Which Emotion Spreads Fastest Online?

All the cute cat videos in the world can't compete with the pure viral power of anger, as these brands found out the hard way.
September 20, 2013

People regularly go online to share things that make them happy: everything from baby pictures to ridiculous viral music videos. But when it comes to the emotion that sparks the strongest response online, anger trumps the joy that comes from the cutest cat photo.

Or so says a new study analyzing sentiment influence on Weibo, China's answer to Twitter. Looking at 200,000 users and around 3.5 million tweets, researchers from Beihang University in China found that posts "carrying [an] angry message might propagate very fast in the network," faster than sadness, joy, disgust and other powerful emotions, according to the study.

"The emotions you express in your social media missives ... could play a role in whether or not your network of friends subsequently send out messages with similar sentiments," Fast Company reported.

In the new social media age of doing business, companies are already pretty familiar with this. Hell hath no fury like a customer powered by scorn and a social media platform. Earlier this month, an angry British Airways customer spent $1,000 on Promoted Tweets to publicly flay the airline for losing his father's luggage, bringing his grievances to the top of users' Twitter feed. And popular yogurt producer Chobani felt the wrath of its customers when thousands went to the company's Facebook page to complain of sickness said to be caused by moldy yogurt. Chobani recalled the affected yogurt, and is now dealing with the public fallout on its Facebook page. A sample angry message: 

No matter how they try to sweeten this mess or try to say its harmless. I have been very sick for the last two weeks and ended up in the ER!!!! My 3yr old was sick as well. Since you are being so "honest" and "transparent", you can now tell us how many of your customers got sick and how you plan on address those who did get sick. I want you to be accountable!!!

But that's not to discount the power of positivity online, either. When someone "likes" a comment or a story, it increases the possibility of someone else liking that interaction by 32 percent, according to a study from MIT. 

Jonah Berger, an author and professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania, found that content which draws out powerful emotions—whether they're positive or negative—got shared more. But “what we share [or like] is almost like the car we drive or the clothes we wear,” he told Time magazine. “It says something about us to other people. So people would much rather be seen as a Positive Polly than a Debbie Downer.”

Photo: Getty Images