How to create viral content

Recently I was reading a book named Contagious: Why Things Catch by Jonah Berger and I was struck by the way the author explains viral marketing. He remarks, “regardless of how plain or boring a product or idea may seem, there are ways to make it contagious…” Berger analysed what exactly make posts viral and he outlines the 6 key characteristics, or “STEPPS” as he calls them, that are present in viral posts: Social Currency;  Triggers; Emotion; Public; Practical Value; Stories. It doesn’t have to be that all 6 steps all present in viral posts, but at least one is.

What exactly do the above 6 characteristics mean?

  1. Social currency: “We share things that make us look good.”  what we share online essentially becomes our online identity. Therefore, depending on what we share we can come across as funny, entertaining, caring or even smart. Take, for example, the recent viral photo of Bernie Sanders. People would photoshop his picture on every place on earth and share with their friends. Why? The thing is the online world allows us to filter our personality through posts, likes and shares. As a brand, why not allow viewers to ‘shine’ in their social circle?
  •  Triggers: “Top of mind, tip of tongue.” In 1997, the American multinational manufacturer of confectionery, pet food, and other food products, Mars Incorporated, noticed exponential growth in their Mars candy bar sales. At the time, they didn’t change their marketing or advertising campaigns, yet for some reason, their sales skyrocketed. As they later discovered, during that time NASA was organising a mission to Mars. The constant news circling around NASA and the planet Mars triggered the idea of the chocolate bar named Mars and hence sales increased dramatically.
  • Emotion: “When we care, we share.” Any content that evokes some kind of emotion is more likely for people to like, comment or share with their friends. For example, new iPhone releases, elections or even the pandemic all drive positive or negative outbursts that make people talk about them.
  • Public: “Built to show, built to grow.” Imagine this: you see your favourite celebrity on social media using an iPhone, a mac and a pair of air pods. In this case, public visibility creates a desire for imitation. Simply put,  the fan is more likely to buy an apple product the next time they want to purchase a phone, a laptop or any other gadget.
  • Practical Value: “News you can use.” Did you know that if you double-tap the back of your iPhone, it will automatically take a screenshot? Amazing, huh? What I’ve just told you has been a recent viral post which has attracted several million likes, comments and shares on social media. In other words, products, services or ideas that provide practical value to others despite where they are in the world are more likely to become viral.
  • Stories: “Information travels under the guise of idle chatter.” Storytelling is probably one of the most digestible ways to pass on a message. Berger describes the story of the beauty brand, Dove, where they showed how much makeup, photoshop and editing went into creating the perfect beauty photograph. The video encouraged the viewers around the world to be natural and be confident in their own skin. This video reached millions around the world who shared it with their friends.


What techniques do you need to know to create viral content? The answer lies within the acronym “STEPPS”. S for Social currency refers to the way viewers share things that make them look good. T stands for Triggers which suggests that the more exposure we have to the product/service the more likely it is to purchase it. E stands for Emotion which implies that whether viewers have positive or negative feelings about something, they are more likely to share. P stands for Public and refers to how viewers want to imitate when they see someone ‘cool’ using a particular product and then they go on and purchase it.  P for Practical value indicates that when a post delivers value, it is likely to be shared. Finally, S for Stories reveals that storytelling is easily digestible and could pass on a message.

How do you plan on making your products or services viral?

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