3 Examples of Content that Triggers Emotion (and Sharing)

Viral content. Just the name implies an unstoppable, fast-acting force.

This type of content is the jackpot of online marketing. The virility of the content itself sends it on an exponentially faster expansion, boosting your social reach and brand awareness farther than you could have ever done on your own.

So why isn’t everyone creating viral content?

For one, it’s extremely difficult to create. It takes an emotionally-charged piece of content (or one that triggers raw emotions) mixed with the right visual or audio pieces and a final stroke of sheer luck.

There’s not much you can do to change the ‘luck’ part of things, but you can certainly set up your content to the type of content you’d find as a viral sensation. Who knows, if you get it right, you may be the next viral sensation.

But let’s cast aside the viral pipe dreams for a second to really tap into the core of the matter here.

If we want our content to be engaging, we need to create the type of content that triggers an emotional response.

High-arousal emotion is the name of the game. If you’ve ever felt anger, fear, surprise, joy…or any other myriad of strong emotions because of an engaging commercial, video, image, or other piece of content, then you know what we’re talking about here. And what’s best is that you don’t have to be a viral sensation to experience the wild success that comes along with creating that perfect piece of high-arousal emotional content.

There are emotions that can be felt in different levels of extreme, and the most strong the emotional response, the more likely you are to trigger action by the viewer. Robert Plutchik’s famous “wheel of emotions” shows just some of the well known emotional layers.


Not sure what we’re talking about? Here are three examples to look at:

1. Think Happy Thoughts

One of the first things we’re able to do as a baby in response to others is smile. We smile when our mother smiles at us. So it’s no surprise that research has found that happier news trumps the negative.

We’re all hard-wired to want to feel happiness and joy, and social sharing is highest in response to content that triggers those positive emotions. Joy is one of the biggest drivers of action when it comes to social sharing, which is obviously one of our biggest focuses. More shares means higher brand awareness, extended social reach, and hopefully more sales.

One of the best uses of the heartwarming, happy content that was highly successful for business purposes is from Dove.

Dove is now known for its inspiring content that tugs at those happy heartstrings, and it’s definitely worked wonders for boosting Dove’s old-school reputation into the modern world of marketing.

Emotion: Happiness, Joy, Positivity

2. There’s Surprise in Pragmatism 

Sometimes emotion doesn’t have to be an extreme. In fact, some of the most engaging and socially-shared content today falls into the category of pragmatism. With workable takeaways and a focus on the emotions that go along with desire, companies and websites alike are finding that their videos are some of the most widely shared online.

If this doesn’t make sense, consider many of the how-to videos for creating certain meals or dishes. Tasty, Buzzfeed, and tons of other companies have jumped on this bandwagon because, frankly, it works. People love these videos because they are pertinent to their lives, easy to follow, and give viewers the ability to actually take away a workable solution or recipe.

Check out Tasty’s Youtube page <<HERE>>. Pay close attention to their simple setups and crisp visuals that make these videos so appealing and shareable.

Emotion: Surprise

3. Make ‘Em Angry

There’s nothing more enraging than seeing a headline that you strongly disagree with. For instance, ‘Why Your Website Doesn’t Matter’ would send us into a bit of a fury. We’re not talking about the hostile anger here but rather the anger associated with strong disagreement.

When you see something that you think is absurd or completely wrong, you may in fact be inclined to share it along with a comment of your own two cents.

How can you trigger anger in content? Social Media Today says, “Challenge common beliefs, assumptions or opinions. Take the unpopular side of a debate. Don’t however frame too much of your content in anger or you’ll face diminishing returns and a reputation as ‘the angry blogger”.  Always balance your approach.”

While anger can lead to other emotions like aggression, it can also create a curious form of stubbornness online, as a recent University of Wisconsin study discovered. Negativity has a real and lasting effect – and it’s evident in how content gets shared, too. In a New York Times viral content study, it was found that some negative emotions – most specifically, anger – are positively associated with virality.


Even Social Triggers agrees here:

When you piss people off, they’ll work hard attain justice. They’ll talk about it on Twitter, write blog posts, and more.

But don’t piss off your viewers all the time. That’s a poor marketing strategy.

Emotion: Anger

The Takehome for Marketers is This…

Content that triggers an emotional response is more likely to engage your viewers and result in more social sharing. Three good examples of this is:

  • Happiness/Joy
  • Surprise/How-To’s
  • Anger

There are a wide range of emotions that you can tap into beyond these three, but research has found that these ones in particular are the most effective at really lassoing in those viewers and spreading like wildfire on social media. The more your message reaches users, the wider your funnel. And we all know how we feel about funnels here at Digital Kickstart (if not, head over <<HERE>> for a quick rundown).

You tell us: What emotions have your most successful pieces of content tapped into? Did you ever have a viral marketing campaign?