USC Professor, Henry Jenkins’ work starts from the premise that people are making conscious decisions to aid the circulation of certain content because they see it as a meaningful contribution to their ongoing conversations, “a gift which they can share with people they care about” (Usher, 2010).
Teixeira (2012) finds two common traits in people who forward on media: Extroversion and egocentricity. Egocentric people are looking to increase their social standing, writes Teixeira in the Harvard Business Journal: “Their primary aim in posting or e-mailing an ad link isn’t to make others joyful; it’s to display their own taste, media savvy, and connectedness” (Teixeira, 2012).
Huang, Chen, and Wang (2012) also examine the factors influencing the intention to forward short Internet videos. The key to spreading online electronic content lies in an individual recipient’s intention to forward messages to others (Huang, Lin, and Lin; 2009). With 75 percent of online video viewers having received links to online videos via e-mail or instant messages, understanding the past history and formation of video forwarding intention “constitutes a core issue in the study of online video sharing behaviors” (Huang et al., 2012; Madden, 2007).
Huang et al. (2012) found that intention derives from two factors: video content quality and empathy. Forwarding intention is generated only when the video content is interesting enough (Huang et al.; 2012). Empathy is related to the relationship between the forwarder and the recipient (Huang et al.; 2012). Huang et al. (2012) found that people usually try to avoid negative feedback from the recipient, and forwarding intention is generated only when the forwarder thinks the video will be of interest to the recipient (Huang et al.; 2012). In other words, people evaluate the probable benefits including obtaining self- enhancement, strengthening relationships, and helping others.
Kirby and Marsden (2006) also argue that to enable a message to become ‘viral’, it needs to contain something valuable to those who receive it—in other words, a message that is able to involve the recipient or provide an incentive for them to forward it.
Harvey, Stewart, and Ewing (2011) found that the very act of forwarding a viral message is an implicit endorsement of the content and credibility of the message. But the bulk of their research looked at the strength of ties between people and measured the amount of online communication across the tie in order to understand the likelihood of forwarding a YouTube video between a tie (Harvey et al.; 2011). The study found, counter intuitively, that the weaker tie between people increased the likelihood of forwarding videos, and less likely to forward across stronger ties (Harvey et al.; 2011). A possible explanation is that an individual “may not forward to a close friend in order to avoid being deemed an online ‘pest’” (Harvey et al.; 2011). Alternatively, a person may be less discriminating about message quality when forwarding a viral video to friends or contacts they are not as close (Harvey et al.; 2011). Additionally, if friends communicate often online there was greater chance that a YouTube video would be forwarded (Harvey et al.; 2011).
Harvey et al. (2011) point out that Dobele et al. (2007) “fail to distinguish” between the sender and recipient’s involvement when arguing that a viral video’s ability to evoke an emotion increases forwarding behavior. They note that Kibby (2005) found that a viral message might be forwarded if the sender perceives that the viral message could be of interest to the potential recipient, regardless if it evokes an emotion in the sender (Harvey et al.; 2011). This conclusion also finds merit in research by Huang et al. (2012) that showed people evaluate the benefits for not only themselves, but also the recipient of the viral video.