How Can Your Content Become More “Contagious?”

Humans are social animals. Talking and sharing are some of the most essential activities; these actions connect us, shape us and make us human. With the innovation of social media, we are able to connect and share with one another more than ever. One question that always seems to pop up is: how do we create viral content?

According to Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, there are six key principles that make campaigns go viral:

  1. Social Currency

When people share things, it’s to make them look good to others, and Berger calls this Social Currency. The concept of Social Currency goes along with psychology 101, in the human hierarchy of needs (A.K.A. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), Social Currency satisfies the need for esteem. We all want to look smart instead of dumb, cool instead of nerdy (unless you are a hipster, then being a nerd is cool) and rich instead of poor.


Part of IMI’s job when helping clients create content is that we put ourselves in the shoes of the target audience to see what we would personally share or engage with on our own social channels. It has become quite clear over the past couple of years that visual media is high in demand; hence the rising popularity of Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat. IMI recently helped create an infographic for Aria Resort & Casino on champagne, and Maxim found it so intriguing, they shared it to up their social currency.

  1. Triggers

As mentioned in the first principle, Social Currency gets users talking (the initial excitement factor), triggers are what keep them talking. The notion is that we create a mental reminder related to the brand/product so that users have a long-term reminder. A great example is our client, Jazzercise. Their constant reminder is that one Jazzercise class burns 500-800 calories. Want to burn calories? Jazzercise is the answer.


  1. Emotion

When emotions are involved, we are more likely to react, therefore, “when we care, we share.” Berger clearly states that emotional things often get shared. You can check for yourself, what things are your friends posting on your Facebook newsfeed? It’s probably interesting facts, awe-inspiring stories, funny memes and cute puppies. That’s right—cute puppies; a reason why IMI worked with Vdara Hotel & Spas Las Vegas to create this video: A Day in the life of a Vdog.

Let’s admit, a little bit of guilt always holds over our head when we go off on vacation leaving our little fur baby home all alone. Showing how happy this puppy is at Vdara evokes happy feelings from people, so they’re more inclined to share the video.

  1. Public

When something is created to be publicly shown, it will grow. You know how the saying goes, “Monkey see, monkey do.” This principle is a great example showing why celebrity endorsements or influencer marketing truly works. As human beings, when we see others do something cool, we want to be a part of the fun too! To resolve uncertainty, we often look to see what others are doing and follow that, because if a lot of people are doing “that” then it must be a great idea.

For our client, LEGOLAND California, we encourage users to share their experiences at the Park with the hashtag: #LEGOLANDCA. We also make it very clear with UGC (user-generated content) that past visitors had a blast at LEGOLAND California, meaning you will too. Whether it’s trading mini figures, enjoying the themed LEGOLAND hotel rooms, or relishing the famous Granny’s Apple Fries, we want it to be public that numerous people come to LEGOLAND and they love it.


  1. Practical Value

What types of content are you crafting that are useful to the consumer? This principle is the easiest one to apply. Think about what information your audience will find beneficial and create content that provides news they can use. Useful information is important because users don’t just value practical information, they share it. The more shares, the more viral content becomes.

BuzzFeed is the master of creating content that gets shared. They create short videos that provide practical information like how to create simple, yet delicious foods.

“Bacon Chips with Guacamole? This will totes be a great dish to create for my Super Bowl party, and I’m sure EVERYONE will want the recipe.” (Social currency, much?)


  1. Stories

Stories is the principle that when you integrate your brand into a message so well that people can’t narrate your story without mentioning your brand. Subway did an amazing job with this, using Jared’s weight loss story. It makes no sense to tell a story about how Jared lost weight eating sandwiches every day. However, with a bit more context and understanding that Jared lost weight eating Subway sandwiches every day, it became a little more interesting. A man lost 245 pounds on a “Subway diet”? Fast-food sandwiches?! The story is so entertaining, it’s hard not to share.

It isn’t necessary to add all six principles to your campaign to make your content become viral. Just having the knowledge of how it happens and adding what makes sense to your story will go a long way. Remember that viral content should have value. The goal is to create content that will convert into leads, sales or website traffic. Not to just become popular just because. Rebecca Black’s Friday song became viral, but where is she now?

How can you integrate at least one of these principles into your viral content marketing?


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