Why Things Catch On

Biology of a Marketplace SensationEarlier in the week a couple of us noticed a sudden spike in the number of views from one of last year’s TEDxUniversityofNevada’s talks on YouTube. Toward the end of November, this video had about 500,000 views, which recently crept up to 1.5 million over the past couple of days, and as of the current moment, total views now stand at approximately three million. What’s significant is that this video is now the third most popular TEDx talk out of over 36,000 others. A marketer’s dream, right? So what is it that makes content go viral?

While there are countless theories and ideas about what makes something go viral, according to Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at Wharton who wrote the book Contagious, there are six criteria that a piece of content must satisfy before it can go viral. (I first came across Berger via an article that the American Marketing Association published entitled, “The Biology of a Marketplace Sensation.”)

The six key steps (STEPPS) that drive people to talk and share include:

  1. Social currency: The idea of how people talk about things to make themselves look good, rather than bad.
  2. Triggers: The idea of “top of mind, tip of tongue.” We talk about things that are on the top of our heads.
  3. Ease for emotion: When we care, we share. The more we care about a piece of information, the more likely we pass something on.
  4. Public: When we can see other people doing something, we’re more likely to imitate it.
  5. Practical value: The idea of news you can use. We share information to help others, to make them better off.
  6. Stories: We often share things that are wrapped up in stories or narratives.

According to Berger, generally understanding what it is that moves people to talk and share can help marketers to better understand and create content to help spread awareness about their brand. He says that people generally confuse correlation and causation, mistakenly believing that they need to do or create something crazy that will spark enough attention to become viral.

For more detail on this concept and the book Contagious, you can visit Berger’s website here.

Now for the fun part! Perhaps you’re already one of the three million people out there who has viewed this video, but if not please take a few minutes to watch it here below:

How would you best categorize the appeal for how this piece of content has gone viral based on the six steps listed above? Aside from the fact that Laplante is a remarkable individual, in skimming through the hundreds of comments, it’s clear that topics such as homeschooling, our education system, and what it takes to be happy are all issues at the top of people’s minds. Aside from this, he also shares a wonderful story along with excellent, practical advice. Would love to hear your ideas.

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