Viral Marketing: The Psychology Behind Shareable Content

published on: 26 February 2024 last updated on: 14 March 2024
Viral marketing

Viral marketing stands out as a phenomenon that captures both the imagination and aspirations of brands worldwide. The allure of creating content which spreads like wildfire across social media platforms, reaching millions of potential customers organically, is undeniable. 

But what exactly propels content to go viral? We look at the psychology behind shareable content, presenting facts and recommendations that are less commonly known yet pivotal for crafting a successful viral marketing strategy.

Breaking Down Viral Marketing

Breaking Down Viral Marketing

Viral marketing refers to a technique where brands create content which is created to be shared rapidly from person to person. The goal is to achieve widespread visibility and engagement through organic sharing. 

According to a study by the American Marketing Association, viral content typically generates a 400% higher return on investment compared to traditional online advertising methods.

The Role of Emotion in Viral Content

One of the critical elements in viral marketing is the role of emotion. Content which triggers strong emotional reactions – whether surprise, joy, or even anger – is more prone to have a shareability factor (basically it will have more shares). 

A study published in the Journal of Marketing Research suggests that content which triggers high-arousal emotions like amusement or awe is more prone to becoming viral. In comparison to content which evokes low-arousal emotions like sadness.

Harnessing Social Currency

Social currency is a vital factor in viral advertising. When people share content, they often do so because it makes them look amusing, knowledgeable, or much talked about– they gain social currency. Content which is unique, surprising, or makes a statement about one’s identity has a higher chance of being shared. 

The Power of Storytelling

Storytelling is a potent tool in viral marketing. Humans are naturally drawn to stories, especially those that evoke empathy or create a connection. Content which tells a compelling story, whether it’s a heartwarming tale of triumph or a humorous anecdote, often gets shared more. 

A study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that content which narrates a story is 22% more memorable than just facts.

The Influence of Social Proof in Viral Marketing

The Influence of Social Proof in Viral Marketing

Social proof is a powerful psychological event where people mirror the actions of other people so that they can reflect correct behavior for a given situation. In this context of viral advertising, when content is shared by a large number of people, it gains credibility and attracts more viewers. 

Brands can leverage influencers or thought leaders to initiate this wave of social proof, thus increasing the likelihood of their content going viral.

The Role of Novelty and Creativity

Content which is novel or presents a creative twist on familiar themes is more likely to capture attention and become viral. Creativity in storytelling, presentation, or even in the format of the content can set it apart in the crowded digital space. A study in the Journal of Creative Behavior found that content which is both novel and high in quality is more likely to be shared.

Incorporating Interactive Elements

Interactive content like quizzes, polls, or interactive infographics can significantly boost engagement and shareability. Interactive elements not only keep the audience engaged but also give them a reason to share their results or opinions with others, thus increasing the content’s reach.

The Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect is a type of social proof where the popularity of content leads to increased acceptance and sharing. Once content starts showing signs of going viral, this effect can accelerate its spread as more people jump on the bandwagon to share and engage with the content.

Strategic Use of Hashtags

Hashtags can play a crucial role in viral marketing by increasing the discoverability of content. Using trending, relevant, and brand-specific hashtags can help content reach a wider audience and tap into existing conversations and communities.

Visual and Sensory Appeal

Content with strong visual appeal, including high-quality images, visually striking graphics, or captivating videos, are more likely to have more shareability. The sensory appeal, including the use of music or interactive elements, can also enhance the emotional connection with the viewers or visitors.

Recommendations for Creating Viral Content

Recommendations for Creating Viral Content
  • Leverage the Element of Surprise: While humor and inspiration are commonly used emoticons in viral marketing, surprise is an underutilized emotion. Material that surprises or challenges conventional wisdom can spark curiosity and lead to sharing.
  • Utilize the Zeigarnik Effect: The Zeigarnik effect suggests that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones. Marketers can use this by creating serialized content or leaving a cliffhanger, prompting viewers to share and discuss the content in anticipation of the conclusion.
  • Focus on Identity Reinforcement: People tend to share content which reinforces their identity or personal brand. Create content which allows individuals to express their beliefs, aspirations, or affiliations, thus encouraging them to share as a form of self-expression.
  • Encourage User Participation: Content which invites user participation, such as contests or user-generated content campaigns, can significantly increase shareability. It fosters a sense of community and investment in the content’s success.
  • Timing and Cultural Relevance: Aligning your content with current events, trends, or pop culture can increase its relevance and shareability. Timely content which is in-line with the current cultural context often enjoys more engagement and virality.

Challenges in Viral Marketing

Challenges in Viral Marketing

While the potential benefits of viral marketing are significant, there remain drawbacks as well. One key challenge is the unpredictability of virality. Despite employing all known strategies, some content fails to become viral, underscoring the importance of not relying solely on virality for marketing success.

Additionally, brands must be cautious about the type of attention viral content garners. Negative viral content can harm a brand’s reputation and alienate customers. It’s essential to align viral marketing efforts with the brand’s values and audience preferences.

Create Shareable Content Which Helps You Stand Out

Viral marketing is an intricate blend of art and science, leveraging the psychological principles of human behavior to create content which resonates and inspires sharing. By understanding and applying these principles, marketers can increase the chances of their content going viral. However, it’s crucial to maintain authenticity and align viral marketing efforts with the overall brand strategy. 

And if you’re struggling to create a viral marketing campaign, work with a trusted digital marketing agency today.

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Harsha is a senior content writer with numerous hobbies who takes great pride in spreading kindness. Earning a Postgraduate degree in Microbiology, she invests her time reading and informing people about various topics, particularly health and lifestyle. She believes in continuous learning, with life as her inspiration, and opines that experiences enrich our lives.

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