The Science Behind Going Viral & Social Marketing

01/30/2014 09:49

Proven Fact: Emotions are Contagious and Worth Sharing

The number one consistent factor among shared and viral content is to create content that moves emotions. Emotions are contagious and people want to share if they felt something when reading/watching a particular piece of content.   

In the beginning of the article we will talk about what content gets shared and viewed. Then we will discuss the science behind going viral and proven strategic scientific experiments. Finally, we will get into the stats and numbers about best time to tweet, share an article and more.

What emotions are worth sharing?

Inspiring Stories: Get NBA and professional athletes to tweet a viral video.

Davan Overton was born with a rare condition that slowed his physical development. He grew up feeling different and alone, until he found salvation through a sport that allowed him to belong. The 8th grade team coach found a spot on the team for him as a team manager. But one game, the coach ran a special play for him to take a shot and he made it. This inspiring story was retold on ESPN E:60 after his moment went viral. You can watch his story here.

Sex Still Sells: The Super Bowl Ad that was too sexy to appear generated over 1 million views in 24 hours after it was pulled. Scarlett Johansson is just too sexy and Soda Stream knows how to go viral.

Funny Commercials and Videos: Funny videos and pictures are always worth sharing. As you can see in the top 20 most shared ads in 2013 below, the GEICO Hump Day Commercial was shared over 4 million times.

It’s Not Luck…It’s Science

There was a scientific study testing what content gets shared and what content does not. Half the participants were asked to sit still before reading an article, and asked the other half to jog in place reading the same content. The joggers were 3 times more likely to send the content to a friend or family member because they were juiced up and endorphins were flowing. The test was conducted by a University of Pennsylvania professor, Jonah Berger, and the author of Contagious: Why T hings Catch On. He states “that arousal plays a pivotal role in social transmission”.

What content and articles are emailed and shared the most?

Wharton scholars Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman reviewed roughly 7,000 stories that appeared on the New York Times website to analyze which ones made the "most emailed" list. After controlling for factors like time of day and author prominence, it does not matter if an article makes you happy or angry; but, how happy or angry. The degree to which an article heightens your emotions and arousal of one’s emotions is the key to the content going viral.

Additionally, information and education pieces get shared as well.  Advice on how to be happier or tips on getting into a better College are often shared. Advice articles create an awe in readers and need to be shared and emailed. 

For the full scientific study of what content goes viral, please view this PDF.

To listen to Professor Berger speak about what content goes viral and learn futher about content marketing, please watch the interview below. 


Below are charts on how to get the most out of Twitter. The tips are summarized here:

  • Attach Pictures
  • Use only 1 or 2 relevant hashtags #goingviral #twittertips
  • Asked to be Re-Tweeted
  • Tweet after work when people are back on their computer and mobile devices

Distribution of Content Matters

You can give your content a nudge towards popularity by partnering with social influencers such as bloggers, tweeters and other social media stars, or celebrities. You can @ a few famous people or companies with followers and maybe they will re-tweet your post.

Try Going Viral Again!

You might have posted an article or shared to a group at the wrong time. You must try sharing and spreading your story and take a second shot.   

Google Author Brent. Rovner


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