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Emotion and Virality: What Makes Online Content Go Viral?

Jonah Berger
  • Corresponding author
  • Joseph G. Campbell Assistant Professor of Marketing, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA
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  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Katherine L. Milkman
  • Assistant Professor of Operations and Information Management, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA
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  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2014-07-16 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/gfkmir-2014-0022


"Companies are relying more and more on online communication to reach consumers. While some viral campaigns are tremendously successful, others remain far below expectations. But why are certain pieces of online content more viral than others? An analysis conducted on the New York Times’ most-emailed list, along with further experimental evidence, showed that positive content is more viral than negative content. However, the relationship between emotion and social transmission is more complex than valence alone. Virality is driven, in part, by activation and arousal. Content that evokes either high-arousal positive emotions (awe) or negative emotions (anger or anxiety) tends to be more viral. Content that evokes low arousal or deactivating emotions (e.g., sadness) tends to be less viral. These results were also true when examining how surprising, interesting, or practically useful content is (all of which are positively linked to virality), as well as external drivers of attention (e.g., how prominently content is featured). Taking the effect of emotions into account helps to design effective viral marketing campaigns. "

Keywords: Viral Marketing; Word-of-Mouth; Social Transmission; Emotions; Online Content


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  • Godes, David and Dina Mayzlin (2009), “Firm-Created Word-of-Mouth Communication: Evidence from a Field Test”, Marketing Science, Vol. 28, pp. 721 - 739.CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

About the article

Published Online: 2014-07-16

Published in Print: 2013-05-01

Citation Information: GfK Marketing Intelligence Review, Volume 5, Issue 1, Pages 18–23, ISSN (Online) 1865-5866, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/gfkmir-2014-0022.

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© 2014. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. BY-NC-ND 3.0

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