The psychology of virality – How to hack your growth by manufacturing viral content

 

Virality is be all and end all for creating fast growth in business. One way to create virality is by content marketing and another way is by finding a creative way to growth hacking. The only problem is that there are over 2 million blog posts created every day, and over 500 hours of videos are uploaded to Youtube each minute. Including billions of other outlets, it all together creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. If we were to measure it, the amount of data would fill 10 million blu-ray discs. Piling those discs together would measure the height of 4 Eiffel Towers.

 

Every time someone publishes content they hope it will go viral, so it would bring in oodles of new visitors. Although, the thing is that less than 0.00001 % of content ever goes viral. Figuring out how and why something goes viral, we need to combine psychology and data. There is always a pattern somewhere and if we keep looking long enough, we will find it. Virality isn’t something that just happens like unplanned pregnancy, there is some science behind it. 70% of the posts that go viral are actually manufactured and 30% of them are created by accident. When we are trying to create something to be viral, we won’t be competing only against our competitors in our industry, we will be competing against everyone who is putting a content out in the similar target group. The laws of the jungle also exist in the digital world – stronger, faster, smarter, will survive and the weak will vanish in the noise.

There are 5 key elements to creating viral content

1. Facts tell, stories sell

 

People tell stories to share their experience of something emotionally arousing to teach others or as in most cases, just to impress others.

For example, you had to study for a history test at school, if you were like most people, you usually had problems remembering dates and facts about some events. But if there was an interesting story about a subject like the Pearl Harbor or destroying of the Berlin wall, you remembered the facts more easily as the part of the story.

Creating a narrative around your product and content is something that will more likely help you to be remembered for. People will talk about products and services anyway. One way to create a contagious story around your product is by having exceptional customer service that will exceed all expectations. Probably the best example to provide here would be Zappos. If you google them, you will find endless stories of them providing customer service that has created even urban legends about Zappos delivering pizzas to the doorstep despite being an online shoes retailer.

2.  Social capital

picture from http://www.socialmediaelearning.co.uk/

There is a way to manufacture virality. We all have a need to feel significant and one way is to build our social capital. Feeling of significance comes from providing value to other people.

Does your content/service/product provide that? Before going any further, you have to be brutally honest and ask yourself:

  • Is your topic of content something that provides value?
  • Is it worth talking about?
  • Have you made it easy for your visitors to share your ideas?

When we are talking about growth hacking and how to use social currency, one great example would be Spotify. As I’m listening to music on Spotify right now, it felt like a right example to bring up. It’s a service that helped to create disruption in the music industry.  The value proportion is in place, you can listen to millions of songs from great artists for free. In 2011, when Spotify launched in the USA, they created an integration with Facebook that allowed the users to share what they were listening to with their friends. That was actually how I found out about the Spotify. I saw more and more friends sharing what songs they were listening to.

 

3. Emotions

Look at that Puppy!

Youtube got famous by sharing cute videos of cats and puppies. If you go to Facebook, you will probably find yourself 10 minutes later watching cute videos about puppies in the snow, people faceplanting, kittens playing, etc. Those videos are optimized exactly for a perfect length, so you wouldn’t pause them and you would feel enough provocation to share them with your friends. Humans are emotional beings, we make a decision based on emotion and later we will justify it with logic, just not to look stupid. When we create new content on the Internet, some emotions will go more viral than others. If you check out New York Times most Popular list, you will find that the best performing articles are shocking, anger provoking and positively surprising. These are emotions that trigger people to share it or comment on it. Studies show that content that generates anger or shock spreads faster than a positive story about something. Shock marketing or shockvertising is a type of advertising that deliberately, rather than unwittingly, startles and offends its audience by violating norms of social values and personal ideals.

Topics that generate sad, offputting feelings won’t do well virally. People won’t feel so compelled to share a picture of a one-legged dog that is helpless and starving on the corner of the street. If you analyze the headlines and stories, you find out the content that spreads is negative, but not too negative so it would convey hopelessness.

How this product turned an offputting topic into a Youtube sensation.

PooPourri took the very uncomfortable theme of doing “personal business” that is taboo to talk about and created “OMG, I can’t believe they did that!” commercial. In fact, they have been so successful that they generated more than 35.9 million views to this video. They succeeded in creating the positive and shocking emotion that also pisses enough people off so they would comment on it; therefore generating even more virality around the topic.

4. Practical value

We need to feel significant, and one way to feel it is by providing value; therefore building social currency. It’s about providing practical information for others. That’s why content about How-To is so popular, it creates the sense of significance for people who are sharing this information.

 

That’s how Dropbox reshaped its growth strategy after 14 months of struggling to find the right angle. They focused on building their growth engine on the practical value that helps customers to grow their social currency. Similar to Groupon and Living Social, they built their model on customer acquisition through referrals. So if you send a deal to three other people and they buy, it will be free for you. Or if one of your friends signed up based on a referral link, you’ve got a $10 coupon. Dropbox did the same thing, but instead of paying customers in cash they paid in free storage on the site. When a customer recommended it to their friend and they signed up, they got 500 MB of storage for free. They managed to increase their signups almost instantly by over 60%. Viral referral systems like those are built on basic human needs of providing practical value and letting others provide it even further.

Get more space Dropbox

 

5. Social proof

 

Creating social proof is necessary for a product to be viral. Social proof can be created more easily on social media than on any other platform. If we compare two Twitter users, a user with thousands of followers is perceived more trustworthy than a similar user with a few hundred followers. By having more followers results in faster growth of followers, higher engagement, and click-through-rates.

It’s a similar situation when a startup wants to create on-demand economy service. Companies like Airbnb, Uber, Kickstarter, UpWork, TaskRabbit and Etsy have one thing in common, they had to overcome a chicken and egg problem. Consumers won’t come on a platform until they see value provided by producers, and producers would not create that value until they see consumers on a platform. It is a classic problem when one can’t happen without another. To create social proof you have to make sure that you make it easy for others to share your content.

 

Creating growth through virality is a never ending process

Doesn’t matter if you are trying to grow your product or service, you will always have to keep providing value through those 5 steps. When we look at creating virality, one thing is that you have to hustle because it’s a lot of work to publish something good. Another thing is that you have to know those basic key elements why one thing is more contagious than the other. By knowing the basics of virality gives you a strong foundation to build on it.

 

Let us know

  • What is the most viral content you’ve created so far and how did you do it?
  • Do you agree with this article or do you have anything you’d change or add?
  • I would love to have a chance to uncover more here and to get any tips on ways we could improve. Excited to continue the conversation on Twitter @SoGrowUK