The Psychology to Create Viral Content

Written by Staff

You don’t need ‘luck’ to create viral content.

Jonah Berger is the author of the bestselling book “Contagious: Why Things Catch On”, and named the Best Marketing Book of 2014 by the American Marketing Association.

Contagious, through its ground-breaking research, shows the matrix behind powerful stories.

People around you are able to create viral content. What is the secret behind it? What kind of “traffic buttons” do they push on the Internet?

Here are some highlights from Berger’s book:

  • Positive content becomes more viral than negative content.
  • Content which is practically useful gets higher number of engagements.
  • Content which evokes emotion – negative or positive – goes viral more than content that doesn’t evoke any emotion.

Berger came into this conclusion after studying thousands of published online content and brand products in an attempt to understand the popularity scale.

Sharability is an essential component of “compelling content”. To create viral content and share on a Facebook page isn’t enough. What Facebook and Twitter offers is a technological platform to mobilise a business, they are not strategies in themselves.

People want to get involved. An example of this is a “feel good” email sent by LinkedIn in 2012, which said:

“Congratulations, you have one of the top 5% most-viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012”.

What the message delivered is a ‘feel good’ user experience. You belonged to a special group and people actually shared this news to other social platforms. Why?

Sharing this information made them look good.

As Berger writes:

If a piece of content makes people seem smart, they’re more likely to share it with their friends. And people like being the first to share information because it makes them seem cool and in-the-know.

With people bragging about the message, LinkedIn also benefitted as it helped the professional network grow.

Berger’s study isn’t the only case in point. In 2014, Buzz Sumo analysed over 100 million posts to understand the logic to create viral content. Their study showed the below mentioned features of viral content:

  • Appealing the narcissistic side of people
  • Shared from trusted sources
  • Involved awe or amusement
  • Were often infographics and lists

Further, Marketo highlighted 7 reasons why people shared. They are to:

  • Give – offers and discounts
  • Inspire – images and quotes
  • Advise – helpful hints and tips
  • Amuse – entertainment
  • Amaze – pictures and facts
  • Unite – belong to a community
  • Warn – potential dangers

The 7-factors aligns with the New York Times study which interviewed 2500 people with the intent to determine the reason they shared a story online. The main reasons were:

  • To grow, nourish and stay connected with others
  • To offer entertaining content and valuable insights to others
  • To feel more involved with the world
  • To give people a better sense of who they are

You can download The Psychology of Sharing report here.

How to Create Viral Content?

No guarantees are offered because a step-by-step manual to create viral content doesn’t exist.

What all the above quoted and other studies show is content virality is influenced by emotions. If a piece of content activates high-arousal emotions, the content goes viral. People will talk and share it.

The high-arousal emotion could be both positive and negative. It depends on which emotion you want to evoke.

I can cite an example in the blogging world. When Derek Halpern debunked the notion that “content is king” with this article on Social Triggers, he evoked the emotion of anger. The post received thousands of social media love and lot of people ‘angered’ by the piece tried to poke holes in his theory, which as a result, got Derek tons of traffic, exposure and links – what more does a blogger want?

Also, take a look at this detailed list of indicators to know whether the blog post idea will go viral or not.

Therefore, what kind of emotions can you evoke? You can evoke emotions of:

  • Surprise
  • Lust
  • Joy
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Awe


These 7 are very basic human emotions.

Content isn’t something from outer space. Content has been in existence since humans learnt to record their history through images (cave paintings) and written texts.

To create viral content, you need to evoke certain emotions in the readers. If that happens, nothing can stop the content from going viral.

Here is a great Infographic from Backlinko.

Viral Content Infographic

Get your hands on Berger’s book. It will be a great investment if you’re in the ‘content’ business.



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The post is contributed by SocialVani staff.


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