Marketing Bootcamp

How Tapping Emotional Hot Buttons Can Make Your Content Go Viral

New research on viral emotions by marketing agency Fractl has found that positive emotions play a huge role in making an audience care about -- and share -- content.

“We discovered that the top positive emotions evoked by viral images are amusement, interest, surprise, happiness, delight, pleasure, joy, hope and affection,” says Kerry Jones, inbound marketing manager at Fractl. “But negative emotions also play a role, especially when they evoke feelings of anticipation and surprise.”

Here are three tips for tapping into these emotional hot buttons to increase virality:

1. Use contrasting emotions to increase your content’s impact.

 The common trait shared by most viral content is the ability to produce a complex emotional reaction from an audience. Fractl found that the most viral images elicit a range of emotions, rather than a single emotional response.

“Contrasting emotions are especially effective for moving people to share content,” says Jones. “Content that elicits a mix of negative and positive emotions, plus an element of surprise, is the ultimate recipe for viral success.”

Achieving virality requires not only that you create an emotional response, but also that the emotional response is one that will drive people to share content.

“You can still achieve extremely high views on content that may make people feel happy or sad,” she says, “and even get a decent amount of coverage, yet not elicit a large amount of sharing.”

2. Use multiplier emotions to drive content sharing. 

The study also showed that certain emotions heighten other emotions.

“Interest, surprise and amusement behave as emotional multipliers for positive emotions, and empathy seems to act as an emotional multiplier for negative emotions,” says Jones.

Though the study focused on viral images, Fractl has seen great success by applying these findings to a range of content formats. The agency’s recent Photoshopped Bodies campaign, for example, took images of well-known superheroes and Photoshopped them to have average body types.

Wonder Woman

The campaign received more than 100,000 social media shares and counting, as well as coverage on sites including The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Playboy.

Consider how this campaign created complex emotional reactions among viewers:

Positive emotions:

  • Joy, delight, hope, pleasure: Some viewers felt happiness by getting affirmation that pop culture body types are unobtainable.
  • Surprise: Seeing well-known images of comic book heroes juxtaposed with average body types created an element of surprise.
  •  Amusement: Some felt a level of amusement at seeing iconic bodies re-imagined.
  • Affection: Seeing pop culture icons created feelings of nostalgia among comic book fans.

Negative emotions:

  • Anger, disgust: Recognizing that superhero body types are unrealistic probably evoked adverse feelings from some viewers.

3. Tap into the element of surprise. 

The study also found that the unanticipated, which can be positive or negative, contributed greatly to making images go viral.

“Surprise is incredibly effective for grabbing and keeping someone’s attention,” says Jones. “Your content must present something unexpected, counterintuitive or completely novel to increase its chances for virality.”

One of the best ways to generate unexpected and counterintuitive ideas is to use the provocation technique, Jones says.

The technique relies on opening your mind to new possibilities by abandoning your assumptions and asking, “What If?” This can be done in five primary ways:

  • Escape : Negate what you have taken for granted about your topic.
  • Reversal : Reverse something you have taken for granted about the topic.
  • Exaggeration : Ask yourself whether there’s a numerical or quantitative element you can play with to arrive at new ideas.
  • Distortion : Try to distort one element you take for granted about the topic.
  • Wishful thinking : Suggest a fantasy you know isn’t possible that relates to your topic.

Approaches like these help you to bridge unexpected connections and innovative ideas that are more likely to spark surprise in your audience -- and drive your viral success.


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