For every happy status update you post on Facebook, an extra 1.75 positive posts than normal are generated among your friends.  And for every sad status update, an extra 1.29 more negative posts are triggered.

Yep, you can catch a bad mood – or a good mood – on Facebook. So get posting, and spread a little happiness.

That’s the finding of this army-funded study that found that emotions are contagious on Facebook (as previous studies have shown for Twitter). Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks” (by Prof James Fowler and colleagues at UC San Diego).

Interesting. But so what for digital marketing?

Short answer is that Smiles + Surprise = Sales.  And that’s why happiness should be your (digital marketing) business model. 

If you create content that creates smiles, then your brand is not only associated with happy, positive thoughts – but any brand-driven happiness will spread contagiously beyond your direct audience.  That’s why this latest ad from mobile operator from 3 is so brilliant – it doesn’t use argument to persuade, it uses emotion to seduce.  No argument, just sentiment.

Now, whilst there are issues with the US San Diego study above (it uses automated error-prone sentiment analysis to detect mood (that ignores context, irony, sarcasm, and idioms), and it was only a correlational study (so shows correlation, not causation), emotional contagion* is a well established phenomena (my PhD focused on emotional contagion – digital media and the power of suggestion (on suicidal thoughts)).

‘Emotional contagion’ sounds scary, but it’s something we all experience, and it’s what lies at the heart of the very human trait of empathy.  When we’re with people who are sad – we feel their sadness. Likewise, when they are happy, we feel happy too.  This helps us understand each other, and adapt our behaviour accordingly – in other words, emotional contagion is part of our social intelligence.

Psych aside – the point for marketers is that emotional contagion has the potential to be a powerful vector of marketing influence. How?  If marketers create surprising content that creates smiles then we optimise marketing influence.

Surprise drives spread, smiles drive affinity.

So less persuasion, more seduction.  

Less rational reasons to buy, more emotional appeal.  

One practical way for your brand to harness the power of emotional contagion is to simply play the ‘association game’ around your brand to identify the non-rational positive associations that connect with your brand, and then charge your creatives with building content to create smiles around those associations. My PhD did precisely this (in reverse) to make suicide news stories in the media (including Kurt Cobain’s suicide) less contagious (typically a high profile suicide news story will result in a 10% jump in the national suicide rate). It worked.

Digital marketing should be about emotional sentiment as much as it is about rational argument.

Feel nothing, say nothing, buy nothing.

You feel me?

* Emotional contagion = the influence of exposure to symbolic representations of an emotional state such that eliciting a similar act or state becomes more likely