6 Principles of Creating Viral Content

A couple of years ago Pure SEO, one of my companies, was declared the only New Zealand winner of the Google Engage All Stars Competition. The prize was an all-expenses-paid trip to the Googleplex in San Francisco, the epicentre of the Google empire.

Among the amazing people I met at Google HQ was a guy called Jonah Berger. He was a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The interesting thing about Mr Berger is that he had spent the past decade researching why things go viral and for what reason (and by the way, not all cat videos go viral). As a result of his work he wrote a New York Times bestseller; Contagious, Why Things Catch On. This book highlighted six factors that influence whether something will go viral or not.

1. Social Currency

We all share things that we find funny, interesting and cool but why do we do this? The answer is because it makes us look good. A couple of weeks ago I was in Melbourne for a conference and one of the people I was with took us to this ‘cool’ bar called ‘State of Grace’ and once inside it was pretty standard fare. However, to get in you are faced with a bookcase and you pull one of the books out and the bookcase slides open to reveal a staircase into a hidden bar. In the week that followed, I mentioned the bar to a couple of people. This is a great example of social currency.

2. Triggers

Words, sights, sounds and other stimuli when associated with a brand remind us of their products or ideas. Think KitKat’s ‘have a break’, Nikes ‘Just do it’ and in our SEO world ‘Moz’ and his ‘Blackboard Friday’ (which the Pure SEO team watch every Friday, despite it being available to watch any day of the week!)

3. Emotion

Evoking a visceral reaction with something increases our connection to it and increases the likelihood of sharing it. When we care, we share. If you think of any viral campaign, the likelihood is that there is an emotive element to it.

4. Public

Have you ever walked past a parade of restaurants and one is crammed with people and another is empty? You are immediately drawn to the lively, busy and vibrant one. When we see other people doing this, we are attracted to that and more likely to do the same.

5. Practical Value

People are more likely to share something if there is some kind of practical value and something that they can actually use. Often these are things that are specific and/or timely things that will help other people.

6. Stories

This is my personal favourite. We often share something wrapped in a story so it gives the idea or product more meaning and it becomes more memorable. It has been said that there are seven basic types of stories, as detailed by Christopher Booker in his 2004 book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories (overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy and rebirth).
Whilst having these six principles doesn’t guarantee viral success, including a number of them into your digital marketing campaign provides a much greater chance of hitting that sweet viral jackpot.