You Can't Make Your Content Go Viral…But You Can Make it Contagious!

by Kevin Martone, Technology Program Manager, JCamp 180

There's no "silver bullet" to make your content go viral. No one can offer a single, simple explanation for why the recent Don't Be Like Bill Meme or the oft-cited Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS spread virally online.

Unfortunately for those of you who work in communications at camp, this is a fact. Even the content creators who have successfully "gone viral" can rarely replicate the feat.

However, according to author Jonah Berger, there ARE some key things that make people want to share your message organically via word-of-mouth. In his book "Contagious," Berger reveals that people provide word-of-mouth marketing for brands all the time; American consumers mention brands more than 3 billion times a day! And word-of-mouth marketing is more effective than traditional advertising because we trust our friends much more than brands themselves. And word-of-mouth messaging is targeted - it is naturally directed toward an interested audience. In other words, we select who we think would be most interested…or awed by…or amused by…the content.

Berger readily admits that you can't guarantee that your message will be contagious. But he does share 6 "STEPPS" that are key to any content that DOES get spread:

1. Social Currency - We share things that make us look good to our peers. Is the content remarkable or worthy of mention in some way? For example, who wouldn't like to watch someone try to blend an iPad or a selfie stick in those fun "Will it Blend?" Blendec videos?

What does this mean for your camp?

How do you make your camp worthy of mention? What program or idea or update will provide people something to share that makes them appear in the know? Is there a way to provide the information that make it more remarkable?

2. Triggers - What gets people thinking about your brand? How do you keep it top of mind? For example, which brand do you think gets mentioned more, Cheerios or Disney? Even though Disney creates a more remarkable experience than a bowl of Cheerios, Cheerios is triggered by breakfast EVERY DAY, so it is mentioned more frequently.

What does this mean for your camp?

What can you connect your brand to that will help people remember it regularly? How about Shabbat traditions that can be shared in the home? They will be triggered every week. Or favorite recipes from camp that can be made at home? They could be triggered at mealtime. The more unique it is, the more likely the trigger will remind people of YOUR camp only.

3. Emotion - As Berger says, "When we care, we share." Emotions that are most likely to cause people to share include awe and humor. Next best are anger, disgust, and anxiety - think political memes.

What does this mean for your camp?

This moving 2011 blog post from URJ Camp Newman connected emotionally with the reader and was shared hundreds of times across various social platforms. What videos, photos, or blog posts can tell your camp's story emotionally?

4. Public - If you can make the hoped-for sharing behavior public, more people will do it. Think about a presentation you've attended where you had a question, but you thought, "Everyone else must know this." So you keep it yourself. But if there were some public signal (maybe an anonymous poll?) that others were similarly confused, you'd be much more likely to ask your question.

What does this mean for your camp?

Do you want people to give to your camp's fundraising campaign? When there are a large number of donors, tell people. "75% of our alumni have donated to the annual fund. Could you help provide the magic of camp to a child this year, too?" This makes the social proof public - all of their peers are giving, why haven't they given yet?

5. Practical Value - Is what you are trying to get people to share useful? People want to feel like they are helping others. Think of those short recipe videos posted by Tasty on Facebook. People share these videos that can help their friends cook fun, delicious meals or snacks. Short lists - "5 ways to…" - are also a good way for people to feel like they are helping their friends.

What does this mean for your camp?

If your camp creates a relatively general "Top 10 things to pack for camp that nobody told you" list, many parents might share this to their fellow camper parents - whether their kids go to your camp or not! If they think it's useful for their friends, they are more likely to share. What other content can you provide that is relevant and also generally valuable?

6. Stories - People are much more likely to tell stories than just share facts. If you can embed your brand into an interesting story, it will spread AND people will associate the story with your brand. How often do you see a high-profile commercial during the Super Bowl that is super entertaining and memorable…but you can't recall the product it was endorsing? That happens when the story in the ad is disconnected from the brand. But when the brand is a key component of the story - like this Doritos SuperBowl ad where the chips are a key character in the story- everyone remembers the brand as the story is shared.

What does this mean for your camp?

Make sure when you share great stories (or even lists!) that your camp is clearly included so that, as it spreads, awareness of your brand spreads, too.

Take the Next STEPPS

No, none of these STEPPS from Jonah Berger guarantee a viral hit. The next time someone asks you to recreate the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or some other content that went viral, tell them you can't. Feel free to point to this article!

But camps have incredibly emotional stories and other content to share that can potentially take advantage of all of Berger's STEPPS. If you incorporate the lessons in this article into your camp's content, you just might make some of it "Contagious."