How to Use Emotions to Create Viral Content

Emotional MarketingIf we’ve learned anything about the power of advertising over the past decades, it’s that people are motivated to take action or buy a product because of their emotions.

The advertisers of the 1960s were really pioneers when it came to creating those emotions that led consumers to feel that tug of “I must have it”  or “I must do it” after seeing an advertisement.

While digital marketing might be a different frontier from early advertising, many aspects remain the same, and that includes the need to evoke emotions in your audience.

This emotion serves not only a motivator, but propels a consumer toward taking action. The below slide from Moz demonstrates the importance of emotion in viral content, as well as marketing and lead generation in general.

emotional drivers of highly successful viral content

As in advertising, the ability to evoke emotion is essential when you’re designing lead generation campaigns and strategies. This includes the use of marketing quizzes.

That’s why quizzes are often so successful!

They encourage consumers to learn more about themselves and experience emotions, which lead the quiz taker to take the next steps, which often include giving their email address, and perhaps taking further action.

Below is the wheel of emotions, created by Robert Plutchik, which shows not only basic emotions, but it also highlights the many layers of emotions we commonly experience.

plutchik wheel - science of emotion in marketing

Emotions and Viral Content

When you’re creating a quiz for marketing or lead generation purposes, your goal is likely to have it go viral, right?

What content creators may not realize is having your audience feel an emotional connection or engagement to your quiz or marketing content is that essential part of the puzzle that leads to viral sharing.

Below is a graphic from Business Insider showing the emotions that lead to content going viral.

emotions for viral content marketing

The Research

Let’s think for a moment about a well-known study that looks at emotions in comparison to the phenomenon of viral content.

Conducted by Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman in 2010, the study titled “Social Transmission, Emotional and the Virality of Online Content.”, looked at the psychology of content diffusion in an online environment using a collection of all New York Times articles published within a three-month window.

The looked at the link between the emotions evoked by these articles and how shared the content was. They also looked at more specific issues, such as whether or not the content was positive or negative, and the particular type of emotion evoked. Then, the researchers compared those factors to how often it was shared.

Some of the findings from the study included the following:

  • Positive content is more likely to go viral than negative.
  • If you want your audience to share your content, consider using elements of surprise or humor.
  • Sad-centric content has the ability to go viral, but it’s less likely when compared to content fueling positive emotions.
  • Anger isn’t necessarily a bad emotion to evoke when it comes to sharing. The research showed content likely to cause feelings of anger had the ability to be virally shared.

To sum it up, while positive content tends to be more sharable, the concept of emotion in online marketing goes beyond that. Arousal is another key consideration. This means that content with the ability to carry with it high arousal rates, whether that’s awe, anger or anxiety, is more viral.

The reason content associated with sadness may have a lower likelihood of going viral might not be because it’s necessarily negative, but could be because sadness is considered a low-arousal emotion.

Content, according to the study, can also be shared because it’s valuable or contains information an audience is likely to find useful.

The graphic below from shows some of the findings from the research study.

why content goes viral - graphic from MOZ

This graphic also shows some of the findings from the team of researchers as they looked at the impact of emotion on New York Times content.

interesting, practical, and surprising increase viral chances

Primary Emotions

Before you can start crafting content that speaks to emotions, it’s important to understand them and their role in how we perceive and ultimately share.

The primary emotions include:

  • Surprise: Surprise is often the common thread running through highly shared content, but it’s also usually combined with some other emotion. For example, you might learn a new fact that’s linked with feelings of happiness. In terms of a quiz, you can combine surprise and positive emotions with giving users insight into their personality they might not have otherwise had. They then are highly compelled to share their quiz results.
  • Fear: Fear is absolutely a great way to get people to take an action, but if you’re going to use fear as part of a larger marketing strategy it’s advisable to combine it with something that provides a solution to that sense of anxiety.
  • Happiness/joy: People love sharing things that make them feel happy, make them laugh or just generally brighten their day. Regarding quizzes, think about having users learn something positive about themselves. That will make them more likely to share their results.
  • Anger: Anger is definitely an arousing emotion, and it’s an emotion that’s packed with energy, so when explored correctly, it can at times work well to improve sharability.
  • Sadness: Sadness is probably one of the primary emotions that’s best to avoid if you want your content to be highly shared. It can cause your audience to pay attention, but not necessarily spur them to take a certain action, since it is considered a relatively low-arousal emotion.

A good way to improve your content’s chances of going viral isn’t to focus on just one of the above primary emotions but is instead to combine two emotions, which we highlighted examples of in the previous list.

In some instances, you can even combine all of these emotions.

The following image cited on BufferApp shows the effectiveness of campaigns compiled in the IPA dataBANK. It shows those campaigns with emotional content performed almost twice as well as content that was purely rational.

emotional vs. rational and campaign effectiveness

Okay, so the above information gives you a rundown of emotions in marketing, which is great for having background information on the topic.

The next question becomes how do you elicit particular emotions in your marketing and lead generating content, particularly when you’re designing content with LeadQuizzes?

Our next post will show you how to take this information and put it to practical use as you create your next lead generating quiz. 

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