Prescription to Virality

August 21, 2013
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Written by Tyler Taggart

In Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious, he describes six STEPPS that, if incorporated correctly, can increase the likelihood of online content and products being shared amongst others.  With these six steps and with the help of professional bloggers, we should be able to ensure that our content will become “contagious. ” However, a deeper question remains… Is there really a prescription to Virality?

We must first learn these STEPPS before we proceed.   STEPPS is an acronym for six principles:  Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Practical Value, Public and Stories.

Did you know?

The Social Currency principle focuses on how people look when talking about a product or idea.  People would rather be perceived as cool or smart than unintelligent or out of touch.  Berger states, “What we talk about influences how others see us.” We discuss topics that reflect how we want people to think about us. With this in mind, our goal should be to create content that allows others to feel cool or smart when sharing. An example in the book is the “Will It Blend” video.  The Blendtec blender was actually able to blend marbles.   This is a remarkable story that could make someone feel in the know to share.

What’s that phrase again?  Oh yeah…”Top of mind, Tip of Tongue.”

Berger describes Triggers as “stimuli that prompt people to think about related topics.”  He argues that people will often talk about what is on our mind. When creating content, we should ensure environmental cues that will constantly trigger it.  Rebecca Black’s “Friday” is an example in Contagious.  The weekend can be a trigger for Rebecca Black’s song because it is a memorable, catchy song about the weekend that could prompt you to tell a friend.

Time to share your feelings…

Emotion is the third step in STEPPS.  This step is fairly self-explanatory; the goal is to create messages that will make people feel something.  Berger reminds us “when we care, we share.”  Content that draws emotion is more likely to be shared.  Keep in mind however, that certain emotions will increase sharing while others decrease it.  In the emotion chapter, Berger says that high arousal emotions such as awe, excitement and anger have a greater chance of being shared than low arousal emotions like contentment and sadness.  When creating content, make sure you are bringing out the right emotion.  The viral video “David after Dentist” draws the right type.  Amusement is a high arousal emotion that you may be more likely to pass on.

Fill in the blank:  Monkey see, Monkey ­­____?

If we want our products to be shared we need to see people using them.  This reflects the Public principle.  Berger states “making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which in turn makes them more likely to be popular.”  To keep our ideas public, we need to ensure the idea is out in the open to encourage others to imitate.

Won’t you please, please help me? (The Beatles)

In order to utilize Berger’s fifth step, we must ensure our content is useful to others.  This gives our content Practical Value.  According to Berger, people like to help others, so we need to show how our content will assist others and make it easily shareable.  An example of a YouTube video that portrays Practical Value is the “How To Get Six Pack Abs In 3 Minutes Workout, This Works.” People want to be healthy and strong and by sharing this video you could help someone discover a new workout.

A long, long, time ago…in a galaxy far far away…

The last principle in STEPPS is Stories.  It is important to wrap your idea in a story that is worth sharing.  This will ensure that the story cannot be told without including the idea. Remember that interesting video of the blender and the marbles?  The brand of blender is so crucial to the story that telling it would not work without specifying the type.  The point the video makes is that the Blendtec blender is stronger than other blenders, strong enough to blend marbles

We know the STEPPS, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

A question still remains.  Did these principles really influence the videos to go viral or was it just right place, right time?  Can we guarantee if I include all these principles that my content will go viral?

The odds are not in our favor.  According to Techwelkin, 60 hours of video are uploaded on YouTube every minute and there are 4 billion videos watched each day.  Out of those 4 billion views, only 30% of YouTube videos account for 99% of views.  The icing on the cake is that the United States is responsible for only 30% of YouTube traffic.  With this in mind, I could make the best video or product out there with these six principles and still the odds are against me.  I cannot disagree that the STEPPS could help in increasing shares, but I cannot say everyone who follows these tips will reach one million views. If you’re going to make a video you might as well incorporate the principles, use this prescription to try and reach virality.



Contagious by Jonah Berger

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