Maybe it was a controversial video on political upheavals in a distant country, or perhaps it was a strange picture of a cat wearing a bow tie.

Either way, you saw it, reacted emotionally to it, and decided to share it with others.

Understanding the science behind this simple chain of events forms the basis of viral marketing. Content is created, users share it, and it expands. Although it may seem simple when it is so, it is anything but.

Psychology of social sharing

If you want to create content that goes viral, Step One is understanding about the psychology that makes a user see a video, image, or link and decide to share it with their followers. It is impossible to read the minds of users who share links on the Internet, but studies in the science of decision making can provide a lot of clues that need to provoke emotional triggers.

One such study was done at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. The study was conducted with the aim of finding that emotional reactions were greater for sharing social feedback. Researchers examined the “virality” of materials shared on the Internet to analyze the association between feelings that arouse in users, and what influenced their decision to share those feelings.

To do this, researchers accumulated a large number of articles, images, videos, and other content and analyzed metrics, share-values, and comments to reduce the emotional state of users when they chose to share that content. .

Emotional trigger: Does the user share content?

To understand what emotional responses a user may share to the content, it helps to understand emotional states in the context of the PAD emotional state model. The pad stands for joy, excitement, and dominance. The PAD model is used by marketers to analyze the psychology of why people buy certain items, but can also be used to understand why content is shared. Let us know a little bit about what each term in the PAD model means:

Happiness / valence

In psychology, valence is a measure of the strength of an emotional response, which can be positive or negative. For example, both fear and anger are considered high-legitimacy negative emotions, while happiness and pleasure are considered high-legitimacy positive emotions.

Ambulance or apathy would be classified as low-valence emotions. Theories that study emotional affect based on the validity of events acknowledge strong emotions – whether negative or positive – can have the same effect on decision making.

Sexual arousal

In making decisions, arousal is a measure of how energetic a person feels. Like valence, arousal can be positive or negative. For example, the excitement surrounding an upcoming film will create positive excitement, while concern over a news about rising rates of crime will create negative excitement. Research has suggested that arousal (whether positive or negative) may be a predictive driver of decision making.

Dominance / subordination

Dominance-modesty is a measure of how a person “in control” feels about their emotional state, whether that emotional state is positive or negative. For example, while fear and anger are both unpleasant feelings, anger is a dominant emotion, while fear is a submissive emotion.

This is important for the decision-making process because a stronger sense of dominance in the decision-making situation is correlated with greater certainty. In the context of social media, this means that the user is more likely to share something if they experience sharing gives them a sense of control over the situation.

The key to understanding why Internet users share content lies in the relationship between feelings of pleasure, excitement, and dominance. In understanding how these emotional reactions play off each other to hit the right emotional trigger, we can begin to understand which mindset the user hits the share button. The virality of web content has less to do with whether it places someone in a positive or negative emotional state and more to do with hitting the right emotional trigger in those states.