…that some campaigns you thought would go viral in a big way actually end up flopping, while at other times you release something seemingly insignificant and it catches fire?
Sometimes it actually seems sort of random.
Indeed, marketers who specialize in creating viral content are sometimes surprised that their “surefire” campaign didn’t go viral. They tick off all the boxes, and yet it doesn’t catch fire like they had hoped.
Creating Viral Content Is A Bit Of An Art And A Science.
If you get the science part down – that is, if you understand why people share content and then incorporate those factors into your campaigns – then you’ve just massively increased the chances that people are going to share your content.
And that’s why I’ve created this guide, which reveals to you the top factors that get people hitting the share buttons like crazy.
Here’s what you’re about to discover over the next several pages:
You’ll discover the top six needs that drive human behavior in general (and viral campaigns specifically).
Next, you’ll learn about other important ingredients that go into cooking up a successful viral campaign.
You’ll also get six examples of real-life referral campaigns that were wildly successful – you’ll find out how they did it so you can swipe a page from their playbooks!
Sounds good, right?
Let’s jump in…
The Six Surprising Factors That Drive Human Behavior.
There are six needs that drive virtually all human behavior. People make choices (not necessarily good choices) in all parts of their lives based on these six needs.
If you look closely, you can see how these six needs drive behaviors in peoples’ relationships, work, hobbies and more.
And you know what else?
These six needs also play into whether someone is going to share your viral content or not. If your content fulfills as many of these needs as possible, then more people are likely to share it.
Here are the six needs:
- Variety (Uncertainty)
- Love and Connection
Now here’s the thing about these needs:
…we humans are not all the same.
So, while we all have the same basic needs as outlined above, we hold some of these needs as more important than others.
For example, I may primarily value love and growth, while you may think that certainty and significance are more important. Thus, you and I will make different decisions based on what’s most important to us (even though we value all six of those needs to some degree).
That’s why you need to include as many of these needs as possible in every viral campaign. The more needs you can skillfully incorporate, the more likely it is that people will send their friends to your website.
Now, inside this guide we’re going to talk about how to motivate people to share your content by incorporating these six needs into your viral campaigns.
But first, you need to get a deeper understanding of the six core needs, and how they relate to various areas of your life.
Once you know how these needs drive people in all aspects of their life, then you can start using these needs to drive one specific behavior: sharing content.
So, let’s start with the big picture of how these needs influence all sorts of behavior.
Take a look…
The motivating force behind certainty is that we all crave a certain level of comfort, security and predictability. When certainty is our driving motivator, we will pick the familiarity of the known over the unpredictability of the unknown. This can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances.
Let me share with you a few examples of how certainty can drive behavior…
If someone hates their job but stays anyway, usually that’s due to certainty. The paycheck is certain, which alleviates stress and worry. And in this case, the security and certainty outweigh the general dissatisfaction with the job.
Likewise, this also applies to people who want to start a new business. Some people feel that a job is more secure than a business (even if they don’t have either at the time), so they’ll put in applications for jobs rather than starting their own business. Since they’ve had a job before, it feels safe, predictable and secure.
If you’ve ever watched a movie or a sitcom twice (or more) — even though you know what’s going to happen – that’s driven by your need for certainty. Sometimes the best way to relax and unwind is watch something where you already know how it’s going to end.
If you’ve ever stayed too long in a relationship even though you knew it wasn’t a good relationship for you (and/or there simply wasn’t any long-term potential), that choice was driven, in part, by certainty. Sometimes it’s easier to stay in a familiar relationship than it is to dip a toe into the uncertain dating pool.
If you’ve ever shared a joke with a good friend, you were most likely driven at least in part by the certainty of your friend’s reaction. If you know what your friend finds funny, then you are more likely to share something on that same topic or with that same “flavor.” For example, if your friend loves attorney jokes, then you probably share those sorts of jokes with that friend every time you come across one.
As you can see, this is one example of how the need for certainty can play into a viral campaign.
