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Thanks to recent, groundbreaking research, we now know that getting something to go viral takes much more than mere luck. There are ten traits that companies can bake into their marketing content to leverage the psychology of sharing[i]. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

  • Awe
  • Celebrity (in this context, celebrities can lend credibility to Emotion)
  • Humor
  • Practical Value
  • Public
  • Social currency
  • Stories
  • Tastemakers
  • Triggers
  • Unexpectedness

As Dan Clark argues in his latest white paper, when it comes to brand-building in social media, content can deliver far better customer engagement than advertising. For instance, do you really think your “New Widget” ad can compete with mom’s “New Baby” post? Not in a million years. And incorporating the psychology of sharing is the best way to get your content to spread.

But developing relevant, quality content that incorporates the psychology of sharing is a tall order. It takes a strong commitment from marketing management, a good, well-informed creative team, and close collaboration between the two. 

Here are the steps…

1.    Determine your goals

What do you want to accomplish with this content? If you’re looking to boost social engagement, Emotion might be your best approach. If you’re looking to simply drive sales of a particular product, the content needs to fit neatly into your sales process and can provide Practical Value. These goals are the first criteria upon which your content should be based.

2.    Know your audience

This is the one thing that requires a senior executive, or at least the key people who most intimately understand what your buyers care most about. You have to put yourself in their shoes. Why do they like your products? What other products do they like? Would they recall your brand name if asked about your category or industry? Knowing answers to these questions and many more give creative folks a critical framework upon which sound strategies can be based. Without such an understanding, and an appropriate conveyance to the creative team, concepts will likely lack a meaningful, deeply emotional connection. In addition to typical intel such as demographics, the creative team needs to know who they are, what their interests are, where and when they typically engage with your brand, why they care about you, and more.

3.    Articulate your brand values

Simply giving your mission statement to the creative team won’t cut it here. What you need to do is make sure your creative team personally understands what your brand stands for. Is it all about customer service? Or is it all about self-empowerment? Is simplicity more than a mere graphic design treatment? The creative team needs to know much more than the brand’s personality. It needs to know its promise. That promise—the values that your brand stands for—is the essence of why customers turn to you. As a result, fully understanding that promise is critical for the creative team to brainstorm concepts that will resonate with the audience. Just like in step 2 above, senior management might be necessary to adequately convey it.

4.    Brainstorm

No one can create stellar content alone. When my colleagues and I collaborate with clients, we uncover new things that bring us from here to there. We throw things out and one thing leads to another. By mixing people who have a solid understanding of the brand with people like me who know little, flowers bloom. Ideas emerge. No one can determine what will happen, and that’s the fun of it. You need to present and capture everything, no matter how silly or mundane it might seem. Create an environment where no one feels marginalized, where all can freely contribute. Since you have no idea where an idea might lead, each has value. Since so many concepts get thrown out during the next step, it is imperative that the creative team brainstorms and documents as many concepts as possible.

5.    Distill and Rank

Following step 4, you likely will have several great concepts worth considering and refining. Compare them against the 10 psychology traits above (assuming you fully understand them) that can lead to increased sharing. If you have a story, can it be elevated with stronger emotion? Would a different character make it funny? Is there a way to stage it such that something that is typically private becomes public? Could a trigger be employed to cause people to think of your relatively unknown brand when a more common thing is seen or experienced? Incorporating the psychology of sharing into your content isn’t a guarantee that it will go viral, but this one step has the potential to give your video strong legs to run on. You can simply put a check mark for each trait and add up each concept’s potential. But while more check marks could be one indicator for greater promise, you’ll still need to rely on your gut for the few concepts that you think will make the greatest impact.

6.    Develop

Once you know which concepts you want to pursue, you should start your development by writing a creative brief so everyone on the creative team fully understands what to do before anyone lifts a finger. With the brief in hand, everyone will know what you hope to accomplish, the tone and style, roles and responsibilities, expectations, milestones, and more. Include stock photography or other visual assets if it aids in conveying the concept to people who may have not attended the brainstorm and distillation sessions. Once your team knows what you wish to create, they can get busy.

Production Notes

With so many flavors of content (video, images, infographics, etc.), and with so many established production practices, I will not attempt to offer advice on how to actually produce your content here; you can easily find plenty of other sources online with the appropriate detail. That said, generally speaking, images are the cheapest. When it comes to video, cartoons and motion graphics are cheaper to produce than shooting live actors. And somewhere in between those two options, and a highly authentic format at that, is to film your employees. You can find more info on this from my friend Dan Clark at Interplay Agency.

You’ll also want to make sure you allow your creative team to do their best work by staying out of the way during production. If you have a solid creative brief, and perhaps an even less ambiguous storyboard, your team should be able to deliver what you want. And, when left alone, they just might surprise you with an even better final product than you had envisioned. In short, stick with what you know and allow them to focus on what they know.



[i] This list originated from Jonah Berger’s amazing book Contagious, and was expanded using advice from additional experts and personal insight.