Make People Share Content Using Emotion

Make People Share Content Using Emotion 4 min read

You’ve landed here for one reason — you’re curious how to make people share your content. You might have some idea of why emotion would lead one person or another to share your content. But ask yourself this — how do you tie those ideas together?


Let us start with the basic premise that emotions will drive people to actions. If you evoke some sort of emotion, you’re likely to drive a response. As Stanford researcher Jonah Berger puts it “When we care, we share.”


Berger came up with a simple chart to explain how people react to emotional content.


Amusement (Humor)


If you take a look at the squares in this table you’ll start to see some of those ideas I had mentioned earlier in this article. The higher arousal items, as one would expect, will lead to an increase in sharing. Whereas the lower arousal items would probably just be passed by.


How to use this

Berger paints a pretty picture in his novel Contagious that will help us understand why this chart is important. A few key lessons here:


1.) Understand that the person sharing content will use that content to portray a reflection of themselves.

Perception matters. Gear your content towards specific audiences with the understanding of who is likely to share your content.


If John were to share negative content, like a video of a puppy being beaten, he is doing so with the understanding that people may see him in a negative light. They may not have wanted to see that content and that’s something John is going to take into consideration.


On the other hand, if he is consistently sharing positive, funny or exciting articles his followers will have a completely different perception of him. In this case, if they choose to view the content that’s their prerogative and the potential for backlash is much more limited.


2.) While digital perceptions matter to most, negative emotions will prevail.

Yes, that’s right. Those items you see in the Negative column above — Anger and Anxiety — rule the sharing diagram. Content that evokes either, or both, of those spectrums has the potential to go viral much more quickly.


As a cautionary tale, you may not want to take that route if you’re not prepared. Negative emotions may explode into virality very quickly but they can also make a wide left turn and go in an unpredictable direction. If you want to evoke these emotions, make sure you’re prepared for the potential backlash.


3.) The key to emotional sharing is through arousal

One of the more interesting things gathered from Berger’s research was the fact that both mental and physiological arousal can evoke the need to share content. So while making people laugh is a good way to get them to share your content so is making them exercise and then asking them to share.


One of the studies Berger conducted took two sets of students — a “relaxed” set (the control group) and a set that was to exercise for a period of time. At the end of that period of time, the students were asked to share a specific article. Those who exercised were twice as likely to share the content.


4.) Emotions drive people to action. If you carry them through a story and evoke emotion, they’ll be more likely to share your content.

We now return to the basic fact that emotions drive people to share. Take a look at the following video and let me know how you feel.



You actually feel some sort of attachment to Google, right? They tugged at the heart strings and told a story with their product instead of highlighting how to use it.


5.) People don’t care about features and facts. Focus on feelings and tell them a story

This fifth and final lesson is probably the most important. If you can connect with users, they will keep coming back. If you can evoke high-arousal emotion, they are more likely to share your content.



This article is part of our series of Why People Share Your Content.


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