We already wrote about the power of images in today’s world and social media in particular: photos make up 75% of Facebook posts and create 10 times more engagement. But why some things catch on, while others fade into oblivion? Here are some insights on psychology behind our shares.


Why we love photos so much.

Our passion for images is easily explained - we are visual creatures and a huge part of our brain loves being stimulated and is dedicated to image processing, which we do at a fantastic speed. Naturally when looking for information, visual content grabs our attention first. Social networks know about that and set up their feeds for easy image-scanning. According to research, photos get  25% more likes than text posts and 50% more likes than video posts. Also photos get shared over 50% more than videos, and are more likely to be retweeted on Twitter.

Key elements of viral content.

Researchers have been busy lately, trying to understand factors that prompt engagement. Content Marketing Agency Fractl studied emotions behind viral content to discover that images which go viral reportedly share several key characteristics: research shows significant correlation between positive feelings like happiness, interest, anticipation, and trust and the number of content views. However, positive feelings alone do not guarantee image virality, while an image that inspires a wider range of emotional reactions – both positive and negative–is more likely to be shared. Also, viral images are likely to trigger surprise, which is the second-most reported reaction to viral images.

Who shares what.

The three elements mentioned above are applicable for any demographic. But researchers report generational differences in emotional responses. Thus millennials aged 18 – 24 show less positive- and surprise-based emotions in comparison to other age groups. Also, together with the group aged 25 – 34, millennials report fewer interest and anticipation responses. One theory has it, dynamic content is required to engage Millennials, since they are bored by static images. When it comes to gender differences, men and women show similar results in most cases. Although, unlike women, men report more joyful feelings, when viewing viral images, but display a slightly smaller range of emotional responses. When it comes to women, they exhibit more trust emotions, a little more negative emotions and greater emotional complexity.

Takeaways for marketers.

In the digital age images are arguably marketer’s greatest asset: as our attention spans get shorter, images come to the rescue when you need to explain tough concepts, grab attention, and inspire. Images are also more likely to get an emotional response from your audience - articles with images get 94% more views than those without.

But since the Internet is oversaturated with visuals, you have to use original, high quality, attractive images to really stand out. To garner initial views marketers need to generate positive feelings. But if you want your content to go viral, you may want to consider sharing images that activate a greater diversity of reactions. And since surprise is the key to virality, adding an unexpected twist to your campaign will result into more shares. Make your content more interactive and emerging when targeting young millennials. Activate positive feelings to increase sharing among men, and leverage trust to gain initial views from women. So Facebook science is not random - use it and those much needed likes and shares will follow.