UX Virality Week: 5 of 7

When we compare digital viruses to actual viruses in nature, it may seem weird to discuss the feelings our “virus” gives people. Viruses don’t have emotions! No, but they do hijack the natural behaviour of the organisms they infect. So today we learn about:

Viral Emotions

(Missed the first four lessons? Start here.)


Viruses often evolve to become a part of our natural motivations. They take something we love and infect it, so we spread the virus by doing what we love.

In a literal sense, a great example of this is HIV. It spreads via sex. When an infected person “does” what feels good the virus is transmitted, multiplied, and spread.

Digital viruses work the same way. If spreading the virus makes a person feel good, or if the virus spreads when a person gets something they want, that virus has a bright future.


What do users already like?

Maybe your users love pictures of kittens. Maybe they love Jesus, or government whistleblowers, or government whisteblowers who love Jesus.

Maybe they just want to find a group of people who share their Christian Whistleblower fetish, or maybe they just feel smart when they share smart things, like this article. ;)

It doesn’t matter what they like. Just build it into your viral structure.


Attach the virus to the behaviour that creates the feelings.

Facebook wanted companies to be on Facebook, and companies wanted more power in social media.

So Facebook created company profiles (“Pages”) and allowed companies to communicate with anyone that Liked their page.

By giving companies something that feels good to do —build influence — Facebook encouraged the companies to spread Facebook pages (as a product) around the internet.

The more Likes they get, the more value it creates for the page, and the more motivated the companies are to spread the virus further.

That’s a feedback loop.


Resistance is futile.

The thing about positive feelings is that they are really hard to resist. You can try not to have sex, but that only makes every opportunity to have sex feel more tempting. 

You can try not to click that headline about cute kittens, but god damnit, cute kittens are just SO CUTE! Amirite?

And you can try not to join the line outside that hot new club, but then you definitely won’t get in. However, joining the line increases the appearance of popularity, which attracts more people, which makes it more exclusive, which makes you want to get in even more…


In all those cases, you can resist or avoid doing the thing that transmits the virus, but if it feels really good — or even if it just raises the odds of feeling good — the individual person has more reason to do the thing that transmits the virus than not to transmit the virus. So they often do.

I realize that it’s a bit morbid in the context of HIV, but the point is: if sex didn’t feel good, HIV wouldn’t survive.

And neither would humans.


Tomorrow we will talk about the first of two major ways to measure anything viral: Incidence Rate.