All your likes, comments and shares belong to me

The same question keeps coming up: “How do I make my content go viral?”. In this short post, I will invite you on a journey that will take you a bit closer to the answer. This post is based on my master’s thesis.

What do we know?

When talking about making content go viral on social media, we are essentially talking about what academics call electronic word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth is an old concept based on the fact that a message is perceived as being more trustworthy when delivered by a peer, rather than a company. Brands are trying to capitalise on this concept — and it works! Researchers agree that word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful marketing channels to date.

So, how do we make people talk about things? There are several ways. In this post, I will focus on my personal favourite: using emotions.


Emotions vary on two levels: valence (positive vs. negative) and arousal. Let’s talk briefly about valence. In academia, researchers talk a lot about the negativity effect, which basically means that negative content is more interesting — and therefore spreads faster. On the other hand, other researchers have showed that positive content is more likely to go viral. So, what is the right answer? Let’s get back to that in a bit.

Arousal is all about activation. Take anger for example. Anger is a highly arousing emotion that typically leads to some kind of action. The same goes for excitement. In contrast, sadness is a very passive and lowly arousing emotions that makes you want to curl up in a ball and eat a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s.

A bit about the thesis

In my research, I focused on 138 videos posted by brands on Facebook — all varying in valence and arousal. I had the pleasure of being supervised by Dr. Lotte Willemsen, who has published many interesting papers on the subject.

So, what did the research show?

As mentioned earlier, researchers have found different results when it comes to the role of valence in making people share content. Some say negative content is more likely to go viral while others argue that positive content is the best kind. My research, however, says that neither of the two has any significant relation to the amount of likes, comments and shares on a Facebook video. Clearly, the results are inconclusive. It seems that more research has to be done to look into whether the effect of positivity or negativity depends on the context.

Arousal, however, is a different story. In line with earlier research, my thesis shows that there is a positive relation between highly arousing emotions and the amount of likes, comments and shares on a piece of content. Finally, something we can all agree on! Induce highly arousing emotions such as anger, distress, excitement and astonishment and your audience will be more likely to engage with your content.

But what does that mean?

It means that you have to make your content arousing! But how? It all comes down to one thing: knowing your audience. Fact is, people react differently to external and internal stimuli. As a marketer or advertiser, it is up to you to find out how you can induce highly arousing emotions in your audience. Indeed, research suggests that using fast music and sexually stimulating content could be ways to arouse — but dig deeper! There are still a lot of unanswered questions on the matter of online content and arousal.

Good luck in making your content go viral!

Interested in learning more?

Of course, virality and word-of-mouth can’t be simplified into only being about arousal — it is much more complex than that. If you are interested in learning more about the subject, I suggest reading ‘Contagious’ by Jonah Berger. It is a wonderful and light read filled with great examples — and you can find it cheaply on Amazon.

About the author

I believe brands should connect with their audience on an emotion level through great experience — both online and offline. It is all about people, stories and simple human truth.

Currently, I am creating positive human experiences alongside very talented people at Nomads (

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