In today’s marketing landscape, the barrier to entry for creating and publishing new content is at an all-time low.
That means social networks and other distribution channels are flooded with content – and so naturally, as a way of filtering and screening our feeds, we gravitate to the content that everyone else is sharing.
These widely-shared articles, infographics, and videos tend to pique our curiosity, or they hit us with powerful “a-ha” moments. After all, these things are going viral for a reason.
Making Things Go Viral
Whether you are a marketer or an occasional writer, it’s worth knowing how this coveted viral effect comes about.
Today’s infographic comes from Outgrow, and it covers two psychological theories on what leads to viral content, why we share certain things, and some examples of winning viral campaigns that took advantage of triggering these emotions.
People share individual pieces of content for all types of reasons, but there are some commonalities.
According to psychological theory, content that feels novel or that fills information gaps may trigger the release of dopamine in the brain. Further, content that touches the right emotions (excitement, surprise, nostalgia, etc.) can also latch onto a viral effect.
Virality and The Brain
What role does psychology play in making things go viral?
Here are two well-documented psychological effects that trigger the reward pathways in the brain.
1. Novelty Seeking
Your mind is tired of seeing the same old ideas over and over again. That’s why things that are new or unusual will catch your eye – and this includes the content on your favorite website or social feed.
In fact, the brain is hardwired to search for novelty in this way. Seeing something new can motivate us to explore our environment for rewards, and with social media that reward is just a click away.
2. Information Gap Theory
Humans are obsessed with information and have an unquenchable interest in the world around them. That’s why, when your Facebook feed provides a chance to temporarily satisfy your curiosity with just one click, you can’t help but succumb.
Scientists haven’t figured out exactly how curiosity works yet, but what we do know so far is that it’s an itch that humans feel they must continually satisfy. More specifically, according to George Loewenstein’s information gap theory, we often act to fill a gap between what we know, and what we want to know.
Sharing is Caring
But even if something catches our attention, it still needs to spread far and wide to have a viral impact. That’s why the reasons we share content are important, and why posts typically hit on certain emotions to achieve virality.
People share content to:
- Connect with someone over a shared interest
- Promote a product they believe is useful to others
- Be involved in a current trend or event
- Be the first to tell a friend about a trend or event
- Share something about themselves
- Socialize with friends offline
- Promote a good cause
- Demonstrate their own knowledge or ability
- Start an online conversation
- Boost their reputation among friends
Lastly, specific positive emotions lead people to sharing content, including those of amusement, affection, surprise, happiness, and excitement. On the flipside, nostalgia and disgust are two other psychological responses that trigger sharing as well.
Charted: The Rise and Fall of WeWork
At the height of its success, WeWork was valued at $47 billion. Four years later, WeWork is worth a fraction of the total. What happened?
Charted: The Rise and Fall of WeWork
Despite its recommitment to core business fundamentals in the last few years, WeWork’s management—which saw a shakeup in May 2023 when CEO Sandeep Mathrani departed—is setting off a signal flare about the company’s future.
“Our losses and negative cash flows from operating activities raise substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.” — WeWork, SEC filing, August 8th, 2023.
But how did the once-poster child of Silicon Valley end up seeing its valuation collapse more than 99% from its peak?
Pulling together data from Business Insider, YCharts, SEC Filings, and Crunchbase we follow the rise and fall of WeWork since 2011.
The Rise of WeWork: 2010–2019
WeWork was founded in 2010 by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey with the primary objective of providing shared workspaces catered to freelancers, startups, and companies seeking “flexible office solutions.”
The business model, which rested on renting space from developers long-term, renovating and parceling the property, and subsequently leasing it out to short-term clients, thrived in a decade of low interest rates.
Its valuation surpassed $1 billion in 2014, earning the coveted “unicorn” status. In 2017, SoftBank Group made the first of its total $18.5 billion investment in the company. Two years later, WeWork hit a peak valuation of $47 billion with SoftBank’s continued investments, raising expectations for an imminent IPO.
|July, 2012||$97 million|
|May, 2013||$440 million|
|February, 2014||$1.5 billion|
|October, 2014||$5.0 billion|
|June, 2015||$10.2 billion|
|October, 2016||$16.9 billion|
|August, 2017||$21.2 billion|
|January, 2019||$47.0 billion|
|August, 2019||$20-30 billion|
|September, 2019||$10-12 billion|
|October, 2019||$8.0 billion|
|December, 2019||$7.3 billion*|
|March, 2020||$2.9 billion*|
|March, 2021||$9.0 billion|
|October, 2021||$9.0 billion|
|August, 2023||$0.4 billion|
Footnote: *SoftBank valuation is based on discounted cash flow method.
The Fall of WeWork: 2019–2023
Intensive scrutiny fueled by the impending IPO raised several questions for the company. These included concerns around Neumann’s leadership style, excessive spending, creative accounting, and conflicts of interest leading to Neumann’s resignation and delay of the IPO.
In October 2019, SoftBank Group acquired 80% of the company with $5 billion of additional funding. A month later WeWork laid off 2,400 employees, nearly one-fifth of its workforce.
Real estate veteran Sandeep Mathrani was made CEO in 2020, tasked with turning the company around by eliminating recurring costs and restructuring its debt.
That same year the COVID-19 pandemic forced a significant shift to remote work, causing a decline in office space demand. WeWork’s business model, focused on shared physical spaces, faced a substantial challenge.
In 2021, WeWork went public through a SPAC merger, aiming to regain investor trust. The listing reflected a revised strategy focusing on key markets, cost optimization, and a pivot toward catering to larger corporate clients with hybrid work needs.
Over the past two years, its market capitalization as a publicly-traded company has plummeted from $9 billion to under half a billion dollars. WeWork disclosed $11.4 billion in net losses from 2020 through to June 30th, 2023 in their recent SEC filing.
What Happened to WeWork?
Aside from the trials and tribulations of former CEO Adam Neumann, the company’s sustainability itself has been questioned several times over the past decade. In 2019, the Guardian summarized the criticism succinctly by saying, the company was “renting long and subleasing short,” which left it “exposed to risk.”
Post-pandemic, the proliferation of work-from-home policies, along with the rapid rise in global interest rates in the last year—which can reduce cash flows for the commercial real estate industry—have magnified those risks.
WeWork is now battling an environment of excess supply, softer demand, increased competition and macroeconomic volatility, according to interim CEO David Tolley.
“It was foolish of me to invest in WeWork. I was wrong.” — Masayoshi Son, SoftBank Group founder.
The New York Times says that WeWork has more than 18 million square feet of rentable office space in the U.S. and Canada alone and that its failure could have a “sizable impact” on the commercial real estate industry.
At the same time, the Times notes that reporting the “substantial doubt” on continued business operations might help the company buy time with lenders to seek additional capital through issuance of debt, equity, or the sale of assets.
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