Social media can be tricky to understand. What people share, like, and comment on often seems random or irrelevant. However, new research into the science behind social sharing is helping us better understand the factors of viral content. No longer are the “how” and “why” of content engagement a mystery.

By better understanding the psychological gears behind social sharing, you’ll be able to use them to create content that will inspire and entice your readers to share that content through their networks.

Psychological Factors That Drive Social Sharing

Emotions are heavily involved in the reasons why certain types of content become popular. In fact, i-SCOOP claims that seven main emotions lead to a person sharing a post:

  • cuteness
  • laughter
  • inspiration
  • shock
  • surprise
  • nostalgia
  • originality

A study conducted by The New York Times Customer Insight Group went a bit further. It used the principles of neuroscience to discover the five key principles they allege are behind each social share.

  • Feeling Involved Often, social media takes the place of real-world interactions. For this reason, it’s important to feel involved in the online world. Sixty-nine percent of people turned to sharing information because the act of sharing helps them feel connected with other people or brands.
  • Self-Actualization Sixty-eight percent of people tend to share news on social media because it helps other people understand who they are. By posting specific articles, a person will be able to convey their political stance, future dreams, and hobbies, all of which can help them curate friendships with others. Many people also use social media as a tool to define the individuals they’d like to be. By selecting, posting, and sharing content about their lives, people are able to better define their self-perceived personalities.
  • Nurturing Relationships Building relationships is a key reason to share content, with 78 percent of people in The New York Times survey choosing to share content for this reason. Social media is a great tool for staying connected with friends and family that you can’t see in person. Since you can’t always meet them physically, the next best action is to share relevant content with them online.
  • Usefulness to Others Our human nature makes us want to recommend quality ideas and content to other people. Indeed, 49 percent of respondents in The New York Times survey shared content because they thought it would be useful to someone else. Whether we want to make people laugh, help them feel inspired, or simply educate them on a subject, people often want to feel like they’re making a difference through this small connection with others.
  • Supporting Causes Eighty-four percent of respondents in The New York Times survey share content to support a cause. Going beyond simple sharing, the study also finds that 85 percent of people are likely to read other people’s responses to their posts to try to understand their viewpoints. This supportive mindset doesn’t have to be for charities or solving world peace only; instead, it can also come in the form of people supporting a brand or company that they truly believe in.

Use These Factors to Develop and Share Content

Now that you better understand the mindset behind sharing, you can use this insight to create content specifically tailored to trigger these reactions. Before beginning, however, make sure you entirely understand your audience and what they need. Do a bit of demographic research and create a buyer persona to narrow down the thought processes of your site visitors.

Be Positive

In the end, positive content is the most shared content. While this statement may seem a bit surprising to you, a study done by professional marketer Jonah Berger and author Katy Milkman confirmed this point. The study looked at 7,000 articles published by The New York Times to see which ones had the most shares.

In order to stay positive, consider uplifting words such as “impactful,” “affirming,” and “engaging.”

Create Emotional Content

Positivity and happiness aren’t the only emotions that evoke a good response. In fact, an article that is funny, sad, or scary can have the same effect. For example, consider all the “fake news” that has perpetuated our news feeds. The reason people share these types of gossip bits is that they seem so unbelievable and anger-inducing. They rouse up emotions in readers, which compels them to share these items so that their friends and family can share in their rage.

Make Content Practical and Useful

Your content should be useful. Readers don’t have time to slog through boring openings and stuffy sentence constructions. Instead, make sure your facts are clear and relevant. As long as your posts stay informative, why does it matter how long they are? Try to speak directly to your intended audience in a way that will help readers define themselves.

Help Readers Connect

Your readers have an instinctive need to connect with one another. Make this connection easier for them by prompting them with questions at the end of your content. Don’t be afraid to tackle controversial subjects if you want to get more comments and reactions. Additionally, adding social share buttons and incorporating Facebook comments can increase the likelihood of your article making a splash on the social networks.

Develop Distribution Channels

Your content can’t go viral if no one sees it. Take steps to build your audience base as much as possible. One great way to achieve this goal is link building to your content , a technique which spreads your outreach and gives your website a more authoritative ranking by Google. You may also want to consider search and social media advertising until you build up a base of followers.

Creating viral content certainly isn’t easy, otherwise every small business owner would be doing it. However, with a little insight into your readers’ minds, you’ll be able to tweak your content production to develop material that will inspire and entice readers with your content. Once you start gaining an audience, the shares, likes, and follows will no doubt be quick to arrive.