Create viral content with the STEPPS Method

For any brand, recognition is crucial, as it not only allows for greater reach and distinction but also serves as a significant factor in achieving each objective. One of the most cost-effective and compelling ways to achieve this recognition is through content that reaches millions of people and sparks conversation around the brand.

Creating viral content has nothing to do with following every TikTok trend, replicating every dance, or jumping on a conversation topic just because. There’s no magic formula for going viral, but there is a scientific theory on how to approach this goal.

But before you grab your camera and microphone with the goal of reaching thousands of people, it’s important to understand what viral content is and what lies behind the obsession it generates in people. I’ll explain everything you need to know.

What is Viral Content?

Social media platforms hold an increasingly significant role in our lives every day. Gone are the days when they were merely spaces to connect with friends and family; now they have become the center of our searches, recommendations, and advice.

Given the highly digitalized era we live in, it’s important to talk about viral content: these types of posts or strategies are characterized by having a rapid and significant growth in reach, as well as prompting a reaction – positive or negative – from the audience.

But the most important aspect of viral content is that you don’t need to invest money to generate it; you just need a well-structured idea. But why is this content so important?

3 Reasons why you need to go viral in your content strategy

Viral content offers significant benefits, especially for entrepreneurs and small businesses that are just starting their journey in digital marketing. Let me explain 3 reasons why you should consider incorporating this type of content into your strategy.

  1. Building strong connections with the community

When content goes viral, it’s because it creates a sense of empathy between the brand and viewers. This makes it an excellent way to build a community, as it retains your audience through the satisfaction and positive emotions generated by the content.

  1. Greater recognition, better reputation

Viral content allows the brand to be exposed to thousands – and even millions – of curious users interested in seeing who’s behind the trending topic.

Moreover, if this content is informative, inspiring, or highly entertaining, it can positively impact the brand’s reputation by granting credibility and reliability.

  1. Increased Traffic and Conversions

If your content is designed to lead viewers to a website, external profile, landing page, etc., focusing on virality can attract a much broader traffic. Based on the information provided, this audience may take actions such as making purchases or subscribing.

Before starting, choose the ideal format

Now that you know what viral content is and why it’s important, it’s time to understand that creating it requires three factors: strategy, luck, and creativity.

Creativity is fundamental when creating any content because in such a vast market, most things have already been said; you must find a different and unique way to do it. Luck, on the other hand, is a factor that is not within your control: your content can be creative, it may have been meticulously planned, but if it doesn’t come out at the right timing or reach the right people, it may not work.

Finally, strategy is the only ‘safe’ way we have to create viral content within a digital marketing strategy: the content must be designed to generate reactions and reach, it must take into account the context (social, political, economic, etc.) of the moment, and above all, it must be tailored for each platform. 

That’s why you need to optimize your content according to the social network on which it will be published, and you must choose a format that is suitable for the platform, the topic, and the community it’s intended for. Let me explain the four primary types of viral content:

  • Texto: Content based on text is used to convey opinions, humor, stories, or information and is the most versatile when creating a viral post. Depending on the platform, we have to consider its length: if it’s intended for X or Twitter, it should adhere to the platform’s character limits and narrative style, whereas if it’s intended for Instagram or TikTok, it should be more concise and employ keywords to make it easily discoverable.

The primary disadvantage of this type of content is that many people need a visual or auditory trigger to be drawn to a post. Consequently, it’s essential to supplement it with other formats to enhance its potential for virality.

  • Images: A picture is worth a thousand words, and in digital marketing, this is entirely true. With this content format, you can use infographics, photos, illustrations, comics, or GIFs to showcase your brand. When you use high-quality images, align with the brand’s visual identity, and provide context, you can make an image go viral more easily.
  • Video: Currently, videos are the most captivating format for platforms and users, as they can be used to create tutorials, interviews, reviews, parodies, and all sorts of engaging content. Although it’s the most challenging format to create, edit, and distribute, it’s the one that fosters the strongest connection with the audience.