We’ll be looking at this in more depth just a bit later, but first let’s look at the next one of the six core human needs that drive behavior…
You just learned that certainty drives human behavior. And now we’re going to talk about how UNCERTAINTY drives behavior.
At this point you may be saying… wait, what?
Let me explain…
While humans crave a certain degree of certainty in their lives, if there is too much certainty then we get bored. Restless. And maybe we’ll even get destructive (self-sabotaging) to provide some variety.
You see, here’s the thing…
We humans love “new” things.
When we encounter something we haven’t seen before, the pleasure pathways of our brains actually light up. In other words, we get a rush of feel-good chemicals in our brain that rewards us every time we encounter variety (and especially novelty).
That’s why we seek it out. And that’s why variety can most definitely motivate our behavior (either for good or for bad).
Let me share with you some examples of how variety motivates behavior…
Choosing to go into a horror house on Halloween. As you might expect, a horror house is VERY unpredictable. While you know that people are going to be jumping out, chasing you, and generally trying to surprise you, there is a great deal of variety (and uncertainty) as to how this plays out. You never know what is lurking around the corner. And people who love horror houses love the adrenaline rush that comes with both fear and uncertainty.
TIP: Ever seen those viral videos that scare the crap out of you? There you are just focusing on some serene video, and suddenly a monster jumps right into the frame and screams. Talk about variety! No wonder these sorts of videos get shared like crazy! (Not only because of the variety, but also because plenty of folks like scaring their friends!)
Quitting a good thing. If you’ve ever quit a good job or even a good relationship, you probably got some pushback from people in your life. Those folks (who undoubtedly value certainty) probably thought you were crazy for dumping the relationship or the job.
Now assuming the relationship or job was largely good for you, why did you quit it? Chances are, you were bored. You needed variety.
Maybe you even tried to create that variety within the framework of the job or the relationship.
For example, if you tried to get a promotion with more responsibility, that’s one way to create variety within a job. If you felt yourself trying to create some tension or conflict with your boss or coworkers, that’s an example of a negative way that the search for variety manifests.
Likewise, in a relationship you may seek out variety in both positive or negative ways. You might simply ask your significant other to get out of the house and do things you have never done before. That’s positive.
On the negative end, you might confront them about something, knowing that the resulting tension will create variety and thus alleviate boredom.
Taking off on a road trip. Some people plan a road trip out in great detail. They start at Point A and plan to drive to Point B. All tourist stops (if any) are planned in advance. This provides certainty.
As you know by now, some people are motivated by uncertainty. These folks jump in the car with a loose intention to get to Point B. But along the way, they stop at every tourist spot, scenic overlook, restaurant or other roadside stop that catches their eye.
The uncertainty of it all is what makes it fun. And they may never even get to Point B before they need to turn around and drive home.
This is driven by a craving for variety.
Sharing something controversial. There are certain topics that we know will provide some variety and uncertainty in our interactions with people. These topics tend to be controversial, such as religion and politics… but they can take the form of any topic that’s controversial.
Why do we share things on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms that we know are going to “blow up” our page with comments? Simple reason: variety and uncertainty. If we’ve been a bit bored lately, then introducing a controversial topic can break the monotony and entertain us.
Again, this is an example of how this basic need motivates people to share content.
We’ll examine this in more detail just a bit later, but first let’s look at the next factor that motivates behavior…
We live in a world with over seven billion other people. And that means it’s pretty easy to feel like we’re invisible and insignificant.
But most people don’t want to feel that way. They WANT to feel worthy, special and unique. They want to feel significant. And that’s why this need to feel significant motivates behavior (either positively or negatively).
If you think back on your life, you can probably pinpoint times when you felt significant. Those are times that others looked at you and said things like, “Wow, you did an amazing job.” Maybe you felt special, because others said things such as, “I wish I could do something like that.” And yes, maybe others even outright envied you.
How does it feel when others envy you? It feels good. You get that swelling of pride when others recognize that you’re special in some way. And you seek out ways to continue being significant and special.
