When people are online, how do they decide which short-form content to click on?

It’s all about emotion, according to a new Viacom International study that explores trends in this burgeoning genre. This project focused on short-form content from the UK, Mexico and Italy, and involved several components: expert interviews, desk research, content analysis, and qualitative exploration.

One key insight from this research is that instead of choosing short-form content based on genre, audiences make their selections based on the way they want to feel.

There is a vast amount of content available today — and the ability to provoke an emotion distinguishes the strongest pieces of content. They’ve got to be good, of course. Short-form content can’t make you feel anything if it’s not about something.

Most producers make content and most consumers search for content based on genre. But what consumers really seek is that emotional payoff.

Our research revealed that there are six key emotional triggers that dominate short-form content:

  • Haha. Humor is a key driver for short-form — examples include pranks, parody, satire, reaction videos, and “the unexpected” (e.g. a granny rapping), challenges, funny listicles, and awkwardness.
  • Wow. This entails discovering something that is truly surprising and interesting. This new information can be taboo-busting and perspective-altering. Examples include news, nature, space, amazing places, amazing stunts and skills, new technology, science, TED talks.
  • Aww. Sweet, silly, light-hearted cuteness that can be playfully humorous—such as cats and other animals, babies, Pinterest recipes or crafts, kids doing funny things, and heartwarming moments.
  • Urghh. This content is shocking and provocative, often spanning from gross to weird. Examples include ghost videos, spiders, unexplained happenings, and gross body stuff (e.g. pimple popping).
  • Hmmm. Thought-provoking content, including “serious” intellectual subject matter that’s packaged to be more digestible. This spans a variety of types, such as how-tos, life hacks, politics, global issues, behind-the-scenes, and unboxing.
  • No! Crossing a line to make the viewer feel uncomfortable and often tackle social issues, topics can include taboos, calling out racism/sexism/homophobia, extreme pranks, violence, politics, and trolling.

Those creating and organizing short-form content should take note: for their audiences, feelings are the goal.