UNB Marketing Blog
Tips and tricks from your university marketers

How to create content people will share

Author: Gina Alward

Posted on May 1, 2020

Category: Web and Social Media

People love to share stories, news and information. We tell our friends about a great movie we’ve seen, chat with neighbours about unbelievable deals and gossip with our coworkers about changes in management.

And according to Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, the things others tell us have a huge impact on what we think, read, buy and do.

In fact, word of mouth is at least 10 times more effective than traditional advertising. Companies will always argue their products are the best, but we value the opinions of our friends and neighbours more because they’ll tell it to us straight. That’s why we’re more likely to eat out at a restaurant if a relative recommends it and will binge watch a show on Netflix if our friends can’t stop raving about it.

All in all, word of mouth helps things to catch on. It just requires getting people to talk.

But how do we do that?

6 STEPPS to creating contagious content

It may seem like some content is naturally more contagious than others. And it’s true. Concerts are more exciting than tax returns, an iPad is more interesting than a printer, and you’re more likely to hear about a great book someone is reading over what kind of washing machine they’re using for their laundry.

But it turns out you can make anything contagious with the right marketing.

Related: What are strategic objectives and why do I need them?

In his book, Jonah Berger explains what makes content likely to catch on - from articles and videos to products and ideas. After analyzing themes and attributes across a range of contagious content, he developed these six key STEPPS for making products, ideas and behaviours more likely to become popular.

The secret formula: products or ideas that contain social currency and are triggered, emotional, public, practically valuable and wrapped into stories.

Here’s how it works ...

Social currency

Just like the clothes we wear and the cars we drive, what we talk about influences how others see us – and we’d rather look cool, smart and in the know than nerdy, dumb and out-of-the loop.

That’s why it’s our job as marketers to make people look good for talking about our brand.

To do that, we need to find what makes us remarkable and craft messages that make people feel like insiders. We need to give people ways to achieve and provide visible symbols of status that they can show to others.

Case study

Blendtec found its inner remarkability with its ‘Will It Blend?’ series by putting uncommon items into their blenders and testing whether or not they could blend. The results were so outrageous that they stuck in people’s minds and made buyers feel like insiders for owning such a remarkable item.


Triggers are stimuli that prompt people to think about related things - peanut butter reminds us of jam, Tina Fey reminds us of Amy Poehler – and we can use these triggers to get people thinking about our brand more often.

Because the more people think about our brand, the more they’ll talk about it.

We can do this by designing products and ideas that are frequently triggered by the environment and create new triggers by linking our products and ideas to prevalent cues in that environment.

Case study

Rebecca Black’s song ‘Friday,’ went viral back in 2011. Not because it was any good, but because you couldn’t hear the word “Friday” without thinking of this song. Fridays come around every week and are often top of mind, making it the perfect trigger to get people thinking about (and singing!) this tune.


The more we care, the more we feel, the more likely we are to share.

Naturally contagious content typically evokes some kind of emotion, which is why we need to focus on feelings rather than function when creating content.

We should kindle the fire using high arousal emotions (sometimes even fear and anger can be effective motivators here). But the important thing is to ensure we’re evoking the right emotion for the right reasons.

Case study

Sons of Maxwell wasn’t a band anyone had ever heard of until 2009 when they released the protest song, 'United Breaks Guitars'. They wrote this song in response to United Airlines breaking musician Dave Carroll’s $3,500 Taylor guitar and refusing to take any responsibility for the damage - a sentiment that struck a chord with the rest of the world as well.


“Monkey see, monkey do” is a common expression for a reason. It’s hard to copy something you can’t see.

Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular. We need to design products and initiatives that advertise themselves and create behavioural residue that sticks around long after people have bought the product or adopted the idea.

Case study

When Apple came out with the iPod back in 2001, they weren’t sure how to make their product visible when that product was meant to live in the consumer’s pocket. That’s when they decided to make their earbuds white. Up until then, headphone chords were exclusively black, so by making them white, it made it easier for people to recognize the Apple brand.

Related: Influencer Marketing: If you’re not doing it, you’re missing out

Practical value

Useful things get shared because people like to help others. If we can show people how our brand can help them save time, improve their lives or save money, then they’ll spread the word.

But with tons of information being shared every day, we need to make sure our message stands out.

We need to understand what makes something seem like a particularly good deal, highlight the incredible value of what we offer, and package our knowledge and expertise so that people can easily pass it on.

Case study

Everybody loves corn on the cob, but nobody likes getting corn silk stuck in their teeth. That’s why Ken’s corn shucking video got over 2.5 million hits in just one month. Not only was he able to solve a common problem, he also made it easy to pass on this information by creating a how-to video.


It’s easy to remember a moral or lesson when it’s wrapped up in a story, which is why storytelling has been the most popular way to share knowledge since the beginning of time.

When sharing our products and ideas, it’s important to not only create a narrative or story that people want to tell, but to also make the virality of that story valuable. We need to make our message so integral to the narrative that people can’t tell the story without it.

Case study

We all remember Jared Fogle who lost a staggering 245 pounds in one year by eating Subway sandwiches. This story not only carries the narrative that eating Subway is good for you, it’s also impossible to tell this story without mentioning the Subway brand, making it a phenomenal marketing campaign.

- Gina Alward, Digital Marketing Officer

Learn more

Dive deep into the six STEPPS in Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On. You can check this book out at one of UNB’s libraries either in person or online. And if you want to learn more about social media marketing, check out our Social Hub.