The Psychology of Social Sharing: What Makes Content Go Viral

The Psychology of Social Sharing: What Makes Content Go Viral

You've seen it happen—a tweet explodes, a video racks up millions of views overnight, or a blog post dominates your LinkedIn feed for days. That's the magic of virality, and it’s the holy grail of online marketing. It’s your audience doing your advertising for you. But what fuels this contagion of clicks and shares? What makes people want to click that little arrow? Understanding the psychology of social sharing is a game-changer for anyone aiming to make a substantial impact online. Here, we’re going to dig into the nitty-gritty of how you can use social listening and analysis as the secret sauce in your viral recipe.

What is social Sharing?

Social sharing is the act of spreading content across social media platforms, from Facebook memes to LinkedIn articles, Instagram stories to Twitter/X threads. In essence, it's digital word-of-mouth on steroids. Now, why should you, as a marketer or business owner, give two hoots about it? Because social sharing is the key to extending your reach, building brand awareness, and most importantly, driving engagement that can translate into sales.

The Role of Emotions in Social Sharing

The best content prompts a real emotional reaction: laughter, excitement, even sadness. We're hardwired to share experiences, ideas, and yes, even memes, that evoke a strong emotional response. Whether it's a laugh-out-loud video, a tear-jerking story, or an infuriating news article, when content strikes an emotional chord, the share button becomes almost irresistible.

The Data Doesn't Lie: Emotions Drive Shares

A study by the New York Times Customer Insight Group revealed that a staggering 84% of users share content as a way to express things that they care about. That's a sizeable chunk of people who are motivated by emotion to amplify messages. Posts that elicit strong emotions—be it awe, amusement, or even anger—are twice as likely to be shared compared to those that don't.

Quoting the Masters: Jonah Berger Weighs In

Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School and author of the book 'Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age,' puts it succinctly in a study on the role of emotion in online content: “marketers often produce content that paints their product in a positive light, our results suggest that content will be more likely to be shared if it evokes high-arousal emotions.” Berger's work delves into why certain things go viral, and emotion consistently comes up as a top factor. If you're in the business of creating shareable content, tapping into this emotional reservoir is not just a good idea—it's practically a requirement. Whether you're aiming to educate, entertain, or enrage, making your audience feel something is the first step to getting them to share something.

The Bandwagon Effect

Ever noticed how a busy restaurant attracts more customers than an empty one? Or why people are more likely to watch a YouTube video with millions of views compared to one with just a handful? That's the Bandwagon Effect at play. In the context of social sharing, this principle suggests that content is more likely to be shared if it has already been shared by others. This psychological quirk is an often untapped goldmine for virality.

Social Proof and viral success

In the world of social media, social proof manifests as likes, shares, comments, and follows. When your content starts gaining traction, it catches the eye of even more people, leading to a virtuous cycle of sharing and engagement. It's like being the cool kid in school; once you're in, you're in.

Real-World Example: The 'Dolly Parton Challenge'

Let's throw it back to the Dolly Parton Challenge—a viral meme where individuals posted four different photos of themselves suited for LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Tinder. The trend exploded partly because people saw celebrities and friends jumping on the bandwagon, making them more inclined to join in on the fun. The meme was shared by millions and even got covered by major news outlets. In essence, its virality fed more virality.

So, how can you harness the Bandwagon Effect? Start by creating top-notch content that people would want to share, and then give it that initial push through your networks. If you have budget available, this is where boosting content artificially can make a huge difference in getting the ball rolling. Whether it's leveraging influencers or tapping into your community, a nudge in the right direction can set the wheels of the Bandwagon Effect in motion.

By understanding how the Bandwagon Effect influences social sharing, you're another step closer to cracking the virality code.

Timing and Revelance

Posting your content at the right moment is about understanding your audience and the larger social context. And trust us, this can make or break your content's chances of going viral.

Why timing matters

Data shows that even the most shareable content can fizzle out if it's posted at the wrong time. For instance, studies have found that Facebook engagement rates are 18% higher on Thursdays and Fridays. Why? Perhaps people are in a better mood as the weekend approaches. Similarly, tweeting between 1 and 3 pm on weekdays tends to get more retweets. These are more than just fun facts; they're actionable insights that can elevate your content from overlooked to unmissable.

Relevance is King

While timing is crucial, it's only half of the equation. Your content also needs to be relevant to your audience and in tune with what's happening in the world. Here's where social listening tools come into play, enabling you to capture the pulse of your audience and current trends. Say a topic related to your industry is trending; that's your cue to jump in with valuable insights, backed by credible data, of course.

