We’ve all heard that emotional content is the key to going viral, but not all types of emotions perform equally. Some assume that positive emotions have a better chance of being shared, but you can make a similar case for the other side as well. In fact, both positive and negative emotions actually perform well in terms of engagement and potential to go viral. During an interview in the Harvard Business Review, Jonah Berger said that on average, positive emotions do better than negative emotions. However, certain negative emotions can actually increase a piece of content’s chances of being shared. People love to share feel good stories and funny videos. Similarly, content that ignites anger and anxiety are also engaging and widely shared. Rather than looking at it as positive over negative, or vice versa, it’s better to examine specific emotions and their influence on sharing. Based on numerous studies, the following list of emotions have been found to have the most potential to go viral:

1. Awe

Numerous studies show that content that inspires awe in the minds of readers are more likely shared. A study on the top images on imgur.com conducted by Kelsey Libert and Kristin Tynski revealed that amazement and astonishment were among the most common emotions found. Awe puts readers in a state of high arousal, which according to Berger is more likely to compel readers into action. How likely are you to share something that was utterly amazing or completely blew your mind? Extremely likely! There are many things that are truly awesome, like scientific and technological breakthroughs, space, nature, art, inspirational people, learning about the unknown, learning that something that seemed impossible is actually possible. Create content that makes your readers say “oh” and “ah”!

2. Surprise

Awe and surprise are closely tied together. Content that’s awe-inspiring can simultaneously be surprising. Create content that takes people off guard with interesting findings or results, add some shocking plot twists, or share some juicy news. Surprise doesn’t have to come in the form of what you’re writing about, but in the way you package it. Be creative and innovative, and keep your readers on their toes!

3. Anger

It’s a toss-up between awe and anger as the most viral emotion. There are a slew of articles to defend either side. Anger definitely encourages a conversation by provoking readers to weigh in and defend their point of view. According to a study on comments, controversial topics garnered twice as many comments on average. If eliciting anger is your angle for your next post, don’t take it to a point where you completely upset and put off your readers. Make a strong and provocative case for your argument with facts and studies to encourage and motivate a discussion around the topic. A middle level of controversy works best, while a high level decreases engagement according to Berger.

4. Joy

Content that brings joy and happiness to readers are widely shared. Lots of things can delight readers, such as content that’s uplifting, cute, entertaining, and even gives a good laugh. When you encounter an amusing video on YouTube, a fun meme on Reddit or hilarious post on BuzzFeed, you feel compelled to share it with coworkers, friends, families, and so on. When creating funny content, which is probably one of the most difficult things to do effectively, use visual aids like videos, photos, gifs and memes to help you out. Keep in mind that humorous content can sometimes be controversial and edgy, so remember to stick to the middle level of controversy for the best results.

5. Lust

Play into the desires of your readers and your content might just go viral. People lust after things that are valuable to them. For instance wealth, material goods, success, sex, the perfect bod, a job, time – basically almost anything! The key is to write a post that helps your readers achieve or acquire something that they lust for. As a brand, what makes you so desirable? Make your readers lust after your brand by positioning it as something highly desirable.

6. Anxiety & 7. Fear

Content that evokes feelings of anxiety and fear have a high potential to go viral. Consider headlines and stories that focus on the things you should stop doing or common mistakes people make or the things to avoid. These stories are compelling because readers fear they are doing something wrong. Even posts about change, for example Google’s latest update Hummingbird or Facebook’s new privacy settings, can draw out fears and anxiety. People share these stories to bring awareness and warn others of these pitfalls.

Bonus: Sadness

Berger’s study has shown that emotions with a deflating quality, most notably sadness, don’t often get shared. No one wants to feel hopeless and miserable, and no one wants to make their followers feel that way. The best way to write about a sad topic is to spin it in a positive light. Did someone overcome adversity? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Focus on the positives to make the story uplifting, inspirational, and awe-inspiring. Don’t be a Debbie downer. No one likes a Debbie downer.

We’re not saying that if you write content that evokes any of the above mentioned emotions that your content will or will not go viral. The important take-away from this is the powerful potential of emotional content. As a blogger or marketer who creates content to reach the largest audience possible, it’s crucial that you appeal to the emotions. Going viral can help you rise above the noise and establish your brand, but the emotional aspect of your content can also help build strong relationships with your audience. Your main objective should always focus on creating content that aligns with your brand and appeals to your target demographic. Our brand new WordPress plugin can help you create more emotional and engaging content for your readers. Learn more about the plugin and download it for free here.