Behind the myth of why we share online.

by Tanner Christensen March 24th, 2011 


Looking behind the myth of why we share online.

You've heard about this whole "viral" thing, right?

That hilarious video that got over one'million views in under an hour, that crazy, colorful game hidden as an Easter egg on a popular news website, or the article that explained how to hack into your favorite gaming console, all are prime examples of "viral" content. Articles, videos, games, and everything in'between that is not only shareable, but really, really worth sharing.

Content that is shared repeatedly (what, in case you missed it, we call viral content) may increase site revenue, conversions, signups, subscribes, and any other metric of success you can imagine. Or at the very least increase awareness. Because of this fact, it's not hard to see why sharing is essential to success in the online valley of business.

So what does it take to make a short blog post or how'to video or fun site Easter egg really shareable? How can one video featuring a quirky cat get millions and millions of plays when there are already billions of similar cat videos out there on the web?

One of the most common beliefs behind what makes content go viral is that the content is merely easy to share.

Slap some large "tweet this" or "recommend this to your friends" buttons on your blog and your readers will start spreading your ideas for you, instantly. Write a blog post that's humorous, quirky, or even insightful enough " and ensure that a "share this" button is the first thing your readers see when they come to your website " and the content will go viral, right?

Believing that simply adding a "share this" button to your website will make it go viral is the most common viral marketing myth, one that continues to be spread from marketer to marketer despite the evidence against it. The myth of why we share online is unfortunately viral itself. If you truly believe that simply making it easy to share your content online will increase the likelihood of it going viral, you're an idiot you're less smart than you think. Sorry Charlie.

Sure, there are exceptions to this myth, some of the time, but for the most part: to really create content that is shared repeatedly online, you must focus on the most important part of any content worth sharing: how it makes you feel.


As it turns out, things that appeal to our basic human emotions are what get shared easily and often.

If your content makes people feel happy, sad, angered, loved, strong, thankful, intrigued, or afraid (just to name a few) then it's prime material for sharing.

That video of a cat repeatedly jumping in and out of a box? It makes people feel happy most of the time, so they're more likely to share it. A touching story of how one man photographed his Father's last days alive makes us feel sad and likely moved, as a result we're more likely to pass it along to a friend.

If your content isn't stirring up feelings in your audience, you're failing at your job. Rather than writing an article merely about your favorite hobby, try telling a story or taking a unique approach to invoke feelings in your readers. If your readers feel something as a result of reading or watching or playing with your content, they'll want to pass those feelings along to somebody else.


So, the next time you want to create something that makes an impact online, be sure to include the "share this" button, but also " and what is more important " stop making the mistake of believing that what you've created will get shared just because it can.

Remember that it takes feelings to make something worth sharing. Without feelings, you're wasting all of our time.

Now I have to ask, after reading this article, how do you feel?

Tanner Christensen

Tanner is a creative online entrepreneur who has been writing on creativity, design, business management, and web development for more than nine years. Recently he founded Aspindle creative publishing house.

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3 Responses to “Behind the myth of why we share online.”

  1. Your post is great, and I am sure lots of people wonder why their content doesn't get shared. But I think the shares you write about mostly comes from people using the web for entertainment. I usually use the web for web development inspiration, and I look more on the technical issues. I early share author a easy accessible button. I liked your article and you have the buttons, so I share it on twitter..

    • Tanner says:

      Thanks for the comment Bjorn!

      You're right, having the buttons on the page made it easy for you to share, but you didn't share this article simply because the buttons were there, or because it was written by me, or because you found it only useful. No, you shared this because it made you feel something.

      Entertaining content gets shared all the time, but there's feeling there too. People share photos of cats because the pictures make the person feel happy, and they want their friends to feel happy too. Sometimes an article will make you feel enlightened and so you'll share that. If there's no powerful feeling associated with the content, there won't be any sharing.

      What we really share online isn't actual content, it's feelings.

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