As we’ve discussed throughout this series, social video campaigns are all about sharing. Clicks and impressions are great, but shares represent potential exponential growth, because the viewers themselves are spreading the brand’s message to their friends, fans, and relatives. But why do they share? What are the catalysts for sharing that drive viewers to get social about a video?

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There are really three main psychological share motivations for social video:

  • Emotional – the viewer connects emotionally with the video content, and wants to share that experience with others
  • Identity & Personal Expression – the viewer identifies closely with the video’s star, topic, or theme, and shares because it’s part of who they are.
  • Information – the viewer shares to help the spread of information that friends or family might find useful or important.
In this week’s Social Video Blueprint, we’ll take a look at some examples of all three types of catalysts for sharing behavior.

Emotional Catalysts For Sharing

Very often, share motivations take the form of an emotional reaction to a video. We are, for the most part, a social species, and we naturally seek out others with whom to share our best experiences. We want to discuss these things… talk about them. But we can’t do that if we don’t share them.

We mentioned a few of these emotional catalysts in last week’s Social Video Blueprint article, but this week we’re going a bit more in-depth and adding video examples from branded social video campaigns:

Humor & Laughter

Laughter is contagious. It’s cliché, but it’s also true. When viewers have a good laugh, they want to share the experience with friends. Humor is also easily the most-attempted emotional catalyst for branded social video. Let’s look at a few examples.

New Era had a series of social video ads starring Alec Baldwin and John Krasinski trash-talking about Major League Baseball’s biggest rivalry–the Yankees and Red Sox. I’m sure the rivalry helped propel some of the success–and we’ll talk about viewers identifying with a video ad a bit later on in the article–but it was mostly driven by the fact that it’s funny. Here’s the first in the series:

One of my favorite humor-based social video successes of all time is Toyota’s “Swagger Wagon,” the rap music video from a nerdy suburban couple:

Even this week’s Muppets/Ok Go mash-up owes its social video success to humor:

Shock, Surprise, & Awe

Some brands seek out that precious sharing behavior through the use of shock. Surprise an audience or fill them with awe, and there’s a good chance they’ll share the video just to see the same reaction on the faces of their friends.

This approach typically involves acts of hard-to-believe strength and talent or an event that hasn’t been seen before.

Gillette had a famous social video hit with their Roger Federer “trick shot” video, which displayed the tennis star’s insane aiming ability. It was fake, but still lined up millions of viewers from the sheer surprise and awe of seeing the feat:

The best recent example of this type of catalyst comes from 20th Century Fox, and their brilliant video of a chimp being given a rifle. It was, of course, a marketing video for Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and has scored over 13 million views to date:

Video game accessory company, Xwerx, grabbed some excellent viral action with the controversial (and ultimately fake) clip of a nude gaming party (video is pretty safe, and blocks out everything dangerous):

There’s an entire sub-genre in this catalyst category for videos that are intentionally weird, strange, or creepy, such as this Skittles ad from a few months back:

Heartstrings – Cute/Sad/Love

Several brands have struck social video gold by aiming for the heart. Some have melted viewers hearts with videos that are cute, adorable, and sweet. Others have gone the tearjerker route, reminding audiences of something sentimental… sometimes even sad.

The TOPSY Foundation won a slot in the top 10 of TED’s Ads Worth Spreading with this heartbreaking video promoting AIDS awareness and treatment:

TPS Film Studio went for the cute factor with an HD slow-motion video of a kitten playing in the backyard:

Another of TED’s Ads Worth Spreading also used a cause to tug viewers’ heartstrings. It’s from The Girl Effect, and speaks to the issue of young women in poverty:

Beauty & Art

I’m not exactly sure how to phrase this catalyst as an emotion, but trust me… it exists. There is something about a great work of art–in any medium–that compels people to share. Sometimes it’s beauty… sometimes it’s intrigue… even sadness or joy.

Several brands have opted to take a more artistic route to social video, finding viewers who are truly moved by an artistic video experience very motivated to share.

Just a few weeks ago, WGN, the national cable network out of Chicago, gave us this artistic tilt-shift video called Chicago’s Very Own: Chicago In Miniature:

Nokia partnered with Aardman Studios (the animation company behind Wallace & Gromit) to bring us Gulp, the “world’s largest stop motion video”:

Sometimes the social video ad shows the creation of a piece of art. That was the case about a month ago, when yogurt company, Bon Yurt, put out this mesmerizing video:

Identity & Personal Expression Catalysts For Sharing

While there are many things that can be done to encourage social activity, a brand doesn’t have complete control over the sharing behavior that surrounds a particular video. Sometimes a viewer shares out of some kind of personal expression and they identify with the video on a personal level.

Becoming The Gatekeeper

Sometimes people share because they want to be the ones known in their circle of friends as the guy/girl who always finds the best videos. It’s not always as selfish a motivation as it might initially sound. Some people just like entertaining their friends and making them happy.

Issues & Causes

When viewers are passionate about a particular cause or issue–the environment, for instance–they can have a higher sharing rate. They’re already used to spreading the gospel about their issue, so the video that speaks to that topic is a no-brainer for them to share. Many brands have aimed for viral success by appealing to the various causes and issues that viewers care about–nonprofits do it all the time.

Contests & Rewards

Sometimes there’s a more direct motivation to share a video, such as a contest or sweepstakes where “liking” a video link on Facebook or Re-tweeting it registers the individual to win a prize of some sort.


Many viewers become fiercely loyal fans of their favorite video creators, celebrities, and brands, and will share a video simply because they’re asked to do so. If you don’t believe me, check out the sharing action around a Justin Bieber music video sometime. Viewers that become fans of a particular brand or social video campaign make it a part of their identity, sharing out of pure gratitude and loyalty.

Informational Catalysts For Sharing

Sometimes sharing activity happens for a more informational reason–the simple sharing of a video to inform friends and readers of a particular event or story. We share because we want to break news–both formally and casually.

Monetary Gain & Fame

I’m trying to cover as many varieties of sharing catalysts as possible, so I’d be foolish to leave off this one. A lot of video sharing takes place on blogs. Typically, most blogs are interested in gaining more readers. And you do that by offering great content. The more outstanding videos and other engaging content a blog can share, the more readers they’ll recruit, which they can then begin to monetize through advertising.

So many times a video is shared out of a drive for personal success. Smaller blogs that have big dreams are going to want to hook and keep new readers by delivering good content, which will often include video.

At the same time, gatekeeper sites like Huffington Post or TechCrunch have a vested interest in finding and sharing good video content as well, because it helps them make more money. That doesn’t mean they don’t actually enjoy the videos they share… I’m sure they do. But the desire to keep readers engaged is clearly a catalyst for sharing with blogs and major publishers.


The two sites I listed above when talking about blogs are also both legitimate news sources now. More and more often we’re seeing branded video that is newsworthy–just look at all the news outlets around the world that were writing and talking about the Old Spice Man campaign.

Individuals can also share out of a motivation to spread news–this catalyst isn’t only reserved for media properties.


There are clearly a number of triggers for social video success. It starts with the content itself. If the video itself doesn’t hit any of the right emotional notes, there’s very little hope for sharing behavior to occur. But even after a video successfully provides an emotional reaction, there are still numerous other factors that can impact whether or not viewers will share the clip.

Savvy brands are looking beyond just the emotional motivations, beginning to craft social video content specifically designed to help trigger some of the other catalysts for sharing behavior as well.

Join us next week for Part 8 of our Social Video Blueprint series, where the topic will be Social Video Best Practices.

If you’ve missed any articles in our Social Video Blueprint series, you can catch up below: