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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 12-Jan-14


Sunday 12-January-14

How to make a video go viral

Videos are all the thing now, and a YouTube channel is often considered an essential part of a social media campaign. But with all the amazing videos out there, how do you get yours to go viral?

Well, fortunately for us, researcher Rosanna Guadagno and her colleagues decided to find out. They recruited 256 students to watch one of ten videos, then asked them how they felt and whether they planned to forward the video to other people. They started with cute, funny, disgusting and anger-inducing videos, with boring control videos on cross stitching and basket making (well, boring for most people, they thought).

It turns out that it's all about arousal, which is one of our three key CIA Needs. We all like to be aroused, to experience emotions and 'feel alive'. Even negative emotions can be desirable, especially if we are also feel safe, such as when you go to see a horror movie (if that's how you like to get aroused).

What Guadagno found was that, in order of likelihood of being forwarded to other people (most likely first), the key emotions to elicit in your video are:

  • Positive emotions
  • Feelings of alertness and attentiveness
  • Negative emotions
  • No emotion

It is perhaps unsurprising that people will forward videos that make them feel good. More surprising, perhaps is that they will also forward disgusting and annoying videos (which seemed to trigger further arousal, not just negative). This may also be explained as negative emotions can often be stronger than positive ones.

Curiously, in further research it was found that anger-inducing videos were more likely to be forwarded when they were received from what the students thought were people from other universities, rather than their own. Perhaps this was to support negative views of other universities or perhaps to avoid having negative emotions associated with friends. As videos are often shared between friends, then trying to negative emotions in your promotions, even though they are powerful, can be a bad idea unless you are bypassing the friend-sharing route.

It can also help hugely if you can pass the video to people who have a large following, such as journalists and celebrities. Many innovations and businesses got their kick start that way, when someone famous got hold of it and just sent a single tweet. So the next question is 'How do you get a celeb to watch your video', which is perhaps an even bigger challenge. If you don't have a hotline to a famous person, then perhaps you should start working on the people they know and follow.

Rosanna E. Guadagnoa, Daniel M. Rempalab, Shannon Murphy and  Bradley M. Okdied (2013). What makes a video go viral? An analysis of emotional contagion and Internet memes. Computers in Human Behavior DOI:

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