The Principles of Contagious Content: Emotion

Why do some things catch on and what makes some content more contagious? Is it down to luck or is some content just more viral worthy? Hundreds of research hours have been dedicated to solving this mystery and the findings show that there are six key principles to making contagious content. I recently explained the first two principles Social Currency and Triggers. Lets have a look at the third principle – Emotion.

What is Emotion?

Contagious content generally evokes an emotion, whether it be surprise, shock, awe or happiness and when we care about something we are more likely to share. Not all emotions increase sharing, some in fact decrease it, picking the right emotions when creating content is key to creating contagious content.

Why People Share Emotional Content

Sharing emotions with our friends and family helps us to connect with them, if I were to watch an awe inspiring video and share it with a friend, they would be likely to feel the same emotion, the fact that we both had the same reaction to the video enhances our social connection and reminds of us how much we have in common. Emotion sharing helps us to maintain and strengthen relationships.

Do all Emotions Encourage Sharing?

Not all emotions encourage sharing, in fact some emotions can actually decrease the likelihood of sharing, sadness is an example of this kind of emotion. One of the reasons sadness has the opposite effect goes back to social currency and how things we share reflect on us, we share positive things because they reflect positively on us, no one wants to be the person always sharing sad content.

It may be fair to assume that content that inspires positive emotions is more likely to be shared than content that inspires negative emotions, this is not always case.

Anger and anxiety actually increase sharing, for example content about bankers receiving multi million pound bonuses during the economic downturn are likely to cause anger to the reader and will increase the likelihood of them sharing the content.

So if its not as simple as positive emotions encourage more sharing than negative ones there must be another factor to consider – arousal.

What is Arousal?

Arousal occurs when we are emotionally charged, for example if you are delivering a speech to hundreds of people it is likely that your pulse is racing, your palms are sweaty and you can feel your heart pounding; your muscles tense and you are aware of every smell, sound and movement – this is arousal.

Arousal puts us in a state of readiness for action, our hearts beat, our blood pressure raises, we pace back and forth and we wring our hands – we are ready for action. Different emotions evoke different reactions, when we are angry we vent, when we are anxious we check and recheck details, when we are excited we can’t sit still and when we are inspired by awe we want to tell people.

Not all emotions evoke arousal, sadness for example tends to make people subdued and withdraw. Contentment makes people relax, their heart rate slows and their blood pressure decreases, they want to enjoy feeling content rather than jumping in to the next activity. Emotions can be categorised into high arousal and low arousal see table below.

When using emotions to drive sharing pick the high arousal emotions, excite and anger people rather than make them sad. It is the high arousal emotions that place people in the state of readiness for action, making them more likely to share your content.



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