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Contagious Marketing – The Paradox of Engineered Virality

Ever since the term was first coined, ‘viral marketing’ has become the elusive unicorn of the marketing world, pursued by experienced professionals and self-anointed ‘social media gurus’ alike. And the harder you pursue the unicorn, the lower the likelihood you’ll actually find it. Some have stumbled upon viral fame and tried in vain to replicate their success…a most frustrating experience. So can you really ‘engineer’ virality?

One of my favourite authors and bloggers, Seth Godin (author of ‘The Purple Cow’ and ‘All Marketers Are Liars Tell Stories’) talks about creating something remarkable (i.e. worthy making a remark about) and focusing on doing something so well that you can get at least one person to care so deeply that they can’t get your idea out of their head. They’ll then hopefully share with someone else and the network effect begins, at least within the tribe/s of like minded individuals. This is one great way to approach ‘virality’ and helping your ideas spread. Be so remarkable that you just cannot be ignored.

I recently stumbled upon Jonah Berger, a Wharton professor and author of the book ‘CONTAGIOUS – Why Things Catch On’. In Contagious, Jonah delves into the science of how ideas spread through digital social networks and offers six factors (STEPPS) that contribute to idea contagion. Here’s a quick video overview, by both Jonah and an animated review of the book itself, outlining the key ideas:

Some pretty handy tips for those looking to infuse virality into their marketing…and many companies, agencies and marketers seem to be getting more adept at utilizing these techniques. So is ‘engineered virality’ really a paradox? Does something have to be truly original, meaningful and well-intentioned to be considered viral? Social media networks today are rife with examples that prove otherwise…from the endless collages of recycled lists and fail videos to short lived memes and business models built on transient, forgettable content. The trouble with these models, of course, is that you’ve got to churn out ever increasing volumes of content and continue upping the ante to get folks to even take notice and ‘maintain’ virality.

So what’s the alternative? Invest your passion, energy and talents into something meaningful that can stand the test of time. Be remarkable. Be unforgettable.

Virality, whether you stumble upon it or engineer it, is a means to an end.

Spread the ideas that matter.

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