“Sharing isn’t random, and our intuition about sharing content may be wrong”, said Jonah Berger. The Wharton B-School marketing professor conducted extensive analysis on social influence and types of content and products that go viral. His book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, offers advice on the psychology of sharing, along with examples.
“You don’t want to be one-hit wonders, you want ongoing shareable content”, Berger said during a recent MPA (Association of Magazine Media) event. He was in New York for the start of a year-long visiting professorship at Cornell Tech. If some of his comments seem familiar, that’s because he also advises media outlets like BuzzFeed and The New York Times.
“Word of mouth is a key factor behind so many purchase decisions since it’s persuasive, trusted and targeted”, Berger said. He reminded the audience of the importance of finding the core brand message that you want others to remember and sticking with it. That’s the first key to producing sticky content. Other principles evolve around social currency, storytelling, and providing practical but appealing information.
Since takeaways from his 2013 book mostly centered on positive vs. negative emotional content, we read the rest of the book and compiled his pointers along with our own related examples from commerce, sports, art, fashion and celebrities. Here are a dozen tips to consider:
1. Social currency: people like to share information that reflects well on themselves to their friends. Make people feel like insiders by sharing information before others know. The scarcer and more exclusive the content the better. Chumley’s, a former Village speakeasy without a sign, attracted patrons who liked discovering the hidden locale.
2. Find the inner “remarkability” of news that’s worthy of note. Conversation pieces can be surprising, novel, extraordinary, mysterious or controversial. Even everyday items can be made more interesting. The news about World Cup soccer player Luis Suarez biting an opponent drew universal shock and notoriety.
3. Leverage contests, awards and badges. Graffiti artist Banksy gained widespread traction by posting same-day photos and clues online for viewers to locate his artwork in-person during his month-long NYC residency.
4. Incorporate triggers, or cues, stimuli and linkages that remind people about your content or product when it’s not around. Repeated associations lead people to discuss it more. Worldwide visitors to Jack Daniels distillery in Tennessee later receive the brand’s newsletter with regular notices to celebrate milestones like Jack’s birthday.
5. Emotional content is often shared if it’s the right tone. On the positive side, awe, wonder and amazement all inspire sharing since they expand one’s frame of reference. Humor, amusement and excitement also drive sharing for similar reasons. ‘Feel-good’ stories like Derek Jeter’s retirement salute video quickly became popular, along with stories like pro golfer Rory McIlroy and pro tennis player Caroline Wozniacki each winning tournaments just two months after he ended their wedding engagement.
6. On the negative side, anger and anxiety are often shared, but not items evoking sadness. The Jay Z/Beyonce/Solange Knowles infamous elevator incident video generated intense attention well beyond the singers’ fan bases.
7. Making something publicly observable makes it easier to imitate and is thereby shareable. If it’s built to show it’s built to grow. That’s why long lines often attract greater attention. Apple has long understood this phenomenon when it launches new product versions and customers often camp outside their stores to be first to buy them.
8. Leave brand souvenirs as “behavioral residue” to see long after people stop using products. The recent H & M store opening in midtown NYC led to wraparound lines around the block, with giveaway canvas totes (pictured) highlighting artist Jeff Koons.
9. Pass along practical information to others to strengthen social bonds. This might include anything that makes others lives cheaper, faster or more convenient. The New York Times article claiming patients no longer need physicals annually was welcome news and readers frequently emailed it to others.
10. Frame numerical data so that it’s more impactful. Interesting facts about destinations, like the high ratio of bike riders to residents in Holland, make visiting the country seem more unique.
11. Content appealing to a narrowly defined audience may also qualify for the most shared list. The enthusiasm of hardcore fans of rock bands or movie series can lead to heavy social sharing.
12. Compelling stories that carry underlying lessons and brand benefits are most effective. Many popular TED presentations explain complex topics but also convey broader themes like sustainability.
If you have other examples you’d like to share, let us know in the comments section.