The Psychology Behind Virality On Social Media

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With nearly 4 billion people on social media, it should make creating popular content a piece of cake. Wrong! There is running psychology behind virality on social media.

Even though billions of people scroll through the news feeds of different apps each day, going viral isn’t easy. Only about 1.1% of content will ever go viral! Everyone loves a funny video or some heartwarming photos. However, likes, shares, and follows aren’t as easy to get nowadays, 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:

Appeal to Emotion

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Creating viral content does not always rely on how platforms develop their algorithms. What is the psychology behind virality on social media? Before complicated social media algorithms even existed, posts were garnering millions of likes and shares. Thus, capturing people's attention around the globe. So what might it come down to?

Most of everything else that our brain analyzes happens through an emotional lens.

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 tiny bits of information, unpredictability, and reward cues — essentially, what social media is all about! Oxytocin is also released. This “cuddle hormone” lowers stress levels when scrolling through social media.

Why emotions matter online

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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 a specific value. Still, it will 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 are better at 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 “relatable.” When they can see similar qualities in their lifestyles or a kind of quality that they want to emulate, 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, and they want to help others, or they like the brand’s message. Having content that means something or speaks to the audience can also help boost your reach and engagement.

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Of course, the kinds of viral posts aren’t entirely random. It can feel challenging 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 normal reactions among online audiences.

Content Ideas

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 an informational guide on Twitter can help people feel like they’re being more productive online. Doing research and making it more presentable can help people trust your page.

  • Motivational content

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

  • Tutorials

A quick 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. Thousands of jokes are built upon things made popular online, like through Twitter, Vine, and TikTok.

How To Go Viral

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. Specific demographics are more present on social media and more likely to react to certain things. For example, short-form video content catches their attention the most to engage Gen Z. Millennials prefer advocacy-based marketing and text-heavy content. At the same time, nostalgia appeals to Gen X individuals.

The Verdict

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 how the psychology behind virality on social media works, you’ll have significantly better chances of seeing thousands (or even millions) of views.

Content is key. 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

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