Let me share with you a few examples of how the need for significance drives behavior…
Getting fit. A lot of people talk about losing weight. And quite a few of these people start down the path to fitness. They tighten up their diet, they start exercising, and they lose a few pounds. But then they go back to their old habits (perhaps due to the need for certainty), and soon the weight comes right back.
But then there are those who stay on the path to fitness. And in some cases, they get very, very serious about it. They eat a very clean diet where they balance their macronutrients precisely. They lift weights. They do high-intensity interval training. And not only do they shed the pounds; they develop the sort of bodies that are extremely rare.
End result? They feel significant. They feel special. When a serious weightlifter takes his shirt off at the beach, he’s going to know almost no one will have abs like him (because it’s too much work). And that makes him feel like part of a very special, elite group.
So, what does he do? He makes a big deal of drinking a whey protein shake in the office, while everyone else eats their potato chips and chocolate chip cookies. He makes a point of turning down cake at a birthday party, just because very few people do it. The fact that he possesses this tremendous willpower (and amazingly fit body) makes him feel significant.
Writing a novel. If you tell people you’ve written a novel, their eyes widen and you get that “Wow!” response that creates that pleasurable feeling of superiority and specialness. If you even tell people that you’re thinking of writing a novel, they’re going to be impressed. End result? You’re going to feel significant.
Taking up a unique hobby. There are plenty of ways for people to spend their leisure time, but often people tend to gravitate towards the same types of hobbies. This includes hobbies such as golfing, fishing, running, restoring classic cars, painting, gardening and other similar hobbies.
So now imagine what happens if you take up a unique hobby that requires something others don’t have, such as money (collecting expensive pieces of art), skill (building a log cabin by hand from the ground up), or even just bravery (such as base jumping).
When you tell people you have a hobby like that, you’re going to feel significant and special, since your friends are likely to be very impressed.
Being the first to share something in your circle of friends. If you share something that others in your circle haven’t seen yet, they’re going to be rewarded with the whole novelty factor (as discussed above). If you consistently share things your friends haven’t seen before, they’re going to take notice. And they’re going to make you feel special and significant by saying things like, “Wow, you always find the coolest things to share!”
That’s one-way significance can motivate people to share your content.
We’ll talk about other ways later in this guide.
But first, let’s take a look at the next factor that can influence behavior (one which can run opposite of our need for significance).
Love and Connection
As you just learned, our need for significance can motivate us to do things that make us feel superior, special and worthy. However, this drive for significance can also drive us AWAY from others. And since one of our needs is love and connection, as humans we tend to have to balance our need for significance with our need for love and connection.
Our need for love and connection is what motivates us to seek out attachments, approval and communication. We don’t want to feel lonely nor alone. In fact, our need for love and connection is so strong that we can actually suffer from depression if we don’t maintain these needs.
Here then are the “big picture” examples of the ways we strive to meet this need…
Getting married. We date because we crave love and connection. And then we get married, in part, to solidify that connection. We actually bind ourselves legally to other people, in part to raise families, to have companionship, and to have someone with whom to grow old.
Doing the “right thing.” As mentioned above, part of love and connection is seeking approval from others. And in order to get that approval, we do the “right thing.”
But here’s the catch: there is no singular right or wrong thing to do. It largely depends on your social circle.
For example, if someone joins a gang (which is a negative way to connect with others), they may seek approval by shoplifting or dealing drugs. In this particular circle, doing the “right thing” isn’t even legal, but it does win approval from other gang members.
Another example of doing the right thing is when a young adult goes to college to major in a lucrative field, rather than trying to make a living by joining a band. In this case, the young adult may be seeking the approval or parents, of a significant other, or even as society as a whole.
Getting a dog. In some cases, the need for love and connection doesn’t need to come from another human. A person can get love from a dog. And, in turn, they can develop a connection with other dog owners, which further satisfies that need for love and connection.
