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To share or not to share: the role of content and emotion in viral marketing


Correspondence to: Elsamari Botha, Division for Industrial Marketing, INDEK, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden.



One of the most recent influential trends in the global environment has been the rise of social media. Stakeholders have found a strong voice in social media, and messages are spread among social media users at an astounding speed across a global landscape. As a result of this phenomenon and in an effort to use this viral spread of messages across social media, companies are increasingly making use of viral marketing. Viral messages are playing an increasingly important role in influencing and shifting public opinion on corporate reputations, brands, and products as well as political parties and public personalities to name but a few.

Very little is known about the motivations, attitudes, and behavior of the people who forward viral messages to their online networks. Through in-depth interviews with college-going Generation Y consumers, we explore this relationship between viral media and emotions. We look at two very specific components of online videos that have gone viral: first, the relevance of the video's content and, second, participants' emotional reaction to these videos to try and better explain the viral spread of online video messages. The paper concludes by proposing a decision tree that interusers might subconsciously experience when deciding whether to share a video with their friends or not. The article concludes with a discussion about future research avenues in the area of emotions and viral marketing. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.