How does Upworthy do it?
They create viral articles daily. They have more Facebook likes than most Fortune 500 companies. Last month they had over 120,000,000 page views. And they’re only 2 years old.
I mean seriously. I have socks older than them.
What’s their secret?
Upworthy plays to their audience’s reptilian brain.
While your rational brain handles things like thinking, logic, information-processing and language, your reptilian brain handles things like fight or flight, hunger, sex and emotions.
You may think you’re a super-evolved 21st Century being, but the truth is that you’re controlled by a part of your brain that’s over 200 million years old.
Your reptilian brain has the power to override your mature brain and does so constantly. Some believe this ancient part of your brain is behind every action you take.
And your reptilian brain is driven by automatic instinctive responses.
It doesn’t think or ponder, but acts on impulses. Not tomorrow or next week, the reptilian brain demands immediate action. It acts now and asks questions later.
It does not have the capacity to think or judge.
Which makes your reptilian brain ripe for manipulation. Because if you can tug on the right emotions, you can move your audience to do whatever you want.
Marketers and advertisers have been catering to this part of the brain for decades.
And sites like Upworthy, Buzzfeed and Viral Nova may catch a lot of flak for their shameless headlines, but the truth is that these companies have mastered something very powerful: how to create emotionally compelling content.
They also teach us something else. That creating highly shareable content is a skill. Something that can be learned, honed and strategically put to use.
It’s not magic, it’s science.
Recent research has proven that emotions hold the secret to viral content on the Internet. Studies have shown that content that evokes emotion has a far greater viral potential than neutral content.
A huge reason why things can spread so quickly is that human emotion in itself is contagious. People can “catch” the emotions of people around them through expressions, tones, gestures and language.
And lucky for content creators, this contagion does not cease online.
Which means if you want your content to be shared like wildfire, you need to figure out how to push the right buttons, give your audience the right stimuli and ultimately trigger the right emotions.
And that’s what this post is all about. Helping you understand your audience’s emotions so you can learn to trigger them.
The examples I use are from Youtube (because who doesn’t love viral videos), but the techniques can be applied to any kind of content.
Without further ado, here’s the 6 emotions that run your life:
Awe is something that’s remarkable. Something inspiring. Something that people naturally want to be a part of.
This content usually exhibits a combination of creativity, execution and intrinsic value to the audience. It motivates people and makes them a better person for consuming it.
Things like this inspiring personal story by Jon Morrow. Or someone succeeding despite everything going against them. Or someone doing something that’s just genuinely amazing.
Speaking of amazing, there’s nothing more inspiring than seeing a man freefall from the edge of space.
This incredible feat pulled off by Felix Baumgartner and Red Bull motivated people all the way to over 36,000,000 views on Youtube.
Anger is a powerful motivator.
When someone is pissed all rationality goes out the door. When people are mad, they have to be heard. And they’ll go to extreme lengths to seek justice.
To trigger anger, you’ll need to evoke some sort of disbelief. But be careful with this emotion. You can ride it to a couple viral successes, but you’re playing with fire.
Play into it too much or in the wrong way and you’ll do more harm than good.
This Kony 2012 got over 99,000,000 views on Youtube by increasing people’s awareness of the child soldiers in Africa. By triggering people’s anger for Kony, this 30 minute video spread through social media like a plague.
And for a 30 minute video, that’s quite the feat.
Fear might be the most powerful of all the emotions. It targets the reptilian brain at it’s core, triggering your fight or flight instinct.
Often you can trigger this emotion by playing into the fear of missing out or losing something your audience values. This loss aversion is an ingrained instinct.
People are hard-wired to avoid losses compared to acquiring gains.
And some studies suggest that the fear of missing out can be twice as powerful compared to the joy of gaining something.
This viral video promotion of the new Carrie movie scared the crap out of customers at a coffee shop. This ad played into people’s fears in a funny way and ending up generating over 55,000,000 views.
Lust is anything that you want. It could be money, a job, knowledge, sex, or anything aspirational.
To trigger lust you need to understand what your audience wants. Then you can tantalize them by playing into their hopes and dreams.
When playing into lust, sell your audience on a potential that’s better than their current self. If you can help people become a better version of themselves, you’ll have a viral monster on your hands.
This viral video by Nike shows some of the top athletes in the world performing at incredible levels in an emotionally packed environment. All athletes who watch this are sure to get a twinge of adrenaline run through them as their aspirational self comes out.
There’s a ton of ways to make your audience happy. You can inspire them, entertain them, make them laugh, or solve a problem they had been struggling with.
Joy is an incredibly powerful emotion and as Jonah Berger found, content that triggers joy is most likely to go viral. This is why stories like David and Goliath of people triumphing over the odds are so popular.
Stories like these are inspiring, motivating and make people feel good about themselves and the world.
Dancing, babies and people connecting made this funny Evian commercial go viral to the tune of 80,000,000 views. Check out the light-hearted commercial below.
One of the best ways to get your audience’s attention is to challenge their assumptions. Or enlighten them with information they hadn’t considered.
In a time where we’re inundated with copycat content, when you can bring something new to light, you can seriously move people.
Don’t be afraid to go against the grain and prove people wrong. Don’t be afraid to try and say new things. And don’t be afraid to question popular beliefs.
This incredible video features gun fights, EMTs, football players and more. This HBO commercial surprised people all the way to the tune of 49,000,000 views.
Now emotion isn’t the only factor in a content’s ability to go viral. There are a couple other factors that determine whether something is “shareworthy” or not.
Here’s 10 more factors to consider when crafting your next blog post:
- Social: We share things that make us look good
- Memorable: We share things that are top of mind and tip of the tongue.
- Identity: We share things that help us define our inner-self
- Connection: We share things that help us connect with others.
- Public: We share things that are built to show and built to grow.
- Value: We share things that bring value to people’s lives.
- Stories: We share good stories that change or enforce our beliefs.
- Positive: We share things that are positive.
- Arousal: We share things that arouse us, either positively or negatively.
- Original: We share things that are genuinely unique and creative.
Humans are driven by emotions.
If you want to increase your content’s viral potential, you need to appeal to your audience’s reptilian brain. Because that’s who’s really running the show.
Emotional content drives people into action. By pushing the right buttons and triggering the right emotions you can move your audience to start working for you.
Follow the above tips to create emotionally-packed content that spreads through social media like a cold in the winter.
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