What Drives Viral Content? - Forum.web.com
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What Drives Viral Content?
what drives viral content

The Chewbacca mom probably didn’t think her videos would go viral, and I know the Target cashier didn’t intend for his observations about his customers to go viral. But they did, because both Chewbacca mom and Target cashier triggered the right emotions.

And that brings us back to the (digital) age-old question: What drives viral content anyway? The answer: Emotions.

I ran across this viral content article on Jeff Bullas’s site recently, and it stopped me in my tracks. Here’s what I learned about what drives viral content – and how you can use it for your small business:

The top 10 emotions

These are the top responses for images that go viral (in order):

  1. Happiness
  2. Surprise
  3. Admiration
  4. Satisfaction
  5. Hope
  6. Love
  7. Happiness for
  8. Concentration
  9. Pride
  10. Gratitude

Note that about half of the images in each category included a caption and about half did not.

The roles of arousal and dominance

Psychologists have found that both are important for driving viral content, so let’s clarify what those terms mean. Strong emotions, like joy and anger, are high-arousal. Emotions that people have choice over, like admiration and inspiration, are considered high-dominance.

And though strong, positive emotions tend to drive viral content (just look at that list above!), research has found that high levels of dominance encourage more social shares. That’s because passing on a positive emotional experience makes others feel good, which in turn makes the sharer look good.

What about negative content?

Negative content can go viral, but it needs to surprise or shock. Two excellent examples cited in the article include “Reflections From Inside,” which was produced by the nonprofit highway safety group We Save Lives, and “Kids Read Mean Tweets,” an anti-bullying campaign for The Canadian Safe School Network. Both pack an emotional wallop.

Takeaways for your small business

  • Strive to elicit emotions that are both strong and positive in your content.
  • Publish feel-good stories, as they are high-dominance.
  • Producing negative content that goes viral is tricky, but it’s not impossible. Images or videos that are sad or depressing (see above) can also be surprising or inspiring.

What are your favorite viral videos, images, or GIFs? (Bonus points if your small business produced them!)

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Monika Jansen

Monika Jansen

Monika Jansen is a freelance copywriter and editor who helps with companies of all shapes on sizes kick their content up to the next level. You can find her online at www.jansencomm.com.
Monika Jansen
Monika Jansen

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Monika Jansen


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