How Science Can Help Your Social Media Content Go Viral

How Science Can Help Your Social Media Content Go Viral

Why do some things - like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or Chewbacca Mum - go viral so quickly and yet so much content posted on social media remains unshared, unliked, and unread?

On this very subject, Wharton Professor, Jonah Berger - author of the best-selling book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On - has commented that: “Virality isn’t luck. It’s not magic. And it’s not random. There’s a science behind why people talk and share. A recipe. A formula, even."

From his extensive scientific research on the subject, Berger has identified 6 principles of why content is shared and goes viral. He has distilled these principles into an acronym, STEPPS, to help marketing practitioners both understand and plan content that is more likely to catch on and spread.

#1: Social Currency

Content can become a form of currency for us to spend online. If I am amused by a video of the antics of someone’s dog, then chances are my friends will see the humor in it too. And just like sharing a good joke in company, my social standing goes up if I am sharing things that others are either interested in or entertained by.

#2: Triggers

If an event is topical or trending, then chances are others will be interested in it too and its topicality may make it stand out, precisely because it is currently top-of-mind. This could be, for example, a speech by a politician, the latest celebrity news, or the anniversary of some iconic event.

#3: Ease for Emotion

We share the things that we care about, which is why videos of cats and pets are so popular on social media. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, for example, evoked an emotional response in people willing to help support this crippling disease.

#4: Public

If we see someone else doing or sharing something in public, then we feel justified in doing it too. The fact that my friend has posted a video in which they are pouring a bucket of water over their head, lessens the social embarrassment for me and I am more likely to reciprocate.

#5: Practical Value

What I share may have practical value. Having seen the latest Hollywood blockbuster, my helpful review may help my friends decide whether they wish to go and watch the movie too.

#6: Stories

People love a good story. It is the most common and effective way in which we pass information around. Good storytelling is the art of powerful marketing and it lies behind the success of many successful social media campaigns.

So the next time you are planning a social media campaign, you may wish to apply the STEPPS formula and see whether science can truly help your content go viral.

Image: Social Media Apps by Jason Howie: (Creative Commons)

Will Trevor is NYCRAMA's VP of Social Media. He has a background in sales and marketing, where his experience spans both agency and client-side positions. Will also worked in a range of industries, from the public sector, to manufacturing and recruitment. Most recently, he has applied his practical experience to the field of education and training, where he teaches in higher education, both in the UK and the USA. Find out more about Will on LinkedIn.

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