Generate Buzz: 6 Tips for Making Content Go Viral

Why is it that some videos go viral while others don't get shared at all?  To answer that, we turn to the book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On.  In Contagious, marketing professor Jonah Berger identifies a framework, STEPPS, which explains why certain things gain immediate popularity.  Berger recommends that to create viral content, organizations use as many of the key ideas depicted in STEPPS as possible:

  1. Social Currency.  We care what our peers think. As such, we share things that make us look good.  For instance, Berger mentions how people like to feel like insiders and so information about discreet bars, secret dining clubs, etc. is more likely to be passed on to others.

  2. Triggers.  We typically don't plan our conversations in advance.  So, if you're trying to promote a product, it's helpful if it can be linked to a common trigger—something that people are reminded of frequently so that a conversation about your product occurs organically.  By way of example, Berger says that the Mars company experienced unexpected higher sales of its Mars candy bar when NASA Pathfinder landed on Mars.  Why?  Because people remembered Mars Bar based on something that was happening in their external environment.

  3. Emotion.  Content that generates strong emotion—even if that emotion is anger—is more likely to go viral.  This explains the plethora of animal videos and outraged petitions in your Facebook feed.

  4. Public.  Want content to cause people to take a specific action?  People are a lot more likely to take action if it's something they see others doing.  For instance, the Movember Foundation encourages men to grow a mustache during the month of November to raise funds for men's health.  This idea caught on rapidly, because it's something that takes place in public—people actually see more men walking around with mustaches which naturally, generates curiosity.

  5. Practical Value.  We like to help others.  If we have knowledge that will make someone's life easier, we're more likely to share it.  That's one reason you'll see so many how-to's and helpful hacks online.

  6. Stories.  While people may not remember the specific features of your product, they are likely to recall a memorable story about it.  If you can tell an interesting story about how someone used your product, people are more apt to pass the information along.