And Susan Boyle is part of the answer.
Have you ever wondered why you are compelled to share? Why you end up talking about products, services or experiences for no apparent reason? In other words, why things go viral? And no, it has nothing to do with luck, chance or even magic. There is actually a true method to all the madness that causes things or rather content, to go viral. And who figured this all out? Why Jonah Berger, of course. He wrote a little book titled, "Contagious: Why Things Catch On." Don’t worry, I didn’t know who he is either but it’s a pretty damn good book…. not to mention a New York Times bestseller (it says so on the cover, so it must be true).
In a nutshell, Contagious looks at several different examples of content that was inexplicably shared and explains it through the lens of STEPPS, six principles on what is needed for content to go viral that Berger has identified. STEPPS is an acronym for Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value and Stories. You don’t need all six principles for content to go viral, but the more you can incorporate, the better. Berger breaks down each principle across six chapters and fills each chapter with viral moments that, unless you were living under a rock, you most likely have been touched by or seen on your Facebook feed. Susan Boyle’s audition on "Britain’s Got Talent," Kit Kat Bars’ Gimme a Break (now I know you are singing that jingle right now) and Kit Kat and Coffee, and of course Dove’s Real Beauty campaign are all mentioned. Note that this book was written in 2013 so you might be surprised to see Jared from Subway included…but you have to admit, we all got behind his weight-loss story.
If you are like me, you probably went to YouTube so you can relive that Susan Boyle audition—it still makes me happy every time. (I am dreaming a dream right there with you Susan!) And do you know what happiness is? It’s an Emotion. But before I jump into Emotion. Let’s look at those six principles as STEPPS starting with S—Social Currency. Deep down inside, it is in our nature to want to be interesting and perceived as interesting by others. How do we do that? By talking about interesting things. If it makes us look good as though we are an insider, we love to share it. Last summer, I can’t tell you how many times I talked about Stranger Things…I even called my brother in Japan to make sure he knew about it. And he already did! I can’t wait for season 2…but that’s whole other topic.
T—Triggers are cues that remind us about the content. Berger does a great job explaining how music being played in a grocery store can influence our purchases. If you are in the mood for wine, and French music is playing, you will most likely pick up a French bottle of wine. As Berger puts it, “top of mind, top of tongue”. It is also very important that the triggers are at the right moment so that you can take action.
E—Emotions…remember Susan Boyle? Emotions cause us to share—things that make us happy, angry, scared, surprised---everything except sad. Sad is the one emotion that you want your content not to be tied to. Remember Pixar’s Inside Out? Sadness was the one emotion no one really wanted in the room.
P—Public. In other words, how can we showoff and create a “behavioral residue”? It’s not as dirty as you think. Berger used Apple as a great example in this chapter. Chances are, you might be working off of a MacBook right now. Have you ever noticed that the Apple logo is upside down when you close your laptop? When you are in class or in that coffee shop, everyone around looks at the Apple logo right side up while you have the pleasure of viewing it upside down when you close it. By design, you are self-promoting Apple to all those around you.
That brings us to the other P—Practical Value. If there is value in the content or “news you can use”, you share it! People like useful information. Which then brings us to S—Stories. Any great narrative pulls you in and you hold on to every word. Details get lost along the way, but the memorable moments are what are shared. The trick here is to embed your key pieces of content into a story that people want to share. This is where Subway and Jared are mentioned…I think you can piece together how that worked out.
Not all of these principles needs to be applied in order to make something go viral. Again, the more you have the better. What’s interesting here is that after reading the book, Berger’s STEPPS are logical and somewhat common sense. What Berger was able to do was organize, map, and define how things go viral. He did all the hard work for us…now it’s time to apply it and see if you can create content that goes viral. I dare you! Well, after you watch the Susan Boyle clip.
Flickr / Photo by Dilexa> (studying).