What Makes Social Media Posts Go Viral?

People spend around three hours on social media on average, but the type of attention that they give to various posts is not always consistent. Some posts tend to go viral whilst others get ignored, and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recently tried to figure out what factors go into virality with all things having been considered and taken into account. They highlighted a principle that they are calling value based reality, and it may be the biggest influence on which posts go viral.

The reasons behind why people use social media are quite diverse, with some using the platforms to connect with loved ones, others trying to look for entertainment and others still attempting to become better informed than might have been the case otherwise. With all of that having been said and now out of the way, it is important to note that these factors can be used to stem the spread of misinformation as well as spread vital details about how people can protect themselves from pandemics as well as geopolitical strife.

The study involved around 3,000 participants who were asked to look at various headlines and posts on social media. After looking at these posts and headlines, the participants filled out a survey that asked them to rate the likelihood of them sharing any of these pieces of content or articles. It turns out that the single biggest influencer that can entice people into sharing a post is relevance. People are just more likely to share something that shares their views, so relevancy is an important factor that can drive up social media engagement.

Social media marketers put a lot of stock into social media virality, but they won’t be able to get the right level of engagement if the posts are not relevant to their audience. Brands must start to post things that their consumers can relate to, otherwise there would be only a very small chance that these posts will get shared with a wider audience.

Personal relevance is not the only factor at play here either. Social relevance is also a major concern, and that means that people with liberal viewpoints would be more likely to share posts that support their ideologies, and the same goes for people at the other end of the political spectrum as well.

Another aspect of this research involved analyzing the changes in brain chemistry that occurred while a post was being shared. Participants were hooked up to MRI machines that scanned their brains, and one thing that was discovered during these tests is that sharing relevant posts ignited the reward centers in the brains of all participating users.

Users share posts because of the fact that this is the sort of thing that could potentially end up releasing serotonin and dopamine within their brains. Marketers and government institutions can use this knowledge to try to design posts accordingly. A properly engineered social media post would be bound to get shared, since users have an incentive to do so in the form of their brain activity.

Activating the reward center is a major reason why social media is so popular. Posts that use the same approach will definitely get shared a lot.

Illustration: Pikisuperstar/Freepik

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