Sharing content. Social media platforms (such as Facebook) exploded because people are so driven by their need to connect with others. And every time you share something on one of these platforms, you are seeking to connect with others. In some cases, you may also be seeking approval, which is why we sometimes share things that we think will generate a lot of likes.
As you can see, a need for love, connection (and approval) can motivate people to share your content.
We’ll examine this in a little more detail very soon, but first let’s get an understanding of the next need that motivates behavior…
Another thing motivates our behavior is our need for growth. This includes growth on different levels, including intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual.
Simply put, we don’t like to stagnate.
Sure, sometimes we say that we don’t like change (and those who say that may have place a lower importance on growth), but most of us have the need to grow in some ways in our lives.
Let me share with you a few examples of how the need for growth can motivate behavior…
Getting to know yourself. Whether you just start thinking about the mistakes you’ve made in the past (and what you learned from them), or you even start going to counseling to get a third-party’s professional view on what makes you tick, learning about yourself is very rewarding. And when we confront our long-held beliefs and change them, then we grow as a person (intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually).
TIP: Ever notice that self-data-collection devices like the FitBit are extremely popular? This popularity is driven by people’s desire to learn, grow and change.
Looking up something online. Have you ever been sitting around with friends, and suddenly one of you wondered about some fact? For example, how are birds able to migrate hundreds of miles without getting lost? Or how many licks does it truly take to get to the center or a Tootsie Pop?
Next thing you know, you’ve all whipped out your phones and you’re looking it up online. That motivation to hit up Google is all part of our need for growth (which can be fed by an underlying need to satisfy our curiosity).
Point is, there is a certain satisfaction is learning and growing.
Going to the gym. Ever looked in the mirror one day and decided it was time to make a change? You start eating better, you go to the gym, and you develop healthier habits. All of these changes can be driven by a desire to grow physically (i.e., to get fit – to create the best and healthiest body you can).
Watching a TED Talk. You know that when you watch a TED talk, inevitably you’re going to learn something new. You’re going to get a new perspective. You’re going to “stretch” the way you think about something. And that’s why we watch TED Talks, because we want to grow intellectually… and/or spiritually and emotionally.
Point is, if you can present content that promises prospective viewers they’ll learn something new (even something about themselves), they’ll be motivated to watch.
You can think of the previous need (growth) as being a bit selfish because it tends to be focused on our own emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical needs. That’s in contrast to contribution, which is where we seek to contribute to the greater good.
This is more about helping others than helping ourselves.
That’s not to say that contributing to something greater than ourselves is purely altruistic. After all, we DO get something out of it. It feels good, right? Our brain rewards us with those pleasurable chemicals again.
So, even when we’re helping others we’re still helping ourselves.
This need for contribution can be so great that people can actually go through a crisis if they don’t feel like they’re contributing. Take the classic mid-life crisis as an example.
In some cases, a need for variety fuels this crisis. In other cases, a need to contribute fuels it. If someone has been just meandering along in life for a few decades, they may suddenly wake up one morning and ask, “What am I doing with my life?” And the reason they ask is because they don’t feel like they’ve contributed something meaningful, something for the greater good.
So, let me share with you now examples of how the need to contribute can motivate behavior…
Teaching someone how to do something. You might teach a child how do something (like tie their shoelaces). Or you might teach other adults how to do something, such as how to enjoy better communication with their spouse. Whomever and whatever you’re teaching, the need is all about contributing.
Volunteering. Another way that we contribute to the greater good is by volunteering. We may volunteer for a charitable organization (such as the local soup kitchen), or we may volunteer to coach Little League or do roadside clean up.
Writing a book. Oftentimes, writing and publishing a book is done to teach others how to do something. But what’s different about a book is that it can leave a lasting legacy. A person may feel good not only about making a contribution to the greater good, but they’ll also feel good about the fact that their contribution will continue long after they’re gone.
Sharing content online. That’s right, every time you share content online (especially useful content), you’re contributing to the overall conversation. And if you share something for the greater good (such as sharing information about how to stop human traffickers), then you’ll feel doubly good about your contribution.