The Secret to going Viral

First you need to know what viral means. The term referring to content that is quickly and widely spread or popularised especially by means of social media.

So how do certain videos or memes become rapidly popularised? Every aspiring influencer and every business wants to know this answer too. I’m about to give you not one but two methods to become the next viral sensation. As well as recommend which method I believe will be more successful.

Jonah Berger’s six STEPPS

A professor and viral marketing expert, Berger asserts that there are principles which make consumers more likely to share content. He identified six principles of contagiousness:

  • Social Currency
  • Triggers
  • Emotion
  • Public
  • Practical Value
  • Stories

By incorporating some or all of these principles into content it has the potential to go viral.

In 2015 there was the dress. An item that divided the internet over the pointless argument whether it was blue and black or white and gold. Beginning as a tumblr colour photo (the original pictured below), within a week it created major buzz with millions of mentions on social media of #TheDress. The dressmakers – Roman Originals certainly benefited, their website received 3, 622, 960 visitors within the first 48 hours and the dress sold out online within 34 minutes of its availability.

However, the dress mainly focuses on the emotion principle of contagiousness, by either highly arousing people with excitement or anger as a trigger to affect sharing. Besides this ploy, the dress doesn’t doesn’t really incorporate any of the other 6 STEPPS.

The dress among other previous viral sensations such as Rebecca Black’s Friday fit under Kevin Allocca’s three requirements to go viral.

Kevin Allocca’s three requirements

Kevin Allocca, YouTube’s Head of Culture and Trends states that to go viral there needs to be three requirements:

  • Unexpectedness
  • Tastemakers
  • Communities of participation

The dress and the song – Friday both have the unexpected factor. Then a group of tastemakers took a point of view (the colour of the dress and how awful the song is) and shared that with a larger audience. Where finally a community formed for each and started to talk and spread them or even do something new with it, such as people parodying the song for other days of the week.

Allocca’s requirements may be simple, but I believe that it is best method to go viral. Currently, there are so many peers I have that have amassed large followings on social media. Therefore, their are many potential tastemakers that could help accelerate the process of any content I post going viral. I am not in a unique situation though, and it is very likely that you have these connections too! So if you want to go viral, it’s no longer a secret, just start thinking of an idea that’s going to shock everyone into talking about it. Will it be positive or negative? Who knows. But it will probably go viral.

What method do you think would be more successful for going viral? Let me know in the comments below.


Join the Conversation


  1. Hey Raph, interesting read. Allocca’s three requirements in action, as seen by the viral internet song Friday, clearly highlights its effectiveness with the factor of unexpectedness being something that causes an idea to spread and draws interest. Do you believe a campaign with a positive view on the world is more effective in going viral rather than a negative one? Or is there no real view that is more effective than the other?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kurtis, thanks for getting involved with the discussion! As for your question, I think there are multiple ways to look at going viral. On one side the campaign can carry a positive message, take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge for example. After going viral, it had overwhelmingly positive benefits, such as raising millions for the ALS foundation, as well as creating greater awareness of the illness. In comparison, Donald Trump shares controversial tweets often on content that many disapprove of which causes them to go viral. This is particularly effective in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s controversial views skyrocketed his popularity and keep him in the forefront of people’s minds when voting. Furthermore, his tweets enabled people to be more familiar with him and his beliefs, effectively working as mass free advertising for him. Overall I think that to go viral for positive or negative views is not that crucial part, but rather the implications of going viral is what is important. As long as the implications will benefit the individual or company in any form that will build better brand equity than there is no way that is more effective than the other.


  2. Hi Ralph! A very interesting post you have there. Going viral is probably the best thing a business can achieve, however it depends on whether the contagiousness is portrayed in a positive or negative light. I think it depends on the objective of going viral, whether the source wants to achieve attention or be recognised for something insightful and positive. However when going viral, is WOM the best way to increase awareness? Or is traditional advertising still a good way to raise awareness as it the reach is much larger in one time.

    In my blog, i also talk about Jonah’s six STEPPS, feel free to browse and leave a comment (:


  3. Hey Raph! It was interesting to read how easy it is to make any content viral. While I agree with you, that Allocca’s requirements are vital for a brand to go viral and create immediate word of mouth . I’d have to say that in my opinion that if a company is able to integrate Jonah Berger’s six principles, it would be able to achieve ongoing word of mouth due to the ability to trigger emotions and practical value to consumers. However overall, I do believe both methods go hand in hand in a campaign’s ability to go viral. I now pose a question to you: do you think the type of word of mouth a company is seeking to achieve (positive or negative) will effect the extent a campaign goes viral? And is it too risky for a company to seek negative word of mouth or will the controversy surrounding help create the “shock” value necessary to generate discussions?
    Overall great read! Can’t wait for your next post!


    1. Hi Gede, thanks for the insightful comment! I believe whether the company is trying to achieve positive or negative WOM it shouldn’t effect the extent of which a campaign goes viral. Let me explain further. If a company is able to employ Berger’s principle of emotion to their campaign, by seeking positive work of mouth they should aim to make consumers feel amused and excited about it, therefore triggering discussion and increasing the likelihood of consumers sharing it. Using the same principle, if the company is seeking to achieve negative WOM they should attempt to make consumers feel outraged so they will spread it. Similarly, using Allocca’s requirement of unexpectedness, if the content contains some element of unexpectedness, whether it makes the consumer excited or angry it will have the same effect. Regardless of the content seeking a positive or negative reaction, tastemakers will share their opinion and the community will talk about it and spread it further. Therefore, by using either of these principles in a campaign the extent to which something goes viral shouldn’t be majorly effected.
      To answer your second question, I think there is definitely risk of seeking negative word of mouth because the company’s stakeholders may condemn the company for it and that may have a flow on effect to reduced brand equity and profit. However, just because there is a risk doesn’t mean it is not a viable option. Using the example of US president Donald Trump, in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election his controversial tweets constantly kept him in the media. With this media exposure, people were more aware of his character and his beliefs, furthermore it skyrocketed his popularity and allowed him to be in the forefront of people’s minds when they were voting. Ultimately, Trump generated significant brand awareness through speaking his mind and having that ‘shock’ value, demonstrating that despite there being a risk with the strategy it can still be successful one.


  4. Interesting read Raph! it’s definitely interesting to compare how the two major theories compare to each other. Do you think one theory is more important or relevant than the other when it comes to something going viral? Maybe it’s a combination of the two.


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