What Makes Content Viral?

What Makes Content Viral?

From memes, videos, photos, and e-cards, viral content circulates the web at an astounding rate.  And, it’s hard to say what’s going to become viral before it does.  But, there’s a very fleeting increment of time between initial publication of content and viral sharing.

There’s a difference between content that is largely viewed and content that is largely shared.  The former might very well be interesting and affect a great deal of individuals; however, the viral nature of the latter purports that content is so powerful that it must, then, be shared.

What makes content viral, then?



Of the many reasons that one might share viral content, that which projects happiness is at the forefront. While emotions of all kinds compel content sharing, happiness is seemingly the most viral determinant.  When we see photos of puppies, babies, and those who’ve beat cancer, we are impacted emotionally in a positive respect.  Further, we share these kinds of images because it feels good to pass on positive vibes.  Bottom line, we share content that plays on all of our emotions.  But, the most viral content possesses that of happiness tied to its message.

Excitement, Arousal, Anger


Think political campaigns, animal cruelty, and the like.  While we certainly love a sweet puppy or baby photo, we’re equally connected to sharing content that acts on our social, moral, and political agendas.  When a story provokes excitement, arousal, or anger toward something, we feel inclined to share this with our friends on our social feeds.  Since this kind of agitation often acts on our physiological well-being, that further explains our inclination to share and create viral content.

Social Currency

social currency

Another interesting finding that causes viral content is the notion of social currency.  When people feel like they’ve acquired a degree of intelligence about a social theme, they feel more motivated to share it.  Think of this in regard to the concept of YOLO (acronym standing for You Only Live Once).  This phrase became popular because of a song in pop culture, thereby becoming incorporated in various memes and e-cards donning the acronym.  Initially, many people were unaware as to where and why the term YOLO was being shared so virally.  The sharing became a form of social currency – insider signal – that communicated knowledge of a bigger theme.

Memory Triggers


Memories are powerful because they get triggered by random and unforeseen images.  We feel compelled to share things that induce a sense of sentimentality and reflection on youth, specifically on social platforms.  Here, where we are surrounded by friends and family from way back when, the viral nature of memory-triggered content is susceptible to being further shared and enjoyed.  Think of BuzzFeed’s incredible list articles.  Some of the more prevalently shared articles happen to look like, “Things That Only a 90’s Kid Would Remember.”  When we’re brought back to some of the happy, funny, or sad times from the past, we crave the unity from those who might understand this as well.  Thus, sharing ensues.

Practical Value


There are times when our culture or society demands content of practical value.  One of the best examples was when Barack Obama was elected to presidency for the second term.  His social media executor published a humanistic of Obama and the first lady embracing to capture the emotion behind the occurrence, making it the most tweeted photo ever.  Another great example of this was when Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast.  Aside from sharing helpful places to donate, what to offer, and various relief aids, our society then fell victim to the fuel crisis.  Folks were frantically in need of fuel for their homes and cars, without any gas for miles.  Once fuel deliveries were made, people tweeted in real-time and posted Facebook statuses about where the nearest fuel could be found.

High Quality Stories

high quality

In general, content that possesses a storyline will be well-received by the masses and, further, shared.  However, stories that possess the highest quality value will become that much more viral on various platforms.  We happen to love transformation stories.  Weight loss photos and lists are highly shared when the emotional storyline is present.  However, we might be more inclined to share a cancer survival story when it has to do with a child, wildly playing on our emotional stimuli as well.

Coming to terms with why and how content gets shared does not possess a monolithic, definitive answer.  There happen to be many factors that compel us to share content, as you might have guessed.  Take a look at the above factors and see which ones affect your decision to share.  This might even help you in creating content for your marketing campaign.



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