The 5 Strongest Emotions to Harness in Your Content

Jayson DeMers
Apr 5, 2020 · 4 min read
Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

When it comes to content quality, logic and emotion aren’t two diametrically opposed forces — instead, they’re both potential appeals that can be leveraged to increase the “value” of your content. For example, your content could be logically appealing because it offers new information or a unique viewpoint on an important topic. It might also offer an emotional appeal.

In general, logical appeals make your users trust, value, and respect your content more, while emotional appeals make your users share, respond to, and engage with your content more. Both are necessary for a strong, well-balanced ongoing content strategy.

Logical appeals are somewhat straightforward because you can create them almost mathematically. Creating strong emotional appeals are more subjective, and more difficult to harness. Still, with enough experience and the right approach, you can use the power of especially important emotions to fuel the momentum of your campaign. Try these five emotions in your next series of content and see how it affects shares, interactions, and engagement with your readers:

1. Surprise. People love to be surprised. If a piece of content can be wholly predicted, it isn’t worth reading — at that point, it doesn’t really present anything new. Your goal should be to shock your audience with your findings, your conclusions, or your interpretations of the data — and remember, there are many types of surprise. You could surprise audiences by presenting counterintuitive data, or merely adopt a playful tone in an otherwise stuffy and boring industry.

Surprise is useful primarily because it makes a piece more interesting and engaging, but also because it’s a contagious phenomenon. When we are adequately surprised, we strive to share our sense of surprise with others. This is why surprising content tends to be shared more frequently than other kinds. Find a surprising angle to take, or present your material in an unconventional way to promote this.

2. Fear. Fear is a powerful emotion, but you have to be careful with it in practical use. Laying on fear too heavily in your content can make you seem like a fear monger or like an untrustworthy resource. However, it’s possible to conjure subtle fears directly. As a comparative example, take the two similar headlines “5 coding mistakes you don’t know you’re making” versus “Your site could be the victim of the latest hack — here’s how to stop it.” The first headline plays on a small, innocuous fear but piques reader interest regardless. The second reads like an advertisement.

Keep in mind that instead of conjuring a fear, you can leverage the power of one that already exists. For example, you might use an introduction like “Worried you aren’t doing enough to protect your site? Here are five tips you can use…” This elicits a sympathetic fear, and makes you seem more trustworthy as a result.

3. Frustration. Your goal with frustration isn’t to make your readers frustrated (obviously), but instead is to relieve your readers of a pre-existing frustration. Most people searching for content are frustrated in some way, big or small — they might be trying to figure out a complex problem, or they might be having a hard time finding the information they need in the right context. Your job should be to address those frustrations directly, and use your content to quell them. For example, you might lead into your core content with an introduction explaining how and why the frustration exists, then slowly and methodically break down the resolution to that frustration. From there, your brand will be associated with a calming, resolute feeling.

4. Anticipation. Anticipation makes people want to dig deeper into your material, and encourages reader loyalty. To do this within a piece, you can tease out information gradually, such as suggesting the revelation of a powerful new strategy, but only revealing it toward the middle or the end. You can also use series of posts to make readers anticipate the next installment — doing so creates an ongoing cycle of anticipation and satisfaction (provided your new pieces are satisfactory), which hooks readers to your brand’s content for the long haul.

5. Sympathy. Sympathy isn’t an emotion that can exist in a vacuum — that is, to feel “sympathetic” at all is merely to feel the same emotion as someone else. Still, you can create content that presents a sympathetic resonance with your audience by presenting similar dilemmas, thoughts, and ideas that they’ll experience in their own lives.

For example, you might start your content out with a hypothetical scenario that closely resembles one that the majority of your target demographic will experience at some point. That mirror-like recognition will lead your readers to instantly trust and respect you, which will make it easier to persuade them of other ideas and thoughts later on in your piece. The key is to strike up some level of identification in your audience.

Remember, it’s not a good idea to go overboard in appealing to these emotions. Your key is to appeal to these emotions subtly and indirectly; otherwise, you run the risk of seeming like a sensationalist and the perceived value of your content will plummet. Keep things in careful balance, and if necessary, ask a test audience to gauge how effectively you’ve capitalized on these emotions. As always, your data should speak volumes, so look to the posts that have generated the most links and shares, and use those as models for your implementation.

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Jayson DeMers

Written by

CEO of EmailAnalytics (emailanalytics.com), a productivity tool that visualizes team email activity, and measures email response time. Check out the free trial!

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

Jayson DeMers

Written by

CEO of EmailAnalytics (emailanalytics.com), a productivity tool that visualizes team email activity, and measures email response time. Check out the free trial!

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

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