When creating videos, it’s essential to understand that they should be tailored to each platform: on Instagram, videos with editing, transitions, and high-quality images are more recognized, whereas, for example, on TikTok, content can go viral even if it doesn’t have the best quality as long as its message is strong and clear.

The STEPPS Method: The best way to create viral content

Before explaining this method, it’s important to emphasize that there’s no magic formula for creating viral content. While there are principles that increase the chances of reach and interaction, achieving this goal depends on other factors that I explained earlier.

According to Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School, the STEPPS framework, developed and explained in his book “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” enables content to go viral through six elements:

  1. Social Currency: When we mention that content delivers social currency, we’re referring to the fact that it’s shared because people perceive themselves as smarter, more intriguing, and drawn to it. Such content should seem exclusive, offering early access or distinctive information; it should also be exceptional or astonishing, whether through a persuasive message, a captivating headline, or striking visuals. Finally, it should be enjoyable, akin to a game, and evoke amusement in people.

Two examples of content with social currency could be the makeup trend featuring Hindu music that is flooding TikTok; it’s eye-catching, has interesting transitions, and makes people intrigued to see the final result.

Do you remember the blue-black or white-gold dress? This content went viral because it presented a challenge, and it was entertaining to see how each person perceived the colors of the dress differently. 

  1. Triggers: The second factor addresses how people tend to share posts that are current and ‘on everyone’s lips’. To create such content, you should consider holidays, daily routines, current topics, and other factors that determine whether a topic is current and shareable.

One of the more recent examples is Coca-Cola and its marketing campaign centered around the recycling of its cans; across various platforms, the beverage company displayed its logo as if it were crushed on a can addressing a highly relevant topic today: the significance of recycling. Additionally, it demonstrated the brand’s adaptability, as they dared to modify their iconic logo for this messaging.

  1. Emotions: Evoking feelings is always a powerful way to make content go viral, as when people feel stimulated, they engage with the content and the brand, as well as connect and empathize with it.

A classic instance of this type of content is Dove’s campaign “Dove Real Beauty Sketches,” where a forensic artist drew women based on their self-perceptions and how others – whom they briefly met – perceived them.

The campaign had an impressive reach because it touched on a common issue: physical self-esteem in women and how they perceive themselves. Consequently, the audience felt connected to the campaign and the brand itself.

  1. Audience: For content to go viral, it needs to be public; that is, it should be easy to find and share, while also establishing a ‘social standard’ for those who share it. It’s vital that this sort of content evokes memory through slogans, jingles, and its simplicity to reproduce.

For instance, challenges such as the Ice Bucket Challenge or the Harlem Shake gained immense popularity because they were easily discoverable by their titles and straightforward to imitate. Moving beyond the digital realm, we can find examples in traditional advertising.

One such example could be the Café Águila Roja commercial at Christmas: every millennial in Colombia grew up with this jingle, and despite several decades passing, it remains a topic of conversation every December.

  1. Practical Value: If your content is helpful and provides people with hacks or easy solutions to everyday issues, it motivates the audience to save, share, and engage with it. Integrate practical tutorials, explanatory videos, or infographics to provide knowledge to your audience.

Consider, for example, Sascha Fitness: she built a personal brand and several successful businesses through content focused on exercise and healthy living, offering her followers tips, advice, and valuable information.

  1. Narrative: When there’s a captivating storyline behind the content, it becomes more likely to go viral because people are captivated by the plot, which also encourages them to interact with the content.

Some years ago, there existed a web series in Colombia named Susana y Elvira. In the concluding episode of the final season, they collaborated with Visa to create an episode where viewers could purchase everything they saw live.

The episode was titled “Susana y Elvira sell everything,” and aside from featuring this pioneering strategy for its time, it boasted a remarkable narrative, with characters evoking empathy and curiosity about the fate of the protagonists.

When considering going viral, first think about your audience and ask yourself: How can I grab their attention? Which aspect aligns best with my brand? What current situation can I tie to my product? By answering these questions and implementing a solid strategy, you can create viral content that will bring you many benefits.

Manuela Villegas CEO Yes Sir Agency
Manuela Villegas
Manuela Villegas
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