Decoding Feelings: What Emotions Are Most Powerful in Social Media?


It’s been said that content which evokes outrage is the most commonly shared through social media.

It’s also been said that good news spreads faster than bad news. That same study reported, “Readers tend to share articles that are exciting or funny, or that inspire negative emotions like anger or anxiety, but not articles that left them merely sad.”

So what’s a content marketer to do? There’s no clear consensus about which types of content always spread and which don’t. It would be a piece of cake if we could pinpoint one emotion, that when evoked, warranted the most shares. But it’s not that simple – and even if it were, everyone would begin using only that emotion, rendering it ineffective. Imagine social media with only outrageous content, only sad stories, or only hilarious memes. Eventually, we’d be driven insane by the monotony.

Instead, we must narrow down the most important feelings and determine which ones are most relevant and useful to our cause. For businesses, this means developing and understanding your brand first.

Outrage-evoking posts are a common tactic for news outlets who want views, nonprofits who want support, or individuals who want justice or change. A perfect example is, a petition site where anyone can start a petition to create change. Many of these petitions have gone viral, and if you look in the comments section, you’ll find no shortage of outrage from signers.

Evoking feelings of outrage from an audience may seem manipulative, or like a real downer. However, for organizations with ethical goals, garnering support requires you to impact your audience emotionally. They have to have an in-depth understanding of the problem – enough to have an emotional response. This is how movements get started.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that this kind of content can easily shift into overdrive. If used too often, people will begin to tune out your content because it is simply too overwhelming and negative.

We all know the viral potential of a good meme. They’re simple, fun, and anyone can understand them. For individual professionals or those standing behind their brand, it’s important to retain a level of professionalism. Humor that hits your target audience, as opposed to just general humor (aka. funny cat pictures), will help rope your target audience in. This is achieved by assuring your audience that you understand their mindset – you “get” them.

In this way, humor is a great opportunity to gain loyalty. Just think of grade school. Remember the class clown, and how no matter what they did or how much trouble they were in, people typically still liked & respected them? The same goes for adults! If you can get people smiling, they will appreciate you for that alone. Then, they’ll be more open to consider your message – including any products or services you have to offer.

Maybe you don’t want to be so dramatic as to evoke outrage, and maybe humor isn’t your strong suit. Highlighting your audience’s already existing dissatisfaction is perhaps the most effective strategy to gain customers. Reminding your audience of a problem or an ongoing source of suffering will motivate them to finally obtain a solution.

No matter what industry you work in, you can pinpoint areas of dissatisfaction within your audience simply by paying attention to them as people. If you can show how your offer saves them something of value (eg. saves time, money, labor, etc.), dissatisfaction with their current method will naturally creep in.

These are just a few emotion responses commonly evoked through social media. For content marketers in any field, it’s essential to define your brand before branching out on social media platforms. Content Marketer, Doug Kessler, spoke about this at the 2014 Content Marketing World conference. Check out his presentation on how to choose “base notes” and use appropriate emotional tones.



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