Jonah Berger Explains How to Go Viral

By Julie-Anna Dietz posted Oct 26, 2017 02:58 PM

Dr. Jonah Berger gives a keynote speech on creating viral content at Super Forum 2017.

Often, we think of people as unpredictable, hard to read, ever changing. Predicting what customers will like or what trends will take off can feel akin to reading tea leaves or firing a shot in the dark, which sometimes leads to success, but usually is a recipe for frustration.

Luckily, Dr. Jonah Berger’s research has uncovered the exact opposite, and he came to Super Forum 2017 as a keynote speaker to discuss how his research shows people are actually quite predictable.

Dr. Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and bestselling author of two books, Contagious: Why Things Catch On and Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior. His research identifies six key factors that can predict if an idea, concept or product will go viral. Abbreviated as the S.T.E.P.P.S., they are: social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value and stories.

Of all the S.T.E.P.P.S., Social Currency, Triggers, and Stories are most relevant to Higher Logic customers. At Super Forum, Dr. Berger gave us details on those three elements of viral content so you can apply them to your own work.

Social Currency

A well-known fact about secrets is that they rarely stay secret for long. Having access to information that no one else has makes you feel and look important. When designing a new program or community, keep this in mind—how will your new initiative make your members feel? If being involved in your community makes them feel important and gives them exclusive information, they’re more likely to share the fact that they’re part of it.


As Dr. Berger said, “Top of mind means tip of tongue.” Use triggers to help your organization be top of mind at the right time, so members use your services when they have a problem or recommend you to a friend. This is key, because many things are well-known, but not well-used.

Dr. Berger used the example of reusable grocery bags. Many of us have tons of them in our house but get to the checkout line and realize we forgot them in the car. The intent to use them is there, but we don’t remember them at the right time.

Think about who you want to trigger and when you want them to be act so members remember your initiative at the right time.


Stories aren’t just stories—they carry information. Even if you create an awesome community full of value, you need to give your members an excuse to talk about it. For example, at a party if someone says, ‘I joined an online community about xyz,’ some people may find that interesting, but many won’t. But if they talk about the funny GIF conversation on the community, or the valuable networking event they heard about through the community, they’ll have more opportunity to naturally bring up your initiatives or community. Dr. Berger calls these Trojan Horse stories.

How Will Your Community Go Viral?

For you, viral might not mean worldwide recognition by the general population, but you could go viral amongst your demographic. And that’s the most important audience for your organization. How can you implement the S.T.E.P.P.S. to increase awareness about your community?