For the world to be interesting, you have to be manipulating it all the time. - Brian Eno
We've all heard someone say "Let's make it social!" or "How do we make it viral?" and "What can we do to make it trend on Twitter?" These statements, while well intentioned, expose the speaker as someone who has no idea what they're talking about. Worse, these questions usually come up well after the new product, campaign or goal has already been set.
Instead, they're questions you should ask very early in the brainstorming process.
Let's cut to the chase: People share things online for the same reason they share them at a bar or in the carpool - because they want to talk about something that matters emotionally to them. They share to discuss what they think others will be interested in; they share facts and information that they think others would want to know. Even better, we know why people share these items in-person - and it's the same reason they share online.
People share items with other people online because it makes them feel:
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And that's it.
All of these all are responses to or desires for chemical reactions in their brain. There's a tiny little hit of serotonin that the brain releases when you get someone's attention and interest. But I don't want to imply people are acting blindly. The human brain and body are more sophisticated than any machine humanity has created. Chemical events control our hunger, sleeping, decisions, memories, relationships, just as much as they our decision of what we want to talk about with other people.
So the next time you wish you could ask "How can we make it big on Twitter" or the more realistic "How can we get anyone to care about what we have to say on Twitter," start your creative process all the way down at the level of "What could we do that would make people feel so emotional or self-validated that they want to share it."
Once you have that (e.g. An exercise company determines they can help runners feel really proud of their commitment to exercise), then you can think about what to make or do that would create facts or pictures or stories or news that would make runners feel so proud they want to share it with all their friends. When you've got your reasoning and actions, THEN you can determine what your campaign should be.
One last final note: Don’t be tempted to hack these rules to exploit a person’s emotions to con them into sharing. It’s easy to do if you want to jerk someone’s triggers, just like putting MSG in chips will get people them to eat more. People have a very quick bs filter online and their peers are quick to point out their mistakes. So you can fool almost anyone into sharing anything once – but try it again and get ready for a backlash from their whole community.