It’s a basic fact of social media marketing…the more your content is shared, the more likely it is people will buy. We’ve known for some time that content that connects with a viewer in some way is more likely to encourage them to hit the ‘share’ button, as does amusing or novel content. A recent paper by Jonah Berger in Psychological Science gives us a deeper insight into how this all works, however. Here’s the thing, it seems to be all about how aroused we are at the time we originally view the content.
In a series of experiments, Berger found that participants in an aroused state are more likely to share content on Facebook and other social media channels than members of a control group who are less aroused. For instance, those shown a stimulating video hit the ‘share’ button far more often than those who’d viewed a more neutral or calming video. Similar results were obtained for participants who’d just finished physical exercise in comparison to couch potatoes who’d just been relaxing with their feet up. So, what’s going on here?
Cortical arousal is beneficial (like stress) up to a point. If we weren’t aroused when crossing the road, for instance, we’d get hit by a truck pretty quickly! Arousal keeps us alert and, in small doses, is a crucial survival mechanism. As the literature on stress and illness tells us very clearly, however, sustained arousal can be damaging and emotions soon become harmful. Raised levels of cortisol and adrenaline secretion, for instance, can seriously impair the immune system if left unchecked.
In the case of Berger’s sharing experiments, this is a classic demonstration of the psychological need to disperse arousal and allow the brain to “settle down” again. Prolonged arousal in uncomfortable, so we engage in a behaviour designed to relieve the discomfort. Berger’s experiments suggest that ‘sharing’ in part serves this function because, subconsciously, we feel we are transmitting some of our current arousal to other people in the process. This explains why emotion-inducing content (e.g. funny advertisements) are shared at a much higher rate, something we’ve known for a very long time, but also – crucially – why seemingly neutral content can be too. If we are aroused by something else (e.g. a good workout), we still ‘share’ even if the content in itself is dull-as-dishwater!
Ok, what’s the rub for marketers here? Well, content that induces states of high cortical arousal promotes sharing, so carry on making those funny, sexy or scary ads, but remember too that people aroused by something totally unconnected will also be more likely to share your content. My advice, if you want to improve your sharing rates on Facebook, find a way to target users just after they’ve seen the latest horror movie or, better still, while they’re out jogging – in Berger’s experiments, the latter worked best of all because joggers share content at three times the rate humble couch potatoes like me do!