unique users, according to PlayBuzz.

On March 19, a couple of weeks after the opening of its play "Venus in Fur," the Goodman Theatre posted "Which Greek God or Goddess Are You?" on PlayBuzz, resulting in 833 Facebook shares/likes (never mind that Venus is a Roman goddess). Then came the biggie: The Lyric Opera of Chicago's "Sound of Music"-themed quiz went up on PlayBuzz on April 13 and has generated almost 300,000 Facebook shares/likes.

Carrie Krol, the Lyric's digital/media assets specialist who devised the "Sound of Music" quiz, said she was surprised how quickly it caught on. "The first day it went into the thousands, and we were happy about that," she said. "The next day it was at 39,000. By the end of week, it was over 200,000."

"It's impossible to even grasp this kind of traffic produced by an opera house," said PlayBuzz co-founder Tom Pachys, noting that 480,000 unique users took that quiz.

Then again, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's "What Musical Instrument Are You?" PlayBuzz quiz from March 17 generated more than 225,000 Facebook shares/likes, and its April 22 follow-up, "What Composer Is Your Soulmate?" has tallied more than 85,000 Facebook shares/likes.

Pachys said PlayBuzz quizzes have a 92 percent completion rate — that is, 92 percent of those who answer the first question complete the quiz — with an average time spent of 21/2 to 31/2 minutes.

"Engagement" is a word you hear often as organizations try to nurture audiences, and the Lyric quiz was an attempt to boost that feeling of connection between the individual and, in this case, a high-profile musical production that opened over the weekend. "It's less of a one-way dialogue and more soliciting input and allowing people to feel part of this," Lyric public relations director Alexandra Day said. "I think people really enjoy exploring their own psychology."

Goodman marketing director Lori Kleinerman said the theater's god/goddess quiz originally was conceived as an activity for an audience development night at the theater before it moved online. The idea was to "engage our patrons and encourage word of mouth, and it also can help sales," she said, noting that if the quiz identified you as Venus, you might arrive at "Venus in Fur" relating more to the character. (I got Hades.)

"We know that younger audiences are taking these quizzes," Kleinerman added, "so it helps us with our goal of cultivating younger audiences."

Quizzes have existed online for many years, but some switch got flipped late last year. BuzzFeed managing editorial director Summer Burton said that a year ago the joke was that her site was dominated by cat photos and lists. "Now it feels like the stereotype is quizzes," she said.

The quizzes constituted about one in 20 posts on the site a year ago, Burton said, but now they represent about half of the entertainment content editors' output, with an average of 7.8 quizzes being posted per day on BuzzFeed since Jan. 1, even as the site tries to boost its news credentials by posting longer stories and hiring its first critic, film critic Alison Willmore, in March.

The game-changer was BuzzFeed travel editor Ashley Perez's "What City Should You Actually Live In?" quiz, but Burton said she sees these personality probers as an extension of the kind of self-identity-related lists previously popular on the site, such as "35 Signs You Grew Up in Los Angeles in the '90s."

"It isn't just sharing a piece of media you like; it's also a way of starting a conversation with your friends," Burton said.

Mind you, personality quizzes are not to be confused with trivia quizzes. Chicago Shakespeare Theater posted a Shakespeare quiz on its own site April 21 in conjunction with the Bard's birthday, but its purpose was to test your expertise, not to determine whether you're more like Hamlet, Juliet or Henry V.

Brian Keegan, a postdoctoral social scientist at Northeastern University, cited the Greek myth of Narcissus in describing the personality quizzes' attraction. "We like to see our reflections of ourselves through these systems," he said. "I think people are also motivated by how these systems can be gamed, like how much would you have to change your responses to become the character you want."

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