Viral Marketing – The Psychology Behind Why Things Catch On

viral marketing

Viral marketing has been the name of the game since the digital age hit us. The idea is for content to spread as quickly and widely as possible. But, how does this happen?

What Is Viral Marketing?

It’s marketing that can generate interest and create potential for sales of products or services. This usually happens through content that spreads wide and fast like a virus spreads from person to person. Essentially it’s the digital version of “word of mouth”. The main idea is that once the content is shared initially, those that see it choose to share and discuss it further. Hence the term “viral marketing”.

With the rise of social media as a platform for business, this has become easier than ever before. Even though email marketing is still relevant in this fast paced world, it doesn’t have the reach that social media does. There are perhaps over 100 social media platforms out there. And this makes them the natural place for viral marketing. The most recent example is a TikTok video cover for Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” that broke streaming records and even got turned into an official commercial. It even caused the original song it was based on to get back into the US Top 40 Chart for the first time since 2013! 

Viral Marketing
Source: Landingi

What’s The Psychology Behind It?

When creating content, there are only a few topics that people like to talk about. They find interest in things that elicit some sort of response. The taboo, unusual, and secrets pull in some groups. While other groups find the hilarious, remarkable, and outrageous to be attractive! It’s one of the reasons so many people are infatuated with celebrity gossip. Part of the reason behind this is that we as human beings like content that evokes an emotional response. It could be laughter, shock, amazement, or disgust. The common factor is that it’s different and unusual, and we like it. 

Another factor that relates to viral marketing is the hive mind, or the collective unconscious of humans as herd animals. There was research done about social influence in the journal Science that analyzes this. They did research on sites like Reddit, where comments could be upvoted or downvoted. What they found was that if they added a positive vote to a comment, it increased the likelihood that people would upvote for it as well by 25%. This tells us that we as humans are influenced by the opinions of those around us. It’s why social media marketing and SEO services are such a big thing. Businesses want to increase their exposure, and there are companies that specialize in helping them to achieve that. 

Does Social Currency Have Anything To Do With It?

When it comes to business, your reputation and influence matters. This is where social currency comes into play. It comes back to word of mouth. When people share about your business it gives you more currency, both social and monetary. (haha) So what exactly is it? It’s the influence you have on the social networks that you have. This includes both your online and offline communities.

Usually, businesses can increase this not just by having good products, but by having something else that helps them stand out. Like everyone’s favorite coffee chain having the customer service that makes you feel like you belong, or our favorite online movie streaming service that is super active and creative on their twitter account. They both have an insane amount of social currency. The latter one has gone viral countless times and that’s the difference between them. One built a relationship with you and makes you want to return, the other entertains and informs you constantly. 

Human Psychology

If you’re human then you know that we’re complicated beings. Who knows what’s going on inside our heads? Well psychology tries to study it and they’ve come up with a few interesting things. Have you heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Well, it’s basically the pyramid of needs that we as humans have, and there are a couple of them that relate to how viral marketing works.

One of the needs is the need to be loved and feel a sense of belonging. This is important to our mental health and the health of the interpersonal relationships that we have. Over the years, studies have shown that you can see the need for people to belong in social media. It’s how people find and interact with communities nowadays, even more so in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Psychology and Business

Businesses also need social media nowadays as the world is moving deeper into the digital age. By creating a feeling of belonging (love) with their customers, they are able to satisfy the need for love and belonging. Customers like to feel that the content you make relates or has to do with them. The personal touch makes them want to share it more and say, “Hey! That’s totally me in that video or meme!”. In digital marketing terms this is called engagement. 

Viral marketing can also relate to Esteem, another level of Maslow’s pyramid. It’s the need for attention, recognition, and status. Everyone has this need to feel respected and content that appeals to this higher level of psychological motivation attracts them. Businesses try to do this in terms of offering luxury experiences or ways to gain recognition. This tends to lead to higher shares on social media platforms regardless of if you have, or are able to, achieve those levels of luxury or recognition. People like to share their dreams. 

How To Get Started On Viral Marketing

There is no definite formula when it comes to what you should do with viral marketing. But, there are a few things you can do to help yourself along the right way.

Find your “why”.

Why do you want to go viral? Is brand awareness your goal? Attracting new customers? ROI? It’s important to know your why before you can move on to the next stage which is making a plan of action. 

Find out what people care about.

You need to know what engages your target audience. This involves knowing what SEO helps you appear to them more and form of content that appeals to them more. 

Get your content share ready.

There are too many social media platforms to count and you will need to make sure that your content can be shared properly, and easily, on all of the relevant ones. For example, if you want to make viral videos you should consider using YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. For image-based content, like memes, your best bet would be to go with Facebook, Twitter, and again Instagram. The important thing is to get people talking and thinking about your product. You should also ensure that it isn’t difficult to access or share your content.

Choose the right hashtags.

You can’t avoid hashtags if you want to go viral nowadays. Hashtags allow any campaign you have to become more visible, memorable, and definitely more widespread. You can either create a new hashtag or “tag” on existing ones. The trick is choosing the right ones that the most people might use or are using. With the help of analytics, which you can do on your own or have someone help you, you can see the performance of different hashtags. Also, it’s not wrong to hop on the back of one of the recent trends.

Make your content relatable.

We mentioned this above in the section on Human Psychology. People want to belong. If you can make your content personable, organic, and relatable, your target audience will feel that it’s authentic. 

That’s a whole lot of theory about viral marketing. It’s time for you to get started. If you’re not sure what to do next, feel free to contact us and have a chat with our team of Enablers. We’re always ready to help.