1unearthingWhat do you guess are the motives and what emotions lead to particularly high sharing rates? New findings in brain research (Neuromarketing) show what happens in the brain when content is shared online, offering good starting points to make Internet content targeted and virally efficient.

What happens cerebrally when sharing content?

It is not pure altruism that induces users to share certain content on the Internet with other people. The strongest motive is rather the very selfish act of self-gratification. The reward value is to be compared with others and to create and receive a corresponding social status by playing to the gallery as a transmitter of new, interesting and innovative content. Of course, the same goes for sharing content on Facebook, or tweeting and re-tweeting on Twitter as well.

What kind of content gets shared the most?

Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman, for instance, examined in their paper “What Makes Online Content Viral?”, how emotions shape virality. Impressively, their findings managed to shed light on why people share content and how to design more effective viral marketing campaigns.

Their results indicate that positive content is more viral than negative content, but the relationship between emotion and social transmission is more complex than the level of value alone. In fact, the duo revealed that 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, or deactivating, emotions (e.g., sadness) is less viral.

These results held true, even when the authors controlled the level of how surprising, interesting or practically useful the content is (all of which are positively linked to virality), as well as external drivers of attention (e.g., how prominently content was featured).

Experimental results further demonstrated the causal impact of specific emotion on transmission and illustrated that it is driven by the level of activation induced.

In any case, their study was exemplary proof that strongly positive activating contents are shared on an average of 30% more often than those that cause negative reactions. So, the viral success of content is highly dependent on its emotional impact.

But now the question is, what specific emotions trigger a particularly strong stimulus for sharing content? Is it humor, surprise, or rather fear and horror? Far from it. ...

"Exhilaration" is the key to high sharing rates

Everybody knows by now the ‘Gangnam Style’ which remains one of the most viewed viral videos of all time. But as The Drum reported, “its global success was not the work of random chance, but the careful manufacture of content married to rigid research, careful seeding and artfully plotted strategy.”

Karen Nelson-Field, a Senior Research Associate with the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia, decided to dig deeper on this and wanted to find out what makes a video go viral.

According to her research, “getting big is largely about getting seen, and in order to be seen by many, the distribution must be optimized, as paid media alone will not result in huge reach”, she states.

Her current research focuses on whether existing empirical generalizations in advertising and buyer behavior still hold in the new media context. It takes a close look at social media marketing, content marketing and video sharing.

She came to the conclusion that “videos of sneezing panda cubs, or Charlie biting his brother’s finger, can achieve enviable share on purely organic terms, but the Holy Grail of marketing at the moment is to be found in achieving the perfect sharing formula by design.”

Her team at South Australia’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute believes however that they have found that ‘perfect formula’, suggesting: “Content creators should aim to increase the emotional appeal of their videos, with less emphasis and fewer restrictions on the creative devices they use. Creators should worry less about whether the video content contains a baby, a dog or a celebrity, and instead invest in pre-testing to ensure the material makes the viewer laugh, gasp or get goose bumps.”

Similar to Berger and Milkman findings, her team could prove that “high-arousal positive” emotions were shared more often than those that drew any other emotional response - in fact around twice as often.

“When we looked at both arousal and valence, content that elicited a high-arousal positive emotional response was shared around 70% more often on average than the next highest sharing arousal–valence group, high-arousal negative,” said Karen Nelson-Field, emphasizing therefore to “focus less on creative appeal and more on emotional appeal.”

She concluded, hitting the nail on the head: “In our supercharged world, funny isn’t enough—only hilarious will do. Happiness is okay, but exhilarating is what we want. Negative high-arousal emotions can also prompt us to share, but which marketer is brave enough to risk offending their customers? Positive emotions are a much safer bet.”

By Daniela La Marca