The Psychology Behind Virality On Social Media

With nearly 4 billion people on social media, it should make creating popular content a piece of cake, right?

Wrong!

Despite the fact that there are billions of people scrolling through the news feeds of different apps each day, going viral isn’t as easy as it may seem. In fact, only about 1.1% of content will ever go viral! While everyone loves a funny video or some heartwarming photos, likes, shares, and follows aren’t as easy to get as they used to be, even for big brands and celebrities.

If you’re wondering why this is the case, here’s the psychology behind pressing the like and share buttons:

Emotions matter

people laughing and talking outside during daytime

While some may be inclined to think that creating viral content relies on how platforms develop their algorithms, this may not always be the case. Before complicated social media algorithms even existed, posts were garnering millions of likes and shares, capturing the attention of people around the globe. So what might it come down to?

Though more logical when it comes to processing information and making big decisions, most of everything else that our brain analyzes happens through an emotional lens.

Basically, chemicals are released when we use social media. Dopamine, what many know as “the happy chemical,” actually stimulates us to want and seek. This chemical is triggered by seeing small bits of information, by unpredictability, and by reward cues — essentially, what social media is all about! Oxytocin is also released. This “cuddle hormone” lowers stress levels when you’re scrolling through social media.

Why emotions matter online

brown wooden like blocks

The brain’s chemicals affect how we perceive things and interact with others. So why is this so important on social media? Simple: emotions rule. For your content to be able to go viral, it has to elicit a reaction from people — it won’t always need to have specific value, but it will definitely need to get a laugh, provoke shock, pique curiosity, or tug at heartstrings.

Aside from appealing to emotions, other ways to appeal to online users is by better getting to know them. If users find your content relatable, it’s likely to be a hit: 89% of adolescents follow influencers that they find to be “relatable.” When they’re able to see similar qualities in their lifestyles or a kind of quality that they want to emulate, then they keep up with these people online.

Social media also serves as a platform for connectedness — this has become even more true during the pandemic. Online sources are a favorite for teens to cope with mental health issues and find a sense of belonging. A study also revealed the reasons why individuals share product-related posts online: the customer’s experience was so genuinely enjoyable that they wanted to share it with others, they feel good about having first dibs on the product, they want to help others, or like the brand’s message. Having content that means something or speaks to the audience can also help boost your reach and engagement.


This is what goes viral

person using macbook pro on black table

Of course, the kinds of posts that go viral aren’t completely random. That’s why it can feel difficult to find a cute dog video that you saw two days ago — there are MILLIONS of cute dog videos online, so it would be hard to search, even if you had specific details! Most viral content is similar or elicits familiar reactions among online audiences.

Here are some of the post types that commonly go viral:

  • Infographics and videos

People appreciate being able to learn both big things and everyday hacks that make their lives more exciting or fulfilling. Sharing a quick infographic on Facebook or informational guide on Twitter can help people feel like they’re being more productive online. Doing research and making it more presentable to people can help them trust your page.

  • Motivational content

Current events contribute a lot of external stressors to people’s personal struggles. Posting motivational content can provide a mood lift to those who may be going through difficult times, or give them content they can share with friends or family who they know may need encouragement. A message that uplifts and resonates is likely to make a big impact.

  • Tutorials

A fast how-to on TikTok can help any content creator garner shares and likes. Whether it be a recipe, cleaning hack, or even just how to reorganize your things, you can’t go wrong providing value to your audience. Presenting helpful information in easy to digest ways is sure to result in boosted engagement.

  • Memes

Of course, everyone loves a good laugh — memes are frequently passed around in group chats, public pages, and virtually every space that individuals have. Creating something relatable or comical can help you make your mark in cyberspace. In fact, thousands of jokes are built upon things made popular online, like through Twitter, Vine, and TikTok.

To increase your chances of going viral, you should also know how to speak to the different demographics that you’ll find on social media. Certain demographics are more present on social media and will be more likely to react to certain things. For example, to engage Gen Z, short-form video content catches their attention the most. Millennials prefer advocacy-based marketing and text-heavy content, while Gen X can be appealed to with nostalgia.

When you’re trying to boost your online following and engagement, it’s important to keep in mind how people are influenced in the digital sphere. Understanding how people view and intake content helps you create better content that is likely to get more attention from your target audience. Once you have a better understanding of online users and their preferences as well as social platform algorithms, you’ll have significantly better chances of seeing thousands (or even millions) of views.

Viral content is great: it helps give individuals and brands not just fifteen minutes of fame, but also a potential platform for advocacies, promotions, or even more engaging content. Gaining followers is one of the pluses of virality — if you want scientifically-backed evidence to help boost your follower count for more online relevance, this guide can help you start.

“The first lesson in constructing viral content is having the strength, courage, and self-confidence to get in touch with your own feelings, thinking about what profoundly affects you.” ― Ken Poirot

Author:

@Hazel Gil

Date:

10-25-2021

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