Content Creation

3 Psychological Principles behind Viral Blog Posts

By March 11, 2015 No Comments

There’s no secret formula for viral content, and even the savviest content marketers still rely on old-fashioned luck as well as strategy to get their latest blog posts shared the world over.

However, there are a few psychological quirks we can use to our advantage. Here are three strategies that can be harnessed to encourage mass sharing of your content.

The Information Gap

All viral posts have one thing in common: a great title.

Irrespective of the quality and depth of your blog content, without an intriguing, catchy, and compelling headline, even the best blog post will be dead in the water.

Great titles achieve three things:

  • They convey relevance and convince a would-be reader that an article is suitable for them read.
  • They offer benefit, whether by promising to solve a problem or eliciting a strong emotion.
  • They generate curiosity and encourage the reader to click through in search of an answer.

That last point is essential to creating viral content. Thankfully, it’s possible to generate curiosity on demand.

To illustrate this, here’s an example of a blog post title from HubSpot: “9 Things Great Writers Do Every Day.”

This short-and-sweet title achieves all three of our golden rules: it conveys relevance to writers, it offers ways to improve writing ability, and it generates curiosity—what “things” are these great writers doing? Should I be doing them, too? Am I already doing them?

The efficacy of this tactic is explained by information gap theory. When people sense a gap between their current understanding of a topic and what they want to know, curiosity is generated, and action is encouraged in order to fill this “gap.”

The Power of Positive Emotion

It should come as no surprise when I say that the most viral content is also the most emotive. Content that makes us feel something is more likely to engage us enough to consider sharing it with friends, family, and peers. Interestingly, though, certain emotions are more likely to drive the impulse to share than others.

Fractl conducted a study into popular examples of viral content and the emotions they commonly elicited. Here are the aggregate results of the study:

While there’s no need to micromanage the types of emotion your content tries to elicit, there is a crucial takeaway:

The most viral content is that which elicits a positive emotion.

Negative emotions like fear and disgust can engage your audience, but they aren’t going to encourage people to share your content with their friends and family. In the pursuit of viral content, it’s more effective to create content that instills feelings of gratitude, trust, and joy.

The “Length = Quality” Assumption

In the unpredictable quest for virality, there’s at least one data-backed tactic we can employ: writing long-form content. Some studies show a direct correlation between content length and social shares:

The longer your article or blog post, the more shares you’re likely to get.

Source

We tend to equate content length with content quality, and seeing that an article is a meaty 6,000 words long is often enough to generate shares. Crucially though, truly viral content has to offer both quantity and quality.

Thankfully, it isn’t difficult to write a blog post that has the potential to go viral.

Here are some ways to get started:

  1. Collate information and resources from other popular posts, and create an “ultimate guide” on a single topic.
  2. Create a round-up post of different opinions and perspectives sourced from your industry’s leading voices.
  3. Write an actionable how-to guide that solves one of your industry’s biggest problems, and offer a comprehensive walk-through.
  4. Study the most popular posts from your competitors, and strive to outdo them by adding more value and striving for greater depth.
Ryan Law

About Ryan Law

Ryan is a freelance B2B copywriter and professional coffee drinker. Read his content marketing musings over at Contender Content, and visit Iconsive for advice on all things inbound!