The Six Principles That Will Make Your Content Go Viral

Book Review

Contagious by Jonah Berger

“Virality Isn’t Born – It’s Made”

A couple of years back – ok it was 15 years ago, I’m old – 15 years back, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called The Tipping Point about how there are people in our lives that guide opinion. Even now, companies spend tons of cash trying to find and influence these opinion leaders and rally them to their cause, usually to sell us something.

The author, Professor Berger, who teaches at the Wharton School Business at UPenn, is an expert on viral marketing and trends. I suppose it is about time for someone to come out with the next evolution of the tipping point. One could argue it’s even a little late. Here it is.

The Six Principles

Most of the time, making friends and influencing others doesn’t make them any better at making things go viral. OK, so what does? There are six principles. Wouldn’t you know it? He’s taking his own advice. Along with the many lists you can read online and hopefully share with friends, Contagious follows has six easy to remember principles, and it even makes a catchy acronym: STEPPS

  1. Social Currency
  2. Triggers
  3. Emotion
  4. Public
  5. Practical value
  6. Stories

Social Currency: The message needs to have a coolness factor. If you will seem cool to your tribe, you will share it.

Triggers: Associations keep it in top of mind. If people think of peanut-butter 50 times a day then you can probably use that to sell jelly. That way Jelly advertises itself.

Emotion: We share when we care. Positive emotions are better, but negative works if it kindles a fire (not a reference to Amazon, really).

Public: Is it easy to see and reproduce. Think of the ice bucket challenge.

Practical Value: The information in your content has to be useful. For example, it could save you money – 50% off, or improve your health – lose 20 pounds of fat in 30 days.

Stories: There’s a reason we are convinced by anecdotes, they’re stories. But they have to be stories that illustrate the point.

I’m not a marketer. I don’t see the benefits of viral marketing. What I mean by that is that I’m not exposed to it. I get the concept. One supposes that there’s money to be made somewhere. Certainly, we can’t be spending all of this time and effort to get eyeballs just for wuffie. So to me, this book was a series of revelations.

So what is Contagious, then? As Berger describes it himself, it is an accessible book, a reference based on genuine rigorous research for understanding what makes things viral. Rigorous, but without jargon, not dry. His chapters are full of interesting stories, anecdotes, that evoke emotion, have real practical value… ok, you can see where I’m going with this.

Good read, I recommend it, pass it on.


4 thoughts on “The Six Principles That Will Make Your Content Go Viral

  1. So, are you planning on becoming a Famous Blogging Pundit? If it works, can I have some of the overflow?

    I’m always a little suspicious about books like this. I’m reminded of William Goldman’s dictum about Hollywood: the truth is, nobody knows anything. If they did, they’d make a hit (or viral content) every time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The internet is all about punditry. Mostly, unnoticed though.

      My brother Dan’s website says it better than I can, so I will borrow (and I’m sure he borrowed it first). Web pages are like digital lawn gnomes. To others it’s a gnarled ugly piece of plastic kitsch, but to you it’s beauty, individuality, expression.

      As to sharing in the wealth of viewership, I’m 90% sure that you are it. So, I magnanimously share 50% of you with you 🙂


      1. As to whether popularity can be planned, I think the answer is yes. Take a look at the music industry until the 90’s. What they had was a strangle hold on the channel. Now, they don’t. I believe the evidence presented in the book is probably good research, the conclusions are convincing to me. What is not said is that you need the access to the channel, or the critical mass of eyeballs.

        In that way it is an evolution to what Gladwell was saying. You need someone or something to start the word going. From there, the content needs to be compelling. In the present day, where the channel of the internet is democratized (relatively speaking), you have a good chance of getting your 15 minutes.

        Plus, like I said, somebody’s making more than wuffie on this.


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