The 6 “STEPPS” to Creating Digital Content that Goes Viral
A few weeks back, Connor, a Brand & Mortar colleague, introduced me to a book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. Connor’s recommendations—whether they’re lunch options, video games, or craft beer—are usually pretty solid. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet. So, when he told me about a marketing book that he swore would alter my preconceived notions about online advertising, I took his endorsement to heart. Little did I know that Connor’s persuasive word-of-mouth recommendation would have a lot to do with what I was about to read.
Blendtec: A Case Study
Have you ever watched one of these videos on YouTube? At one point or another, you’ve probably stumbled across a Will it Blend? video while killing time. The series, created by Blendtec in 2006 to promote their Ultra High Speed Motor technology, was the brainchild of founder Tom Dickson and marketing director George Wright. The pair were able to turn a few hundred dollars into a series of simple, yet ridiculously entertaining videos that became a viral sensation by simply showcasing the product’s most important feature: the ability to turn any solid object into a pile of crumbs and dust.
Jonah Berger, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and an expert on word of mouth, viral marketing, social influence, and trends, uses the Will it Blend? story to highlight the fact that even mundane objects, like a blender, can achieve viral attention on the internet. Sure, some cool and flashy things better lend themselves to internet buzz generation, like big budget Hollywood movies or an attractive new sports car. But, as Berger argues, that doesn’t mean simpler, less extravagant products can’t earn the same amount of buzz.
The great equalizer is content.
Content is the Key
One of Berger’s core tenets when it comes to social media is that the attention and engagement your content achieves on Facebook or Twitter, for example, is only as good as the amount of word-of-mouth recommendations your content receives in the real world. Any product being sold on the internet can achieve viral status, if, according to Berger, you adhere to his 6 “STEPPS.”
How do you create content that people feel deeply compelled to share with others? Berger provides us with an actual recipe:
“Products or ideas that contain Social Currency, and are Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valuable, and are wrapped up in a Story.”
This statement is difficult to understand until you have a basic grasp of the 6 contagious elements that Berger identifies. Below, I provide a quick breakdown of what each of the 6 elements entails.
Step #1: Social Currency: Appearances Matter
Give your product—and its owner—social status by making it and those who talk about it appear remarkable (interesting, exclusive, distinctive). A good example of this is a trendy Toronto bar that is deliberately kept hidden and secret, making those who do frequent the establishment part of an exclusive, elite group of people.
Step #2: Triggers: Top of the Mind, Tip of the Tongue
Associate your product with ideas and activities in people’s lives. Think of it this way: the Mars candy company could monopolize on a recent space shuttle launch or a mission to the moon by purchasing ads to coincide with the event’s coverage in the news.
Step #3: Emotion: When We Care, We Share
Content should attempt to evoke awe—the sense of wonder and amazement that occurs when someone is inspired by great knowledge, beauty, or sublimity. It’s hard not to want to buy your girlfriend a diamond necklace every time you see a De Beers ‘Diamonds are Forever’ ad.
Step #4: Public: Monkey See, Monkey Do
Make adoption and use publicly visible and reproducible. This one might be the most obvious of the steps, but arguably one of the most important. Remember how popular the yellow Nike Livestrong bracelets were? And how many gentlemen do you know who participate in Movember by growing their moustaches?
Step #5: Practical Value: News You Can Use
Your content should be useful and short, straightforward, and simple enough for you or anyone to share. How-to and Do-it-yourself videos have a long history of achieving great exposure on YouTube, as well as “listicle” articles posted on BuzzFeed.
Step #6: Stories: Once Upon a Time
Your content should be wrapped up in a shareable story or narrative. Your product must be an integral part of the story to ensure that people remember it, even if they forget about the product itself, like Chipotle’s Back to the Start campaign.
Producing share worthy content is not an exact science. But keep these 6 elements in mind the next time you create content for your company or clients. Including some or all of these elements won’t necessarily guarantee your message will catch on, but it should improve your chances that content will stick in the minds of viewers.