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Be Contagious! Effective Social Media Marketing

Everyone wants their content to be seen by as many people as possible.


But what you really want is for your content to be shared by as many people as possible. (Which is really how to make the first thing happen, isn’t it?)

Some people obsess about page views and “Likes”, but for me a better metric of content’s success is not how many liked it but how many shared it. It’s sharing content that ups your brand visibility and gets your message out there. This is especially crucial when you rely on others to do your marketing for you. A good “batting average” to determine a piece of content’s success within this context would be to divide the number of shares by the number of views.

It’s Not How Many Likes You Get, It’s How Many SHARES

Getting your content get shared seems easy to some (they’re wrong), and it seems impossible and mysterious to others (but they’re kinda wrong too). While nothing is guaranteed, there are tactics you can use to make your online content as “contagious” as possible. What’s needed is some understanding of human psychology, plus some thinking about the whats, whys and whens of social media and “word-of-mouth advertising”.

In Jonah Berger’s wonderful book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he drops some super science on what you should keep in mind if you want to up your chances of getting what you do shared, and shared again.

Some things to keep in mind:

1. “Sharing this will make me look pretty smart/cool/awesome.”

We share to convey something about ourselves. Our choices define us, and in some ways so does what we put out in the social universe. We want to appear cool, in-the-know, useful, expert, liberal, patriotic, smart, clever, successful, kind, mean, sexy, whatever. People share content as a sort of social currency. When someone finds something remarkable, they want to share it because it reflects positively on him or her.

Knowing this, fashion content in such a way as to make it easy for someone to imagine how posting or sharing it will help someone convey their status, intelligence, political savvy, allegiance to a cause or group, “hipness”, or insider access.

But for me, social currency can also mean communicating something about you to form or strengthen bonds. Saying “I like Bruce Springsteen to an insane degree, too!” or “I play accordion; infer my awesomeness!” For example, let’s say you share a clip from the TV show Degrassi, with a reminder that the show’s on Tuesdays at 9, that recipient may tune in next week at 9. But if you share a clip about a character’s really horrendous “bad hair day” – complete with a poor girl’s giant frizzy neon ‘fro – the recipient may share that clip because she knows it’s resonant to her friends, or relevant to herself or a particular friend who had a similar tonsorial terror. Now many more people have seen the clip, and perhaps even more folks will be tuning in come Tuesday. What’s more, while the initial clip only had relevance to existing Degrassi fans, by layering in the social currency of “bad hair day-ness” the video bite is now resonant for lots of people, and now many who’ve never heard of Degrassi before have become aware of the show and enjoyed a piece of it. In fact, all these folks may continue to share the clip whenever they, or someone they know, is reminded of the reoccurring horror that is the Bad Hair Day. In this way, the clip’s audience has now grown exponentially because the content has this socially resonant aspect. And its “contagiousness” will continue to resurface every time one of this legion is reminded of bad hair days.

Which brings us to one of the most successful elements that can make content more viral – triggers.

2. “That reminds me…”

Perhaps one of the best things to build into your content is a commonplace, reoccurring environmental trigger. One of the most shared TV ads of all-time was not the cleverest, funniest or even really terribly interesting. The second most-shared TV ad of 2013 was the Geico commercial where a camel wanders around an office floor asking what day it is, when a beleaguered worker finally says, “It’s Hump Day.” So why was this totally ‘meh’ piece of video one of the most shared? Think about it. Here’s a big hint: The video had a huge upswing in shares every 7 days.

Yep, every Wednesday, some people (A LOT of people) felt compelled to post the ad as their way of declaring it was, indeed, “Hump Day”. It really increases a piece of content’s share quotient if it includes a reliable, recurring trigger of some kind. It can be a literal equation, Wednesdays remind people of Wednesday, or it can be an associative trigger – like peanut butter and jelly, pumpkins and Halloween, donuts and diets. (Okay, maybe that last one is just me.)

Recently, a writer pitched me an article on respect, suggesting she’d interview one of the founders of the Respect Institute on tips for giving and getting respect in the workplace and elsewhere. I suggested she tweak the idea so the piece was about "Respect Tuesdays", or "Respect Everyone, Someone, People Tuesdays" (RSPT), advocating it as a day when we make a special effort to show and get shown respect. This way, the site has a reason to promote the link every Tuesday, and other people have an incentive as well. Maybe not the best example of waving a trigger into content, but you get the idea.

But don’t think a trigger has to be a day of the week. It can be anything that comes up often enough to make the reminder worthwhile – like bad hair days. For example, I have a blog that often talks about old school Hollywood stars, Lost Art of Being a Dame. Rather than just writing about one particular femme fatale’s celebrated bad temper, I might frame the content as a piece on “5 Telltale Signs You’re a Bitch”. That would get the piece posted much more than if it were just a straight-ahead little bio of an actress most people don’t know from Adam.

3. "That's so beautiful; I'm tearing up (sniff, sniff)”

Another thing that can raise shareability through the roof is emotion. People share stories and videos and facts that arouse emotion in themselves --- and they assume will do so other in others as well. But not all emotions are equal in the viral department. It needs to be a strong emotion that puts the pulse to racing, the eyes to watering, or the throat to lumping. To up the contagious factor, the content should inspire awe (Kacy Catanzaro on American Ninja Warrior; Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent) or “Ah!” (insert viral cute animal video here). Or it should arouse anger (insert political factoid here), or big-time laughter (insert clip of person being hilariously physically injured here).

Often the content we share is remarkable – that American Ninja Warrior woman, for example – but being remarkable isn’t always enough. It has to inspire us, floor us, make us laugh, or surprise us in a big way. Content that makes us sad or happy might work, but awe and anger have proven to be much stronger emotional catalysts for posting.

4. “You’re welcome.”

People like to bond over things they can be inspired by or indignant about together, but they also like to share things that think will prove valuable to others. We like to be of use, to share practical information.

Of course, to maximize the viral potential the practical information needs to be of use to lots of people, or at least to a good portion of the audience you’re trying to reach. The content might be the best, most clear how-to on neutering a camel, but unless your target audience drive caravans across the desert, it’s not going to be shared much.

5. “Hey, get this…!”

From the Dawn of Man (and especially Woman), human beings have liked to spread the word, gossip, and especially, share stories. I said earlier that content needn’t necessarily be “remarkable” to be shared, but it should tell a story.

Think back to the Susan Boyle example. That viral video clip inspires awe, yes, but it also tells a story. “This dowdy-looking middle-aged woman ambles onto the stage. Simon Cowell and the other judges, and everyone in the audience, they’re all rolling their eyes and dreading the awkward audition to come, when all of a sudden…” That’s a story. A restaurant that only serves bananas, that’s a story. A blender that can blend anything – and here’s a video of it blending a cellphone to prove it, that’s a story.

Human beings like to hear, create, embellish and share stories, and the Internet has given that uniquely human predilection a quantum leap by making countless more stories available to countless more people. That’s our double-edged sword. Our stories are theoretically available to a nearly limitless audience – but so are everyone else’s. Our stories have to cut through the clutter. Our stories have to be better, more useful, more inspiring, more relevant, more moving, more funny, more powerful, more shareable.

When crafting or curating content, keep one or more of these five attributes in mind so that those who see it will in turn help make it available to as many people as possible.

Remember, the best marketing is the kind other people do for you.

(And frankly, it’s often the only kind you can afford!)


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