Ego matters when creating viral content
Donald Trump is synonymous with ego

There are a few purely altruistic people who share content solely for the purpose of spreading joy, education, or something else positive with others.

But then there’s the rest of your audience. Before these folks share any content, they think about how sharing will affect their status in a community or among their circle of friends. That’s right, sharing can be an act of narcissism or even outright ego-stroking.

Let’s take a look at two of these ego factors that may come into play when someone is considering sharing your content:

  1. Identity building
  2. Status building

Take a look:

Identity Building

[tweetthis url=”http://goo.gl/KqsJuH”]People share content that supports their worldview and builds their identity.[/tweetthis]

Think about how social media works:

So many people have thousands of “friends” from around the world. Their connections are people with whom they’ve never had a one-on-one conversation or met face-to-face. And the truth is these folks don’t have time to build individual relationships with everyone in their contact list. So what they do is share content that basically says, “This supports my worldview. This is what I think. This is who I am. What do you think and why?”

That’s why you’ll see people sharing links, videos, and memes about important issues, including political, social, and religious issues.

But that doesn’t mean you need to create content based on the huge issues of our time in order for it to go viral. Not at all. Just choose an issue that divides people, take a side, and create content showing a strong stance on that issue.

Your content doesn’t even have to be serious. When I say the issue “divides people,” I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’m just saying that folks have strong opinions. And this can occur even in light-hearted situations.

Kaepernick has been benched. Now the bench can't pass either.
Kaepernick has been benched. Now the bench can't pass either.

For example, people are pretty divided when it comes to sports teams. If you’re in a market catering to a particular sport, you could easily create a meme that makes fun of one team while exalting another. That’s the kind of stuff that goes viral, as fans of the exalted team share the meme and laugh.

Not only does this evoke emotion (always a good thing, as you learned), but it also builds the sharer’s identity by showing which sports team they prefer.

Music is another example. People share music they like, memes about musicians, and quotes from musicians. Again, telling others what kind of music you enjoy is a way to share something of yourself with others. And they can weigh in and say whether they agree or disagree and why.

Still another example: sharing cute animal videos or memes that denounce animal abuse. These all tell viewers something about the sharer.

Of course there are plenty of contentious examples, too. Sharing outrageous quotes or conspiracy theories from the political fringe would certainly tell others a lot about the sharer.

So the point is people like to share things that they agree with, as it helps them build their identity on a social media platform.

Now here’s the other ego factor that comes into play:

Status Building

The concept here is that people share content that will make them look good in the eyes of their friends (which in turn makes them feel better). That’s right–this is purely an ego play. It’s a way for someone to build social capital, which they may cash in and spend at another time.

So here are three ways people use viral content to build their own status in a community:

[tweetthis url=”http://goo.gl/KqsJuH”]People like to be the first to share cool content.[/tweetthis]

This person likes to be seen as the one who always finds and shares the cool stuff first. In fact, this person is more likely to share content before the viral effect has really kicked in. He wants to be the first and if he’s not then he probably won’t even share it.

For example, if a viral video has already made it to the front page of YouTube or it’s trending on Twitter, this person won’t share it.

Pro Tip: This is the type of person who can help you kick start a viral campaign. Find these sneezers on blogs, on Facebook, and similar communities. Then get your content into their hands as soon as it is launched (or even just before) so that they can maintain their identify as the person who finds the cool stuff first.

[tweetthis url=”http://goo.gl/KqsJuH”]People share content that will help others.[/tweetthis]

The second way people build their status is by sharing content that helps others. It makes them look good to their friends and it makes them feel good, too.

But here’s something else:

Helping others also trips the reciprocity trigger. When we do for others, they often feel obligated to do for us. That’s why if you give a friend a birthday card on his birthday, he’ll likely reciprocate and give you a card when your birthday rolls around.

Someone who regularly shares useful content with others tends to trip the reciprocity trigger and build social capital. When this person wants something from his friends, he’s more likely to get it since he’s been so helpful to them.

And finally:

[tweetthis url=”http://goo.gl/KqsJuH”]People share content that will make others feel good.[/tweetthis]

We’ve already talked about this just a bit earlier, in that people who enjoy something will want to share it so that others can enjoy it, too. But here this factor isn’t altruistic – rather, the person is sharing the content to build their own status.

There’s a bit of behavioral conditioning at play here, at least with some people. Let me explain:

People who go on a first date and do something thrilling – such as riding a rollercoaster – often attribute this good feeling with their date rather than the rollercoaster itself.  And that’s after just one event. Imagine if you paired a thrilling event (and good feelings) with a particular person repeatedly.

Classical conditioning works. Ask Fido.
Classical conditioning works. Ask Fido.

That’s right, now we’re getting into Pavlovian territory. Pavlov trained his dogs to associate the sound of a bell with food. So all Pavlov had to do was ring a bell and his dogs would automatically drool in anticipation of food. That’s called classical conditioning.

Now imagine if a certain person in a community is constantly sharing good content that produces good feelings among his friends. His friends would laugh, feel delight, and generally feel good whenever they see the content. However, some of their good feelings would become associated with the person himself.

It’s a sneaky yet surprisingly effective way for someone to build their status in a community. If they can share content that makes others feel good, they’ll look good to their friends.

You get the picture: People don’t always share for altruistic reasons. Sometimes they share to build their identity or build their status.

Keep that in mind as you develop your own viral content ideas.


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