Daily UX Crash Course — User Psychology: 16 of 31

The internet is famous for making things “go viral” but if your site isn’t designed to create viral word-of-mouth, it won’t. So today, we’ll learn about how to translate emotional content into viral popularity:

Social & Viral Structure


(Just starting the User Psych Crash Course? Start here.)


Virality is much more than sharing. It’s a feature.

If you are working on a social network, or an app with social features, or your site is based on user-submitted content, or if your dream is to be the next Grumpy Cat, this is for you.



Action from User A = Feedback for User B = Content for User C

For example:

You share a friend’s photo on Facebook. That’s your action, which gives feedback to your friend. When you share it, the restof your friends see the photo in their feed, with a note saying you shared it.

You retweet something on Twitter. The original tweeter gets the feedback. Your followers see the tweet in their feed, from you.

You pin something on Pinterest. The original pinner gets feedback. Your followers see the pin in their feed, from you.

And so on.

Then even more people see it, do actions, which give feedback, and creates even more content…

Ta da! More viral than a one night stand.

However, Facebook doesn’t show Likes to very many people, like they do with a Share. And Twitter doesn’t show Favorites to people like a Retweet. And Pinterest doesn’t show Likes to people like a Pin.


It’s ok to have actions that don’t create Viral Loops, but they should usually be lower priority visually in your design.

The second choice. Or third.

Facebook’s Share links are way too small and quiet (visually), and Share is the last one in the list. Twitter’s Reply and Retweet are first in the list, but still visually quiet. Pinterest’s Pin button is obvious and red and on the left. 

Facebook sucks for virality. Twitter is better (within a short time frame). Pinterest is even better. Surprised?


Why does this work? 

Viral structure achieves a few things when done right:

2-in-1 Actions: The user who originally does the action does it for themselves. Always. Virality is an automatic machine that translates your emotional actions into more content.

Good shit floats: This type of feature turns your design into a “quality content” machine. The more actions people do on a piece of content, the more visible it gets. But content that nobody likes, disappears.

Social proof: it shows people that someone relevant liked it. Hopefully many relevant people. Then affiliation kicks in.

Self-Promotion: Since everyone can see who shared something, it creates an incentive to share more, to make yourself more visible (Status).

Network Saturation: When everyone you know believes something, you are much more likely to believe it too.


Tomorrow we will learn the difference between an article or product review that people believe and one they don’t: Creating Trust