010: Professor Jonah Berger on the Science Behind Contagious Content (And Why You’re Probably Doing It Wrong) [Podcast]

You’ve heard me say it (a lot): Create for yourself first. Don’t focus on numbers. But here’s the truth: I still want my ideas to go viral.

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

If I’m being honest, I don’t just write to write. I also write to be read.

Most of us want to influence others with our words and actions. We want to see our message spread to those who need it most. And that’s not such a bad thing.

Whether you’re writing to inspire or inform or even to entertain, you want people to engage with your content and share it with friends. That’s what a life of impact is all about.

In this episode of the podcast, Jonah Berger shares with us six principles to craft contagious content and destroys a few myths in the process.

Jonah Berger is the Associate Professor of Marketing at Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, and bestselling author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, a fantastic book on the science behind how ideas spread.

Click to listen

To listen to the show, click the player below (if viewing this in email click here).

You can also download it at iTunes or on Stitcher.

It’s not about luck

Jonah and his team have researched thousands of examples of viral content, both big and small. They’ve analyzed data and identified patterns. And they’ve discovered that most of us are thinking about virality all wrong.

Going viral isn’t random, magic, or luck. It’s a science. (Tweet that)

They discovered six principles driving popular content:

  • Social Currency
  • Triggers
  • Emotion
  • Public
  • Practical Value
  • Stories

Remember Gangnam Style? Jonah explains why it (and a bunch of other hot trends) spread so fast. (Check out the stories at ViralityExplained.com.)

It’s not about influencers

I used to think that one or two powerful influencers sharing my content could help it go viral. But while influencers are great, Jonah discovered that the key to virality is creating content that’s contagious regardless of who shares it.

It’s better to get ordinary people talking about an extraordinary idea than to try getting extraordinary people to share an ordinary idea.

I found this out when my blog post about travel went viral six months after I wrote it. It wasn’t through a big influencer or a coordinated campaign. A group of everyday people found it and shared it, because they found the content relevant and inspiring.

It’s not all about online traffic

Those average, everyday people? They spend about two and a half hours a day online. That’s a lot of time, so it’s natural to focus on online promotion. But that same person spends about 12 hours offline every day.

Face-to-face is the original social media. (Tweet that)

To create truly contagious content, you need to capture offline conversations: at breakfast with family, at work with colleagues, or at coffee or drinks with friends.

What this means for you

All this data is great, but what do you do with it?

It’s really not all that complicated. While nothing can guarantee virality, you can take a few steps to improve the sharability of your content. Here are two places to start:

  • Focus. Broad content is bland and not very sharable. Narrow, niche content will get your audience interested because it fits.
  • Get emotional. Content that activates a strong emotion, whether it’s joy or anger or anxiety, will make people care enough to share.

Want to spread your ideas faster? Jonah is offering a free workbook to guide you through the steps to creating your own viral content. Get your copy here.

Let’s put this to the test

I love using this platform to help you, and I want to hear what you’ve got to share. Tell me (and the rest of the community here) about what you’ve created and which of Jonah’s principles you’ve applied. Be sure to include a link.

Let’s see what happens.

As for me, I’d love for this podcast to go viral (or at least reach a few more people than we did last week). If you’re enjoying it, please tweet about it or share it with your friends on Facebook. And I’d love for you to leave an honest review.

You can also copy and paste this URL into the podcast player of your choice: https://feeds.feedburner.com/ThePortfolioLifeJeffGoins

Also, if you have any questions for future episodes, let me know (just shoot an email to jeff at goinswriter dot com).

What have you created to go viral? Tell us about it and share your link in the comments.