Social Media Promotion: It's About 'Stickiness'

We all know that content is the most important thing when it comes down to having a REALLY successful viral campaign. Sure, you’ll need some promotion to help with the initial push of the campaign but as your campaign gets more popular, you’ll notice the increasing power of content to retain your readers, users and buyers. How do we classify what content works versus that which doesn’t? Well, according to Dan Heath in his book Made to Stick, it’s all about stickiness.

Personally, I’m shocked by the amount of garbage advice on social media, the self-proclaimed ‘social media gurus’ who have virtually n0 experience in getting viral on some social media/bookmarking website (Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, Digg, StumbleUpon). As for me, I’ve been featured on many of those sites so I I must be doing something right, no 🙂

What’s stickiness? In his book, Made to Stick, Dan Heath describes several principles that make ideas spread and ‘stick’ to peoples’ minds. I found it amazing how powerful those principles were and yet, nobody bothered to translate them into the online world and see how they can be applied . I’ll try to do that here:

Some of the most important principles there are:

CONCRETENESS. People. Animals. Things you can imagine. Love is not concrete, nobody can clearly imagine love. But everyone can imagine sex (now, which is more likely to spread, love or sex? 🙂 If you take a look at most viral videos you’ll see they involve something concrete…and object or a person. Something easily imaginable.

UNEXPECTED. My viral article on Stumbleupon was unexpected..pulling Google Analytics data and analyzing it to get a conclusion of the ‘average StumbleUpon user’. I bet that many commercials you remember had something unexpected happen while you were watching.

How do you create something ‘unexpected’? By breaking expectations. Psychologists have shown many times that peoples’ tendency is to try to predict how something is going to fold out in advance.

A good example of breaking expectations are those studies you see in the media like:

  • Study Shows That Mobile Web Will Rule by 2015
  • Study Shows Women Attached to Men in Red
  • Study Shows People Eat Less when They Know More

I bet you’ve seen a ‘study’ of this type on some friend’s Twitter/Facebook. Although I can’t guarantee how accurate they are, I can say for sure I was surprised when I read those headlines.

– EMOTIONS. This has some touching points with concreteness. People care about things that make them experience some emotion. Now, the hard part is answering the question: “What emotion should I elicit in my viral campaign?” The real answer is, it depends.

Here are some tips though:

  • People respond to people. There’s been various studies that have shown that people are more willing to donate if they see a particular person having a problem (like a hungry kid in Africa) then a statistic of people being hungry (eg. 60% of people in Ethiopia face hunger). Empathy is the key word here.
  • Associations. Politicians are masters in this. They associate some major events during their mandate with their campaigns. So what happens? If these events brought joy previously in peoples’ eyes, people are likely to associate those events with the political party and have positive emotions about them as well. You may have seen hot girls standing next to cars, why is that happening? The advertisers hope you associate the beauty of the girls so you perceive the car as more beautiful than it actually is. This actually works pretty well, although not many people are willing to admit it (probably because they do the association on unconscious level).

– STORIES. If you think about stories, you’ll see that many good stories are concrete, have a dose of un-expectancy in them, and almost always elicit some emotion at the end.

There’s an interesting theory of why stories have those attributes. Some people claim that over the years, stories contained some abstract information as well. But as time went by and the stories were transferred from generation to generation, people didn’t focus on the abstract things but only left the concrete parts. The concrete parts ‘sticked’, while the abstract didn’t.

Explaining your core message using stories is a powerful and proven concept of making ideas stick (and getting them viral).

REMEMBER: These are only principles and using all of them won’t guarantee your message will go viral. However, they dramatically increase the probability people will remember and spread it. The evidence for this comes from the introduction of the Made to Stick book (which I highly recommend you read if you’re interested in learning more on this topic).

I can summarize the whole evidence in few sentences. Chip is a professor at Stanford University and has a huge passion for education. Back in 2004, he began analyzing hundreds of famous stories/urban myths and finding common characteristics. He also took stories/urban legends that didn’t took off and analyzed those too. So the principles he devised were from hundreds of hours of research.

And if you think about it, most of these principles will be common sense to you after you read them. But remember, common sense is not common use 🙂

I’m a chief editor of You can view my latest list of people search engines here.

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