Share the Love: Use Emotion To Send Your Content Viral

Emotional Things Go Viral

This article will focus on the third of Jonah Berger’s categories of why things go viral: emotion.

Social currency and triggers were the first two we have written about – use the links to read them.

High Arousal and Valence

There are two terms you need to understand here: high arousal and valence.

High arousal emotions are emotions those that are more likely to cause an action. In the case of viral posts, the high arousal causes us to share the information to our own online network.

When researched, the most popular content was found to evoke high arousal emotions.

Valence is whether or not an emotion is universally deemed positive or negative. For example, happiness is positive and sadness is negative.

Which emotions are most powerful?

Research by Jonah Berger found that the most shared articles in the NY Times evoked emotions including:

  • awe
  • excitement
  • anxiety
  • anger
  • amusement

Many articles on this subject claim sadness is also an emotion that increases sharing, however this is not necessarily true.

Jonah Berger’s research found that sadness was actually 16% less likely to be shared that the other emotions in the above list.

It’s largely because sadness isn’t a high arousal emotion. When you’re sad you often become lethargic and feel fatigued, and so little action is taken.

Your content has a much higher chance of being shared if it causes the viewer to take action. Part of their action is to spread the word by sharing what they’ve seen.

The image below is a visual representation of the high arousal and valence relationship and how it affects content sharing.

So when you’re considering your content, think about what the reader’s emotion will be as they soak it up.

What will it drive them to feel?

Will this feeling cause action?

Will this action be positive for you?

These are important questions to ask.

Nobody can ever say with absolute confidence that a piece of content is going to blow up – it just doesn’t work like that.

But if you think about everything that does go viral, you can mostly understand why it has. An emotion is often the carrying factor.

Finding an Idea’s Emotional Core

Jonah Berger refers to another book in this section of the chapter – Made To Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath.

It introduces a method of finding the emotional core of an idea.

To do this you need to ask why someone is doing something and then ask why it is important.

When you have the answer, ask why it’s important again and repeat once more.

By doing this you’ll hone in on the core of the idea and you’ll find the emotion that lies beneath.

Break it down as much as you can.


When releasing emotional content, target high arousal emotions as these are more likely to cause people to share it.

Drill down into the why of an idea to learn the emotion behind it.

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