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6 Emotions You Need To Create To Go Viral On Social Media

Social media networks provide channels of distribution to share information and content that marketers have realized can be very powerful in speed and spread.

6 Emotions You Need To Create To Go Viral On Social Media

Brands are constantly working with their marketing teams and agencies crafting creative concepts to spread their message and content.

So how do create that contagious content on social networks and make it go “viral”?

“Going viral” is every marketers dream but what makes content go viral?

What qualities should your content have to induce sharing?

Practical and utility articles such as  “69 secret tips to make your blog rock” are well known to induce sharing but emotion is quite often not given enough priority by the creators of content to ensure that their content is shared on Facebook and Twitter and other social media channels.

Researchers at Penn’s Wharton School (Jonah Berger and Katy Milkman) discovered from their study of  3,000 articles from the New York Times that the more emotional stories were shared the most.

They found that the emotion of “awe” was one of the strongest drivers of sharing.

They defined awe as

“an emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self.”

In essence …the feeling that the world is a broad place and I am so small.

There are two criteria for an awe inspiring story

  1. Its scale is large
  2. It requires mental accommodation by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.

If you cannot write something awe inspiring to share then the researchers found that five other emotional factors that promoted sharing were

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Disgust
  • Sadness
  • Surprise

These of course are not all the emotions that you can tap into to create virality but were highlighted by the research.

Here are some of the top stories on social media networks today that create some of those emotions.

I Almost Killed My Family This Morning Making Pancakes” (This is an image)

Father and Sun Send iPhone Into Space and Record Incredible Video” (VIDEO)

The old newspaper adage that “if it bleeds it leads‘ is still true. You need to invoke emotion.

What did intrigue me about the research was that it did mention that positive emotions were more effective for making contagious content but apart from “awe” there was not any significant observations in the research document on what they were.

So the online content providers need to pay greater attention to the emotions their content creates as this will lead to maximizing revenue for placing advertisements or pricing access to content.

So design content that is likely to be shared as this will increase your page and YouTube views.

So what emotions could you invoke when creating content?

Image by Sterin

Jeffbullas's Blog


  • So happiness isn’t one of the six? Interesting. What emotion would humor fall under? I would think happiness, but again, not on there…

  • Hmmm, I don’t agree with these findings.

    While some of the emotions you list here certainly can lead to viral popularity, they include negative emotions, which aren’t as popular (from what I have seen) as positive emotions.

    Humor, warmth, happiness, and the ability for a customer to relate to a character I feel are FAR more effective in ‘viral’ video success.

    Still, good food for thought, thanks for the post! 🙂

  • Gabriela

    the BIG question….how! 😉

  • Emilie

    Huh, interesting findings. I share happy, funny things. Most recently the Yosemite Double Rainbow freak-out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQSNhk5ICTI which has received 18.5 million hits on YouTube. Does this fall under “awe?” The emotional reaction in the video is large, but it didn’t make me view the world in a different way. Or what about those happy-bunny, and cat pictures that always end-up on a facebook feed or two? I agree with the previous comments that key positive emotions are missing from this list.

    Thank you for posting!

  • Nicole Kureshi

    This is an interesting post because it’s common to hear about paying attention to trends if you want to create content that goes viral. I haven’t come across much information on why users choose to share content. But it makes sense that it’s driven by certain emotions. And I can definitely understand why “anger” and “disgust” are among the top 6. If you are upset about a bad experience you tend to vent or complain about it. So naturally, if you read or view something that upsets you and it only takes a couple clicks, why not send it to your friend that would commiserate with you.

  • “Awe” makes a lot of sense. It explains why TV stations are willing to spend so much cash to storm chasers. Few things are more consistently awesome as tornadoes.

    Anxiety, anger and disgust also make sense. These are components of public outrage, such as the outrage now focused on the TSA and its full-body scan technology at airport. Opponents of the technology are focusing on arousing the public’s anxiety about having to submit to the technology, the anger at TSA for forcing it upon the air travel customer, and the disgust at the published images created by the technology.

  • I would have expected humor to elicit an emotion, but maybe that’s covered under surprise. Good humor surprises the audience, I guess.

    The first four (anxiety through sadness) seem so dark you have question whether you want them associated with your blog, brand or business. But I guess the idea is to just get people talking.

    Is the old adage “any press is good press” at play here?

  • Jeff
    Quite helpful – thank you.
    Awe is powerful.  So is “cute” – especially for woemn.

    Paul Ekman, the foremost expert on reading faces and on lying came up with the universally-expressed emotions after examining the micro-expressions on his own face, then others. Yours mirror what he discovered.  He wrote several books and the TV show Lie to Me is a 30% accurate representation of his researchHumor is not a universally expressed emotion (meaning everyone looks the same when feeling it) yet is also glue for pulling others in.  Also suspense where i see the beginning of something then must take an action to see the rest of the story  – or to create the next chapter and share it.  
    Here’s more re Ekman’s discoveries

  • Aliza Earnshaw

    Put another way, you need to make people cringe, lust or laugh if you want to go viral.

  • Yes, that does make sense…majority of the content posted in offline and online media is negativity, evil, horror … eg. death of saddam hussein ; twin towers disaster; the holocaust ; hitler ; etc

    That type of content sells newspapers. #sad-reality-of-life

  • Sudhanshu

    In India most even on TV ads on insurance, banking, loans do the same. The instill fear and insecurity and become popular 🙂

  • This is Practically Illegal Advise – so I will use it anyway. This information is what I have wanted in writing for years [that’s is what it feels like anyway].  Thank you for sharing it.

  • Reminds me of an article at performancing that discussed hooks like news, contrarian, attack, resource, and humour. Emotional hooks extend the theory and make it even more powerful!

  • D. A. Krolak

    Thanks for pointing out that the researchers should have pressed harder to find something other than AWE, it seems their thesaurus was broken – there are many other positive emotions that really can make content go viral!

  • “Emotions” seems like an odd, limiting dimension to think about when crafting a viral message. What about Humor, Irony, Nationalist/Patriotism etc. all of which seem to provoke share action, but it’s not clear what emotions they are stimulating.

  • Any time you are able to create any type of emotion in a person that is one step closer to a success.