6 Principles for Creating Contagious Social Content

By Steve Armenti on November 11, 2013

Publishing interesting content to social media channels to engage fans and followers is nothing new. But creating highly targeted social content to drive unique experiences online is becoming a large part of today's content marketing strategy.

When we talk about content, often times it's part of a larger discussion pertaining to digital marketing. One pioneer in this space, Jonah Berger, sought to understand why things catch on or what makes some ideas more viral than others? In his latest book, Contagious, Jonah Berger explains his strategy for making sure your idea or your product has a chance to go viral through six basic principles. These six principles can also be applied to your content marketing strategy.

Let's take a look...

Social Currency: Share What Motivates Your Customer Base

Social currency is the idea that people who engage on social media sites, online forums, or review sites do so to enhance their own identity, status, or recognition. In other words, people share things that make them look good. In fact, this desire to share our thoughts and experiences is one of the reasons that social media has become so popular in the first place. Research has shown that more than 40% of what people talk about online is about their personal experiences or personal relationships.

As a marketer, how do you create that wonderful experience? More specifically, how do you do it through targeted content marketing efforts? Think about why your target audience may want to share a piece of content you are planning to create. If you're a B2B SaaS company looking to produce thought leadership about why the cloud is changing the business world, focus your content on the ways the cloud cuts cost and improves efficiency. Then introduce best practices for readers to follow in order to implement changes within their own organizations. People will love the advice, especially if it helps them do their jobs better, and they'll go on to share the information with their colleagues and professional network.

A company selling organic produce may create content that informs readers of the harms of eating pesticide-ridden produce and GMO (genetically modified organism) filled packaged goods. People will share that content because it implies to others that 1) They care about their health, and must be healthy, and 2) They care about the environment, and the brands they buy food from. Again, this urge to share is self-serving, but it directly benefits the publisher.

Triggers: Resolve Pain Points to Stay Top of Mind

People talk about brands, products, and organizations all the time. Marketers call this word-of-mouth. In fact, the average American engages in more than sixteen word-of-mouth conversations every day. The premise of those discussion may be positive, negative, or netural. Regardless, marketers are constantly trying to find ways to inject their messaging into conversations taking place around the world. How they do that is through triggers - those experiences or moments that stay top-of-mind.

So how do you relate your content to everyday triggers that will get consumers talking about your product, service, or organization? When you set out to strategize around what your content may be about, determine the context of your message. Will recollection of the article be triggered by everyday situations? A piece of content about improving your work life balance may be very relevant to an exhausted CEO of a start-up company. In fact, she may be triggered to think about that piece of content more often than not. As her day progresses and she feels more stress, she'll immediately think about the tips you provided for improving quality of life outside of work. She may even refer back to your article for a second read.

Emotion: Make Your Audience Feel Good About You

This one is easy. People share experiences that make them happy, sad, confused, and angry. Think about social currency and why people share what they do. Emotion plays a big part. If your content can make the reader feel happy, she is likely to share that experience with her friends and colleagues in the hopes it will make them happy too.

Think back to the CIO example about cloud computing. The content has an empowering effect, making that person feel like she can transform her business, look good at work, and excel her career. Thought leadership content is a great way to engage your audience, make them feel knowledgable about their area of expertise, and position your brand as an expert in the industry.

Publicity: Become Your Own PR Representative

It's obvious publicity helps people or companies get noticed more often and therefore talked about or shared. Apple has done a great job of this. Go to your local Starbucks and count how many Apple laptops you see there. That glowing Apple logo creates a sought-after experience around the brand that people want to be a part of, even when it requires they pay more to join the club.

How does that relate to your content marketing strategy? Do you print your content and start posting it all over Stabucks. Probably not, but what you can do is make your content valuable and shareworthy, thus making it more public online among your target audience. You could even argue that a solid content amplification strategy is a paid way of making your content public.

Practical Value: Produce Content That Goes Beyond Surface Level

This is where marketers can crush their content marketing strategies. Why would anyone want to interact with your content if it didn't provide any sort of value? That value could be humor, industry insight, or knowledge about what groceries to buy. Value is a given, but what kind of value your content provides is up to you.

Skyword recently released the Content Marketing Ecosystem SkyScape detailing the entire content marketing ecosystem. This alone provides a great deal of value to marketers engaged in the content marketing space. It appeals to digital marketers, social marketers, analysts, leadership, and content strategists. It provides a valuable view into the ecosystem of the current content marketing landscape. Marketers who are competing and engaging within this ecosystem are likely to share this piece of content because it solidifies their existence in a very cool and growing industry.


People tell stories for the same reasons mentioned under social currency. But pulling together coherent narratives can be difficult. You must craft custom content that tells a story, provides high-value value ot readers, and positions your brand as the go-to source for more information needs down the line. The question is. "How?"

Think of your story as your experience. What is the experience you want your customers to have and share with their friends and colleagues? Within that story or experience is your brand and the information you're trying to convey. Stories can be a great way for people to learn. They provide a quick and easy way for people to digest a lot of information in a meaningful way. A good example would be Red Bull's sponsorship of Felix Baumgartner's freefall from space. Among all the other action sports activities the company is involved with, this specific one generated quite the story. Who is Felix Baumgartner, what is his background, how did he train for this jump, what happens if it fails? When the smoke cleared, the questions answered, and the YouTube hit went viral, Red Bull was behind the whole concept. This brand-defining moment helped Red Bull further solidify it as an extreme-sport thought leader, and a true innovator.

In a world where consumers are inundated and overwelmed by information, it's absolutely critical that you focus your content marketing strategy on creating contagious social content. These six principles can be incorporate across your entire digital strategy, as well as your individual pieces of content.

There is a number of ways to achieve success through social media marketing, especially with original content at its center, so don't be afraid to step ouside the box. Let us know your unique ideas in our comments section below.



Steve Armenti

Steve Armenti is a Director, Content Services at Skyword. He enjoys spending time outdoors hiking, camping, and is always up for an adventure. Connect with Steve on Twitter @armentisteve or Circle Steve on Google+.