Many people have a skewed concept that viral videos are random, that the virality of a video is based on luck. But viral content isn’t random.
The factors affecting virality have a lot to do with the connection between the content and the respondent, according to an April 2012 study found in the Journal of Marketing research Vol. XLIX, by the American Marketing Association.
The biggest factor connected to virality in this study was the level of arousal the content induced. It also looked at the affect of positive content versus negative content, and how all of these factors link together to create viral content.
There are two types of arousal: high and low. High arousal can be content that is positive or negative, while low arousal is characterized by creating sadness or relaxation.
1. Arouse Your Viewer
“Positive and negative emotions characterized by activation or arousal (i.e., awe, anxiety, and anger) are positively linked to virality, while emotions characterized by deactivation (i.e., sadness) are negatively linked to virality,” according to the American Marketing Association.
In other words, content that creates high arousal with a viewer is more likely to be viral than content that creates low arousal. High arousal was the key content virality factor in this study.
In this study, one standard deviation increase in the amount of awe content induced, their chance of being viral increased by 34 percent. Similarly, with one standard deviation increase in the amount of anger content induced, their chance of virality increased by 30 percent.
Focus your video on creating high-arousal emotions with a user. The more viewers feel, the better!
2. Sad is Bad
Contrary to popular belief, when content evokes more of the sadness emotion (or low activation), it is less likely to be shared. The more sadness the content induces, the less arousal it activates, and the less likely it is to be viral.
Although the general thought is usually that evoking more emotion of any kind leads to more engaging content, therefore fueling virality, this isn’t the case. Increasing the amount of sadness content evokes is less viral than content geared to increase awe or anxiety (high-arousal emotions).
Stay away from video content formed around low-activation emotions like sadness or relaxation. Go big or go home!
3. Don’t Worry, Be Happy!
Another great aspect of viral content: the more positive and upbeat it is, the more likely it is to become viral. Although more positive and negative extremes in content have a greater chance to become viral, positive content trumps the negative.
What do the results of this study tell us? People shared content more often when it was positive! Positive is more viral than negative, hands down.
If choosing between whether a video should be of a more positive or negative nature, always default to positive content!
4. Negative as a Positive
Don’t assume that all negative content will give you negative results. Negative content can be viral too! Even though positive content is more viral, negative content is also linked to higher virality.
Videos that induce anxiety or anger are more often shared by users. Something evoking shock, like a high-speed car chase or an intense fight, creates high-arousal or activation.
This data tells us that your negative video can go viral. Don’t back away from sharing the negative just because positive content is a little more viral.
Focus on creating high-arousal emotions in your video (awe, anxiety, anger, happiness, etc). Stay away from content formed around low-arousal emotions (sadness, relaxation). Default to using positive content more frequently than negative – but don't rule out negative content, as it's still linked to virality, though it’s a step below positive.
Oh, and one final tidbit: did you know content written by women was shown to be more viral than content written by men?