How to Go Viral

Get Noticed Online

The Internet has billions of users. Together, we create more content in one second than a single person could ever consume in their lifetime.

Even so, there is content that stands out.

Somehow, some way, a video comes out that all of your friends have watched.

An article is written that everyone seems to know about.

A photo spreads like wildfire on social media and becomes the defining image for a major event or story.

Content like this is consumed millions of times—maybe even a billion times or more in rare cases.

What makes it stand out amongst the noise?

Certainly not self-promotional blabbing or pleads for people to share content just because you asked them to.

Would you believe that a huge portion of viral content on the internet has a brand behind it – one that didn’t pay a cent towards advertising?

Probably not if you’re used to seeing entrepreneurs beg you to share their posts or major brands putting thousands of dollars into paid advertising.

Viral content is born when something is created that is of great value to a user…or even a hundred thousand users. Anyone, even you, can provide just that and be the next big hit.

Creating Valuable, Viral Content

Viral videos, articles, and the like are surrounded by envious listeners, viewers, and consumers. Why? Because it tends to look like content we could have created ourselves if we had only thought of it first.

It’s frustrating to see something go viral if you’ve had a similar idea or piece that you’ve created in the past with far less impressive results.

Other times, the content wasn’t even that interesting in the first place, and it just seems stupid that it went viral in the first place.

We wonder, “Why didn’t my content go viral? It was so much better than that.”

Instead of worrying about it, we satisfy ourselves by deciding that virality is random and that there’s nothing anyone does that can have an impact on that.

However, virality isn’t determined by content that’s “better” or “worse” in terms of production or entertainment value. It’s not random either.

Marketing expert Jonah Berger, in his book Contagious, studied virality. In his research, he found 6 elements that are essential to a piece of viral content. These elements may work together to drive content to virality, or one may work alone to produce the results.

If you’re hungry to know how to produce content that people want to consume, then I highly recommend the book. I want to expand on just one of Jonah’s principles: Social Currency.

What is Social Currency?

What ultimately makes something go viral? Think about it: someone has to share the content with their friends, one of those friends has to share it with their friends, and so on.

Social currency is one of the primary motivators for us to share anything – ever.

What is it? Most simply put, social currency is part of the relationship economy. It’s what we have that makes us feel like something is worth saying (and listening to). It’s the understanding that there’s a difference between the interesting and the uninteresting, the important and the insignificant.

Here at FeedbackWrench, I work with our company’s owner – Rob – to create digital marketing strategies for small business clients.

Rob and I each come across a lot of articles, videos, and more relating to our industry. If we took the time to share each and every one with each other, we would never have any time left in the day to be productive.

Instead of doing this, I only ever share an article with Rob if I find it to be extremely relevant, informative, or inspiring. If I share an article with him, he may or may not be equally impressed. If he is, he’ll likely pass it on to someone else. If not, the article’s lifecycle will cease at this point.

Unless, of course, someone else decides to share it.

Content with Social Currency

If you create content, it’s not enough to post a promotional piece and beg your friends to share it.

Your Uncle Jim and your brother Henry might share something just because you asked them to, but no one in their networks will share it.


Because at this point, they are too far removed from you to care enough to do you a favor – they probably don’t even know you at all.

Instead, you have to provide something to your audience that is so valuable that they actually gain social currency by having seen your content. They have become a more interesting or more informed person by having seen what you made.

Think of it this way. You own a coffee shop. Instead of making a video telling people that beans are x amount of money and the Wi-Fi is x amount faster than your competitor’s, you decide to share about your revolutionary new brewing method that tastes better than any other method.

At this point, you share the video and your first viewer watches it. This viewer is genuinely impressed. He’s never heard of this method before, and it sounds way better than the drip coffee he’s been drinking.

Later, when he’s hanging out with his friends, one of them mentions that they want to stop for a cup of coffee. Suddenly, the viewer has something of value to add to this conversation—he has social currency. He shares about your coffee shop and the revolutionary new brewing method that you’ve created.

Before you know it, you have a group of customers instead of just one.

It’s the same principle that’s in play when a silly video of a panda rolling around goes viral. If I show that video to a friend of mine and they enjoy it, I have become a more interesting person for having shared it.

How can your small business utilize Jonah Berger’s first principle of virality to be heard by your audience?

1 Comment

  1. […] posts that go viral are those that offer the most value to the people that see […]

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