What makes something “catch on”?

Why do videos go “viral”? What makes one cat video more remarkable than the millions of others? If you’ve ever taken a moment to contemplate these questions, you may be glad to know that some of the answer can be found in Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. More of a psychology book than a traditional business read, I was gifted a copy from a fellow blogging friend. Although I recommend reading the book yourself, in the interest of saving time, I want to share my key takeaways with you.

Essentially, Jonah’s thesis consists of six principles that increase sharing. These principles form the easy-to-remember acronym, “STEPPS” explained below:

Social Currency
“We share things that make us look good” – Anything that make us seem “in the know”, cool, trendy, hip, original. Largely driven by human instinct, people are more likely to share things that elevate our social status.

“Top of mind, tip of tongue” – Interesting one–videos like Rebecca Black’s Friday get more “hits” on Fridays than any other day. Triggers thrive on subconscious thought. If you can get people thinking about you, your products, your company (even unknowingly, they’re more likely to share).

“When we care, we share” – Positive or highly stimulating content increase our likelihood of sharing. Happy articles (upworthy.com), posts that make us angry, even exercising can increase the likelihood of sharing. Posts that aren’t stimulating and evoke no emotion get fewer shares.

“Built to show, built to grow” – Make your content easy to find. This one plays off of “Triggers” but the more accessible your content, the more “visible” your work, and the more likely people are to share. This is why advertisers spend so much money for your attention–and why repetition helps reinforce behavior.

Practical Value
“News you can use” – People naturally share useful information, “how-to’s”, travel tips, etc. If you can add any intrinsic value to your content, people will be not only appreciate your work, but they’ll also be more likely to share with friends, family, etc.

“Information travels under the guise of idle chatter” – Jonah talks about constructing a “Trojan Horse” for your products and ideas. Don’t just launch your work into the abyss–package your content into a framework that allows people to retell your story.

When publishing content, remember STEPPS. Write the acronym in a text file and save it on your desktop. Think about how you can add emotion, practical value, and social currency to your work. I’ve tested some of these theories and they really work. This isn’t to say that all your writing has to follow a specific formula. That would take all the fun out of blogging. What matters most is that you ask “Why am I writing this?” before hitting publish. If you have a clear answer, proceed. If you’re unsure, don’t expect to get a huge response. My most shared articles are not necessarily my favorite, but for some combination of the reasons above, they resonate. Know your audience and speak directly to them. Do that, and you’ll notice results. Finally, remember to have fun. Shares, “hits”, clicks, are great but they’re only tools to measure data. Don’t let data distract you from the reason you started blogging in the first place.
Happy sharing.

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