The Impact of Visuals

Humans are a visually driven species. Our brains process images 60,000 times faster than text, which is probably why Instagram has over a billion active users. When it comes to social sharing, visuals aren't just the cherry on top; they're the whole sundae.

The Visual Advantage: What the Eye Sees, the Heart Shares

Infographics, memes, and videos often get more shares than text-only posts, because they're easily digestible, visually appealing, and quicker to evoke an emotional response. Whether it's a powerful photo that tells a story or a well-designed chart that simplifies complex data, visual elements often serve as the hook that encourages the first click or share. As digital strategist Madre Roothman puts it: “Visual storytelling can help make complex stories easier to understand and, as a result, deliver a more impactful message. It makes stories as imaginative, modern and relevant for readers as they could possibly be”.

The Secret Sauce: Social Listening and Analysis Tools

We've talked about emotion, the Bandwagon Effect, timing, relevance, and the role of visuals. But how do you fine-tune these elements to create content that's not just shareable but has the potential to go viral? This is where tools like Buzz Radar come in—your secret weapons for understanding your audience, gauging current trends, and optimising your content for maximum impact.

Your Crystal Ball: Predicting What Resonates

Social listening tools mean knowing in advance which topics are heating up, what your audience is chatting about, and which hashtags are taking off—a real-time pulse check. They let you monitor mentions of your brand, track industry keywords, and even snoop on your competitors. This information is gold when planning your next move.

Data-Driven Decisions: Let the Numbers Guide You

We all love a good gut feeling, but why rely on that alone when you can have data-backed insights? Social analysis tools provide actionable metrics like engagement rates, most-shared content, and peak times for posting. No more shooting in the dark; you'll know exactly what works and what needs tweaking.

Real-World Example: Airbnb's #LiveThere Campaign

Airbnb didn't just stumble upon their #LiveThere campaign; it was born out of extensive social listening. They realised that people were tired of 'touristy' vacations and yearned for authentic experiences. Using these insights, Airbnb crafted a campaign that resonated deeply with its audience, generating massive shares and engagement. The campaign became a benchmark for how social listening can drive successful marketing strategies.

So, if you're serious about crafting shareable content, investing in social listening and analysis tools should be at the top of your to-do list. These platforms offer a treasure trove of insights that can help tailor your content to what your audience actually wants to see—and share.

How to Make Your Content More Shareable

Make it Relatable: Speak Their Language

You want to create content that resonates with your audience on an emotional level, right? So, aim to address their concerns, fulfill their needs, or simply entertain them. Use social listening tools to figure out what matters to your audience, then serve it up in a way that hits home.

Create High-Quality Content: No Cutting Corners

If you're banking on grainy images, typos, or hastily thrown together text to go viral, think again. High-quality content stands out and is far more likely to be shared. From the visuals to the writing, make sure everything is top-notch.

Use Compelling Headlines: Hook 'Em In

Your headline is often the first thing people see. If it's not catchy, chances are your content will be overlooked. Tools like CoSchedule's Headline Analyzer can give you an edge by rating the shareability of your titles.

Emphasise Social Listening and Analysis: The Cornerstone of Your Strategy

We can't stress this enough: understanding your audience and the landscape is vital. Use social listening and analysis tools to tap into current trends, track engagement, and measure the effectiveness of your posts. It's not just about creating great content; it's about creating the right content for the right people at the right time.

In a Nutshell: Your Blueprint for Viral Content

From the deep-rooted psychological triggers to the power of timing, the visual elements that captivate, and the analytical tools that fine-tune your strategy—each facet plays a crucial role in your content's virality.

A Balancing Act for Success

At the end of the day, it's all about finding the sweet spot between art and science. Great content is where creativity meets data-driven strategy, where compelling storytelling is supported by timely, relevant insights.

So What's next?

Don't let all these insights simmer on the back burner. It's time to put theory into practice. Roll up your sleeves and get down to crafting, analysing, and fine-tuning your content. And remember, social sharing isn't just a one-off event; it's an ongoing process that needs constant tweaking and attention.

The digital landscape is ever-changing, but the principles of what make content shareable remain relatively consistent. By understanding these principles and leveraging social listening and analysis tools, you're already ahead of the game.

So, ready to create that next viral hit? We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Published on 2023-11-14 10:10:14