Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Propensity to Share

The human social propensity to "seek and share" is fundamental. This propensity is amplified by electronic communication, and can produce dramatic effects in the viral context of the Web.

We tend to share items that will please and surprise our friends. A notable example is the wedding march video posted by Jill and Kevin Heinz, of St. Paul, MN. Their video was posted on YouTube on July 19, 2009. Within a week it was viewed over 10 million times and garnered over 51,000 comments.

By Tuesday, July 28, 2009, viewership continued to grow at a rate of about 1 million views a day on YouTube alone. Comments continued at the rate of about 5,000 each day. As of July 31, viewership reached almost 13 million with over 65,000 comments.

As of March, 2015, total YouTube viewership for this video was approaching 90 million with 175,000 comments.

Why have so many sought and shared this video? What conceptual lessons can be learned about public response to viral communication?

Clearly there is a classic reversal of expectations. Most of the people in the church were not aware of what they were about to experience.

The door is closed. The first notes of “Forever” bring expressions of joy to faces throughout the church. The ushers extend the surprise by dancing their way down the aisle. Two bridesmaids then set the stage.

The narrative of the song becomes apparent as members of the bridal party take turns interpreting. The groom makes his entrance with a promise to his angel. The bridal party mystically prepares the altar and then turns to the bride for her entrance.

This video demonstrates the basis for sharing. People want others to have that same feeling of unexpected joy.

A combination of psychological responses underlies the desire to share. The figure below identifies six factors commonly associated with how we respond to what we see in media. It is my Index of Viral Sharing.

We share Jill and Kevin’s video because of the originality and clarity of the storytelling. But it is not just any story… there is activity, enjoyment, empathy and realization in their video. We see the wedding march in a new and enjoyable way. That’s the substance people really want to share.

For further reading, see my article "Profiling User Responses to Commercial Websites" published in the May-June, 1997 issue of the Journal of Advertising Research. It has been cited by 230 articles and books about Internet advertising and provides the conceptual basis for thinking about information distributed on the Internet, whether by websites or viral sharing.

Many thanks to Scott Shellstrom – art director extraordinaire – for letting me know about this video.

For more on the psychology of advertising, please see Advertising and the Arc of History.

Copyright © 2009 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

  1. This is brilliant, John. I got goose bumps from watching the video all over again. I was one of the millions who saw it. I remember Scott. I photographed him on the Y&R cruise around NY. I want to post a link to your blog from mine. Great information about the car texting issue.

    My Christmas message is on my blog.

    Peace and Joy, Leora