Month: September 2016

It’s Contagious: Understanding why things go viral

One of the things that I found most interesting from last week’s discussion was the discussion of viral marketing. I thought that the video summary of Jonathan Berger’s book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, was particularly interesting. I really enjoyed hearing about STEPPS and thought that the discussion in class about each one and examples helped me think of how I could apply these ideas to some of the things I do in the real world, including my volunteers work at the Red Cross and my Communications Internship.

In case you aren’t interested in watching the video, let me break this down for you: STEPPS describes the reasons that someone might connect with something they see online and want to share with with others. It stands for:

Social Currency

Social currency is the idea that people want to share things that make them look good. For example, I enjoy sharing information about the Red Cross because I am proud to volunteer for an organization helps people around the world.

Of course, that’s a pretty selfless example. An example that is a bit closer to the way that social currency usually works is Vera Bradley. It’s pretty expensive, but other people can easily recognize the colorful patterns and popular handbag styles as Vera Bradley. For those with the cute quilted backpacks, this can help indicate their status and position.


While triggers can be very negative and harmful things for those who have suffered trauma in the past, the triggers discussed in the video were more about developing connections between your product or brands and other factors or things that your target markets comes across regularly.

Since it’s fall, I’ll bring up a tasty example: the pumpkin spice latte. Even the idea of autumn nearing can send people into tizzies over this delicious flavor. Not only that, but despite efforts from other coffee sellers, such as McDonald’s and Bigby, many people specifically associate pumpkin spice lattes with Starbucks. So, when fall comes around, there are many people who naturally are more likely to visit Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte even if they haven’t seen an ad for it since the year before.


When you feel outraged, you often feel the need to vent to someone else about whatever happened. If someone tells you a great joke that makes you laugh so hard you snort, you save it for later and hope you can do the same to someone else by telling it again. These real life examples also apply to our online lives.

One recent post on Facebook that I shared was this video of a youth national soccer team comforting their devastated opponents after the 2016 U-12 Junior Soccer World Challenge. It was such a touching scene, and I wanted to share that speck of brightness with everyone and see if I couldn’t make someone’s day better.

Public / Social Proof

This one can seem a lot like social currency at first glance, but the difference is that Social Proof is more about doing the same thing as everyone else, while Social Currency is doing or sharing things that make you stand out from the crowd or look better than everyone else.

One great example of this is the Fitbit. These days, everyone seems to have either a Fitbit or some other fitness tracker, including those who would’ve never been interested in exercise before. Although I have not yet broken down and bought one, the impulse hits me every time I see someone else wearing one or talking about how many steps they have.

Practical Value

This idea is pretty self-explanatory: people want to share things that will be useful or helpful to other people. We love giving others advice because it makes us feel important, especially when someone comes back to us and says how much they loved it.

I can’t think of a better example of this than Pinterest. The entire site is a bookmarking/sharing pinboard for help with everything from entrepreneurship to fashion to toddler’s birthday parties. While many people might save pins for themselves, some people have group board specifically for sharing ideas and inspiration with a group of people, and businesses love information relating to their products and services with people who follow them.


People don’t always remember technical specs or how many awards a certain product has received. Why? Because these factors, while important, don’t always make sense in a “what’s in it for me” kind of why. Instead, people are more prone to remember stories.

As a writer and lover of fiction, this is probably the aspect that intrigues me the most. Storytelling is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the Ad/PR world, and this article from PR in Your Pajamas does a good job at breaking down why and how storytelling can be such a great tool.

Overall, I think that each of the STEPPS helps us understand how our audiences work. As a content creator, I think that I will look forward to using some of these aspects next time I write a post I want others to share.