Emotion and Virality: What Makes Online Content Go Viral?

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"Companies are relying more and more on online communication to reach consumers. While some viral campaigns are tremendously successful, others remain far below expectations. But why are certain pieces of online content more viral than others? An analysis conducted on the New York Times’ most-emailed list, along with further experimental evidence, showed that positive content is more viral than negative content. However, the relationship between emotion and social transmission is more complex than valence alone. Virality is driven, in part, by activation and arousal. Content that evokes either high-arousal positive emotions (awe) or negative emotions (anger or anxiety) tends to be more viral. Content that evokes low arousal or deactivating emotions (e.g., sadness) tends to be less viral. These results were also true when examining how surprising, interesting, or practically useful content is (all of which are positively linked to virality), as well as external drivers of attention (e.g., how prominently content is featured). Taking the effect of emotions into account helps to design effective viral marketing campaigns. "

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  • Berger Jonah (2011) “Arousal Increases Social Transmission of Information” Psychological Science 22(7) 891 - 893.

  • Berger Jonah (2013): “Contagious: Why Things Catch On”; Simon & Schuster

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  • Godes David and Dina Mayzlin (2009) “Firm-Created Word-of-Mouth Communication: Evidence from a Field Test” Marketing Science Vol. 28 pp. 721 - 739.

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