Daniel Beulah

Creating a Viral Environment to Serve Your Customers

June 23rd, 2015

The impulse to share something new with someone else is a natural and universal trait.

In the age of the Internet, why are some things shared while others are not? What causes a piece of content to go viral? To help answer this, Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content, MarketingSherpa, sat down with Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, at MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015 to learn how an email marketer can create a viral environment. 


Word-of-mouth is extremely important in creating a viral environment. You have a subscriber list but to grow that list you have to get people to share your content. We all know word-of-mouth marketing matters. What’s less clear is how to get it.

There is a science to word-of-mouth, and the key is to think about it internally and externally while keeping the customer at the center. Too often we find ourselves focusing on the product — but how in-depth do we go thinking about the users? What drives them? What is that underlying behavior that triggers them to share content?

After spending 15 years studying the science of why things catch on, Jonah Berger developed the S.T.E.P.P.S. framework, which is a series of psychological factors that drive and trigger the sharing mechanism.

Social Currency: The better something makes people look, the more willing they are to share it. The things people share in their social circles are designed to make them look good to those around them. If marketers want people to share content, make sure it makes those users look better for having done so. For example, Beyoncé released an album without any press or marketing, only announcing it on Instagram to her direct followers. These followers then enthusiastically shared it on their pages — everyone was vying to be the first to share it with their friend group. As word spread, the album sold 80,000 copies in just three hours and crashed iTunes in the process.

Triggers: “Top of the mind, tip of the tongue.” We talk and share things that are on the forefront of our minds. A trigger is something easy to remember on its own but is associated with another, bigger idea. It can be a recognizable jingle or a unique character. For a great example, finish this sentence: Like a good neighbor …

Emotion: The content has to resonate with people on an emotional level in order to trigger the sharing impulse. The most effective emotion is humor. That doesn’t mean everything you produce has to be side-splitting to go viral. Content that inspires people is often shared just as much as funny or quirky content.

Public: “Built to share, built to grow.” Make sure you keep in mind all the different mediums and channels people communicate with. Format your content to make it easy to share it no matter what medium people use.

Practical Value: Content has to be something people will find useful. Whether it’s relieving the stress after a long day with a laugh or informing you about a new tax deduction that could save you thousands, people share things they find useful. The person who created the wheel shared the idea with neighbors because it made their life a hundred times easier. Make it relevant.

Stories: Great stories are memorable. Storytelling is just as natural of a trait as sharing. In fact, storytelling is a major component of sharing. To get people to buy into a product or content, make your content relevant to your audience via a great story that they have to tell their friends.

Each of these is a factor that drives the sharing impulse. It’s not random. Think of the last viral hit you saw or read about. Was it practical? Did it have a great story that sparked an emotion inside of you, triggering you to share it with family and friends? By crafting content with these S.T.E.P.P.S in mind you can help increase your chances of creating your own viral campaign.

Be aware of the pitfalls marketers find themselves in as they try to create viral campaigns. Jonah listed two major factors that marketers should be wary of: authenticity and overselling.

  • Be authentic: People know when you’re trying to be someone that you’re not. Don’t try to put on a personality that isn’t you or your brand. Customers can see through it right away.
  • Don’t oversell: We need to be more than a sales attempt. We need to know how to give people useful content, how to activate emotions and how to tell stories. Word-of-mouth is ten times more effective than traditional advertising so create content that people want to share.

By moving beyond selling and more towards storytelling, marketers become more effective. If it feels like a sales attempt, people immediately aren’t interested. Blatant sales tactics can cause people to hit the delete button before they fully process the email or the offer.


You might also like

Creating a Viral Environment to Serve Your Customers [From MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015]

What makes things popular? [Contagious: How Things Catch On book review]

How to Craft a Viral Campaign in Three Steps [More from the MarketingSherpa Blog]

Beyoncé’s Surprise Album Was the Year’s Most Brilliant Release (by Angela Watercutter)

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