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Learn How To Write Viral Content

Posted by Greg Fitzsimmons on Apr 22, 2015 3:08:00 PM

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If a blog is posted but nobody reads it, was that blog ever really written? It sounds like the "if a tree falls in the forest..." adage, and it applies to Inbound Marketing.

Building an audience, reaching readers, and resonating with potential customers are serious content marketing and inbound marketing challenges companies face today. Attracting website traffic is the integral first step to a succesful digital marketing strategy. Creating shareable content is an important tool in your quest to attract traffic and seeing the ROI of your content marketing efforts spike.

Think about it: Your company has a finite reach, a limited audience via content distribution, and social media channels (like Facebook) are constantly changing up algorithms and shrinking your audience. So, how do you extend beyond these roadblocks?

There is a science to creating spreadable content. Your content must compel readers, fans, followers, and future customers to share it with their network. Everybody talks about "viral" content, and it's true—your content needs to be contagious.

img-book-contagiousJonah Berger, a professor at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, is an "expert on word of mouth, viral marketing, social influence, social contagion, and trends." Berger dove into data to learn what makes things popular, why people press "share," and what gives content legs.

In his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Berger lays out a valuable road map for content creators. It's important to implement at least one of Berger's STEPPS into your content marketing to reach a larger audience.

Here are 6 STEPPS to consider in order to craft contagious content. 


What makes things popular? Why do people talk about certain products and ideas more than others? Why are some stories and rumors more infectious? And what makes online content go viral?

It's not luck when a content piece gets legs. There's a science to it.Contagious-Framework-STEPPS

Social Currency 

A indisputable fact about human nature and customer behavior on social media is that people like to look smart, funny, and in-the-know to their friends, followers, and network. People will press "share" and give your content legs if your nuggets help them look cool. If your content makes your reader come across in a positive way, your content will be comtagious.

In short, social currency boils down to status by association. 

Check out this example of Social Currency:

Here's another example of Social Currency that you've probably seen (or shared):


People talk about things that are top-of-mind. Top-of-mind equals tip-of-tongue. Craft content that remind your audience about your idea and your content will get shared.

Timely posts, like the two below, leveraged popular conversations and universal topics. The result? These became contagious. 

When the lights went out on the Super Bowl in New Orleans, Oreo seized the opportunity to craft a perfect example of Triggered content:


Geico's "Hump Day" commercial struck a chord with viewers and is a perfect example of a timely Trigger:




Berger often writes, "When we care, we share." Strong emotions conjured by content—feelings like excitement, empathy, awe, and love—will drive people to share.

A father and daughter duo singing a popular song about "home" stirred emotions in millions of people to pass this video along to their friends and family:

And, Susan Boyle's world-renowned performance on Britains Got Talent is a poignant example of "don't judge a book by its cover." Boyle evoked emotional responses like awe and amazement in viewers which is why this particular video boasts an astonishing (and well-deserved) 168,000,000+ views.



"Built to show, built to grow." Marketing campaigns, content nuggets, and brand awareness initiatives must make it easy for people to pass along. Popular infographics or community-driven causes that pop up everywhere—all were conceived and executed with an emphasis on sharability.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was "built to show" and, in turn, this contagious content went Public: 

Or, consider the ubiquitous Livestrong bracelets as a terrific example of "public" content that went viral:


Practical Value

"News you can use," says Jonah Berger. This is fundamental element of inbound marketing strategies. Becoming an industry leader, working to be a resource for readers, fixing pain points, providing value, and answering questions are all tenets of inbound marketing. Luckily, people are compelled to share content with a practical value.

Are you a marketing professional looking to generate leads? Here's a valuable piece of content that will help you achieve your goal: Free White Paper - How to generate Leads | Download

Or, tips that will help you write more effeciently and professionally—that's news you can use:



Whether you're sitting around a campfire on scouring the Internet, people will share a memorable story.

Jonah Berger likens stories to the fabled Trojan Horse, saying that "information travels under the guise of idle chatter." Real storytelling is a surefire way to getting shared.

Do you remember when VW showed their potential audience about a new feature? Always "show, don't tell" when crafting a story:

Red Bull is a brand that has mastered the art of storytelling. Check out this memorable story about a guy who jumped from outer space:

 < RELATED: What Is Inbound Marketing? >


Why do people talk about certain products? Why do people share certain ideas over others? How do some stories become infectious? What gives content legs and makes it go viral?

Jonah Berger's book reveals the science behind social transmission and sharing. Study and implement Berger's six principles of contagious content, and watch your hard work pay off as content gets shared and passed along.

Whether you are the owner of a small business trying to carve out market share or the CMO a big company, understanding how to craft contagious content will get your brand in front of an audience and help you succeed at inbound marketing.

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Topics: social media, Inbound Marketing, Content Marketing