Want to Go Viral? Get Contagious!


Viral marketing uses social media and social networking to increase brand/product awareness. It relies solely upon people passing information on from person to person. This technique relies on them to infect others with the idea and for it to spread rapidly, just as a virus would. Thus, the name viral. As people share information with more and more of their friends, it grows exponentially.

I have often been fascinated with what makes things go viral. I could never understand why that dumb cat video was such a big fuss. Well the answer is that there are a LOT of cat lovers out there. So I began to wonder what it was about that cat video that made people want to pass it along to others. Was it funny? Was it cute? Did it make them angry? So, I started to research it more.

What Makes Online Content Go Viral?

Compelling content relies upon one key detail – how sharable is it? To use social media to our advantage, we have to first know why people share some things rather than others. To answer these things, I researched the guru of all things viral, Jonah Berger.  He is a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Jonah is an expert on viral marketing the author  of the bestselling book “Contagious – why things catch on.”

Jonah Berger co-authored a research paper with Katy Milkman called “What Makes Online Content Go Viral?” Using a unique data set of all the New York Times articles published over a three-month period, the authors examine how emotion shapes virality. The results indicate that positive content is more viral than negative content, but the relationship between emotion and social transmission is more complex than emotions alone.

Virality is partially driven by physiological arousal. Content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is more viral. Content that evokes low-arousal emotions (e.g., sadness) is less viral. These results hold even when the authors control for how surprising, interesting, or practically useful content is (all of which are positively linked to virality), as well as external drivers of attention (e.g., how prominently content was featured). Together, these findings shed light on why people share content and how to design more effective viral marketing campaigns.

In summary:

  1. Positive content is more viral than negative content.
  2. Content that evoked high arousal emotions, positive or negative, is more viral than content without emotion.
  3. Practically useful content gets shared.

Seven Emotions to Build Content Around

1.  Anger – definitely is a strong emotion, but can you use it in a B2B setting? One positive example I can think of is if you sell tax automation software you could stir anger with the government bodies who are always changing the tax codes annually, making them impossible to keep up with.

2. Anxiety – Cyber-crime definitely is one thing that makes businesses anxious. That and losing out or missing out on something. If you can create content that requires them to respond quickly, anxiety would be a side effect. Try suggesting they let colleagues know to react quickly too.

3. Awe – Remarkable case studies inspire awe. Especially when you really saved someone’s bacon. Impressive outcomes and successes also inspire awe.

4. Fear – This is a giant motivator for people. Fear of losing out on something, that they are making mistakes of some kind, or will be responsible for a loss of some sort.

5. Joy – There are boat loads of things that make people happy, such as things that are funny, inspiring, uplifting. Nostalgic stories that people can relate with bring joy.

6. Lust – Usually, lust and sex go hand in hand, but in our case business people can also lust for power, money, results and promotions. Tantalize them with what your product can do for them and it just might go viral.

7. Surprise – Surprise for me goes hand in hand with joy. I am so tired of my expectations coming true that I love it when a product, TV show or movie surprises me. People are quick to make assumptions, so if you can show them a twist,, they are going to be surprised.

Read more on the topic:

How to Make Your Content Go Viral 

The Six Things That Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, and Maybe Infuriate, You

Contagious: How Do Things Go Viral?

The Ultimate Guide To Creating Viral Content

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    Gerry Nason Written by:

    Gerry Nason is a Senior Content Copywriter for HiP B2B. He also has extensive experience with generating high quality executive leads. Gerry worked for six years as the Producer & Director of a weekly music show, appearing on cable access TV in New England. During those six years, In Tune won 18 awards for video excellence.

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