• Alex Vikner

How to Create Virality

Virality isn't born, it's made. Word of mouth is the key to allowing your product/idea to catch on in the digital world. These 6 principles will help you in doing just that.

1. Social Currency

One way to get people talking about our product of idea is to leverage social currency. People like to make a good impression on others so we need to find a way to make people look good while promoting our product or idea. This can be done in 3 ways.

Find inner remarkability

Something can be remarkable because it's novel, surprising, or just interesting. Remarkable things provide social currency because they make the people who talk about them seem more remarkable. One way to generate surprise, is by breaking a pattern people have come to expect.

Leverage game mechanics

Game mechanics are the elements of a game that make it fun, often by social comparison. We care about our performance compared to others. Leveraging game mechanics involves helping people publicise their achievements.

Make people feel like insiders

Word of mouth can also be boosted via scarcity and exclusivity. If you have something that few others have, you will feel special. You are also more likely to tell others about it because it makes you look good. Having insider knowledge is social currency.

Remember: people share things that make them look good to others.

2. Triggers

Social currency gets people talking, but triggers keep them talking. Triggers lead people to talk, choose and use.

Virtually everything we do in life is a matter of habit. Each habit is a loop composed of a cue (a.k.a. a trigger), a routine, and a reward.

By modifying the routine associated with a certain trigger, you can keep people talking about your product or idea for a long time. We call this ongoing word of mouth and it is far more desirable. Not all word of mouth is created equal!

So when crafting a message, consider the context. Products and ideas have habitats or sets of triggers that cause people to think about them. Growing an idea’s habitat by creating new links to stimuli in the environment will help generate ongoing word of mouth.

Remember: top of mind means tip of tongue.

3. Emotion

Positive articles are more likely to be highly shared than negative ones and articles evoking high arousal emotions (awe, excitement, amusement, anger, anxiety) were more likely to be shared.

Some emotions kindle the fire inside you more than others. Activating those high arousal emotions is the key to transmission. We need to make people excited or make them laugh. We need to make people angry rather than sad if we want to generate word of mouth.

Remember: when we care, we share.

4. Public

Another characteristic that impacts your ability to generate word of mouth is observability. Observable things are more likely to become contagious because the more public something becomes, the more it triggers people to take action.

Self-advertisement is one way to make things more public. For example, when you send an email from an iPhone, the default signature is "Sent from my iPhone". The reason this works is because of the psychology of imitation. People often imitate those around them.

Another method is to create behavioural residue, discernible evidence that sticks around after the consumption of a product. For example, think of branded durable bags that shops give their customers to transform them into walking advertisements.

Remember: if something is built to show, it’s built to grow.

5. Practical Value

Another characteristic that increases word of mouth is practicality. People like to pass along practical information to others. Every product or idea has something useful about it, but the difficulty lies in effectively highlighting the value so that people see and share it.

To highlight value of products, it's useful to understand the psychology of deals and prospect theory. In short, people don't evaluate things in absolute terms, but rather relative to a reference point. For example, €50 for a phone may be cheap in New York but expensive in Burundi.

To apply this, think of the reference point as our expectations. One way to highlight incredible value is to make a promotional offer that surpasses expectations.

Another factor that affects whether deals seem valuable is their availability. Making promotions more restrictive can make them more effective. However, don't exaggerate! The Internet is full of sites with incredibles deals with 90% off if you make a purchase in the next 10 minutes. This just makes your product look like a scam...

When it comes to deals, framing is also important. The Rule of 100 says that for products under the price of $100, percentage discounts seem larger than absolute ones, and over $100, absolute discounts seem larger than percentage ones.

Remember: people like to pass along practical, useful information.

6. Stories

Stories are the original form of entertainment and to this day, narratives are inherently more engaging than basic facts. They are also much easier to remember and therefore share.

But stories are not only for entertainment purposes, they are also vessels for valuable information. So creating stories around your product or idea is a great way to generate word of mouth. For it to work, the story has to be entertaining and it needs to be built like a Trojan Horse. That is to say that your brand, idea or product needs to be integral to the story. By weaving it deep into the narrative, people will not be able to tell the story without mentioning it.

"When trying to generate word of mouth, many people focus so much on getting people to talk that they forget what really matters: what people are talking about." — Jonah Berger

Building Trojan Horses is the key to not falling prey to this trap.

Remember: information travels under the guise of idle chatter.

In sum

Try building your own Social Currency-laden, Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valuable Trojan Horse with your message hidden inside.

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©2020 Alex Vikner