According to the psychologist Jonah Breger, sharing is triggered by psychological arousal. In other words, any stimulation, be it emotional or physical, can spur the reaction of sharing. However, going viral isn't as simple as creating a mind-blowing story and throwing it on your social media wall.
There are many aspects to sharing that determine which stories get millions of views and which fall into the abyss of insignificance.
This article is intended to explore research behind the phenomenon of sharing and how you can use those findings to create and distribute your content.
Why do people share?
People share for different reasons. While it's impossible to take all the reasons into account, you can use the research conducted by The New York Times Customer Insight Group to plan more impactful messages and communication. The study found that people share content for 5 major reasons:
Value and Entertainment
New research or study creates new knowledge. If the new knowledge is aligned with interests of the person's social circle, it will be considered valuable. You have to keep in mind that people perceive content differently. Some are sharing to show what they find valuable – in that case, sharing is also an act of self-expression. Others want to help their friends in their personal development journey – in that case, personal interests are overridden by what others might find valuable.
Entertainment is another reason why people share. Whether it's an enjoyable video or a beautiful image, sometimes people share content simply because they find it amusing. Entertainment content is light and doesn't require intense focus, but it catches attention fast. You can turn any piece of content into an attention-grabbing image that gets shared solely due to it's high visual appeal using professional help or online design tools.
Support a cause
Having a cause behind your content campaign is a sure way to inspire sharing. The desire to support social issues is often the most powerful motivational force behind sharing, simply because social issues have a tendency to affect millions. A social movement can drive awareness, buzz and engagement.
The additional benefit is that business's social responsibility efforts often result in forming a community, which makes content distribution easier. You also get the chance to expand your reach by involving people who don't care about the cause but are worried about their self-image.
People are social creatures. The need to maintain and enhance relationships is another reason why people share. Since everyone is busy these days, social media has become an easy and quick way to reach people we care about.
When your content has the power to strengthen the relationship between two or more people, it's more likely to be shared. This kind of content either captures mutual interests, evokes shared memories, or helps idea generation for future activities planning.
Perhaps, one of the most basic motivations behind sharing is the need to express oneself. This motivation can be further broken down into the need to create an image that we think others might find attractive or the need to express our true self.
Bear in mind that people who express their "true self" through social media might prefer different type of content than those who are projecting their "ideal self".
Many people share on social media because it feels good. Sharing and then seeing how people react to content bring a burst of positive emotions. In that regard, people have an agenda that goes beyond sharing: they're trying to understand what content will resonate most with their audience and then share it. It's the act of collecting likes that they're after not the act of sharing.
What makes content go viral
Creating viral content isn't just a matter of luck. Knowing audience preferences and their reasons for sharing helps but it's the message and the story that make content stand out and explode across the web. Your content needs to align with the key emotional drivers that influence people sharing habits.
Here are the emotional characteristics of viral content:
Content that inspires a wider range of emotions tends to be shared more. Moreover, content spurs positive and negative emotions at the same time have higher chances of going viral.
Focusing on one emotion rarely brings results, but if your content evokes a range of emotions and you can deepen the effect over time, social media success is guaranteed.
Be mindful of the different types of emotions. While high arousal emotions such as being anxious or amused make people more inclined to share content, low arousal emotions such as sadness or content are less effective.
The positive news is shared more often than negative news. People are always looking for ways to escape their day to day grim existence and positive content serves as a pathway to an illusion of exciting life.
On top of it, positivity has a contagious effect and prompts others to share positivity too, thus it creates a viral spiral.
The element of surprise
An unexpected twist in the story can throw the users off their guard, enabling the surprise effect. Surprises often take place when ordinary things are shown at a different angle. A surprise is a very deep feeling that can have a negative effect- for example, cause shock, as well as a positive connotation – for example, instill a sense of awe.
Keep in mind, that an element of surprise can not guarantee virality of content, but coupled with other emotions it can have a very powerful effect.
Negative factors that affect virality
You might think that focusing on creating emotional content will bring the desired results but there are other factors that come into play when it comes to great content. Here are some factors that can jeopardize your social media campaign:
Timing is crucial when it comes to distributing content. If your content gets published in unpopular times, all your efforts will go to waste. Make finding the right time to publish your content a priority and research your target audience's social media habits.
No matter what awesome idea lies at the core of your content piece, bad execution can undermine all the creative efforts. Bad design can destroy content's virality potential.
It's not only about beautiful visual though. The design is used to drive users' attention to the most important elements of the piece. Design is also closely correlated with color theory, and certain colors are known to evoke positive emotions. You can use design to emphasize the emotions you're trying to convey.
Poor distribution is the bane of content marketing. While most businesses spend an enormous amount of time on devising and creating content, only a few of them prioritize distribution. Without proper distribution, your content can not be seen and thus the chances of sharing are minuscule. Some effective content distribution strategies include SEO, Paid Ads, and Influencer Marketing.
There is no single right recipe for the creation of viral content, but there are certain things you can do to inspire as many people as possible to share your work.
Understanding motivations behind sharing will help you choose the type of content according to your audience's needs. Making content emotional and positive will bring numerous shares. Choosing the right timing, enhancing visual presentation, and investing into a strategic distribution will take your content from popular to viral.
At the end of the day, creating viral content is much simpler than what you think. Emotions and value are the two driving forces behind sharing. No matter what is your target audience, everyone is triggered by these two strong factors.
Source: Barry Moltz.