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4 Tips for Creating Viral Content

Courtney Beasley

As a marketer, you know the power of generating good content. According to HubSpot, content marketing gets three times more leads than paid search advertising, which might be why 81% of B2B companies use a blog as a content marketing tactic. Whether it’s to boost website traffic or increase leads, producing compelling content for your audience is a must. But in a world of information-overload, it can be difficult to break through the noise and have your content take off.

For our fifth annual Just a Book club for marketers, we’re reading “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author Jonah Berger to find out what it takes to create content that spreads. Jonah has spent decades uncovering the behavioral science underlying how ideas diffuse through word-of-mouth and social transmission. In the book, he draws on his findings to answer the question of what makes some messages spread better than others.

“Contagious” shares key attributes your content needs in order for it to be rapidly talked about and shared. To help get you started, here are some key takeaways from the book on how to effectively harness social influence and word-of-mouth to create viral content.

1. Find Inner Remarkability

“Emphasize what’s remarkable about a product or idea and people will talk.” (Page 44)

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all want to be liked. The desire for social approval is a basic human motivation and we’re constantly looking for ways to gain respect from the people around us. In “Contagious”, Jonah explains that one way we work to gain the approval of others is by talking about remarkable things. By bringing up a story or fact that’s extraordinary, we hope that story or fact will make us seem extraordinary too. Using this logic, Jonah reveals that remarkable things tend to be shared more often in conversation or online. You can take advantage of this social phenomenon as a marketer by writing about topics that are novel, surprising or extreme. If reading your piece of content will make your reader seem more interesting or intelligent, there’s a good chance they’ll want to share it.

2. Make People Feel Something

“Rather than harping on features or facts, we need to focus on feelings; the underlying emotions that motivate people to action.” (Page 113).

When you believe in your business, you might be tempted to churn out fact-based messages in order to convince people why you’re the best in your field. But more times than not, simply spewing more information isn’t enough to change people’s behavior. After conducting a research study on which types of articles get shared the most frequently online, Jonah uncovers that it’s actually emotion, not facts, that tend to drive people into action. Specifically, we’re more likely to share content that makes us feel emotional, either in a positive or a negative way. To be sure that your content will provoke an emotional response, try conducting social listening to see what your target audience is already fired up about, and then build your content around that topic.

3. Highlight Practical Value

“People don’t just value practical information, they share it. Offering practical value helps make things contagious.” (Page 158)

Though it may seem obvious, in “Contagious” Jonah explains that incorporating practical, useful information in your content is one of the easiest ways to get it shared. Whether it’s a recommendation for a new CRM software or an article about the biggest trends in fintech, people like to pass along valuable information to help others. In order to leverage this principle, be sure to keep your content relatively short and easy to process, and clearly highlight the value that’s relevant to your target audience.

4. Tell a Story

“People don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.” (Page 181)

Since stories are so regularly shared, they’re a great way to convey a take-home message about your business without sounding untrustworthy or overly promotional. While people could learn about your business via traditional advertisements, stories instead are a quick and easy way for people to obtain knowledge in a more engaging fashion. To channel the power of storytelling, try creating content with a captivating narrative, such as the success story of a current client, while talking about your business along the way.

While all of these tips can help you create far-reaching content, they are independent of one another and don’t necessarily all need to be applied in order for your content to go viral. In fact, some tips might make more sense for certain types of content, so instead, pick and choose which principles you want to apply depending on what you’re writing. For example, if you’re writing a blog post about how to incorporate AI in your business, it might make more sense to highlight the practical value, rather than telling a story. Want to learn all six principles of contagiousness? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

To receive your own copy of “Contagious” and have your book signed by the author, RSVP for our exclusive Q&A with Jonah Berger on November 6 at the American Writers Museum in Chicago.