Maya Gaspar
June 7, 2016

Jonah Berger’s 6 “STEPPS” to Viral Success

Why are your cat’s photos more popular than yours? Why are 10% of all daily searches on the Internet for Donald Trump? Why does the book that is the subject of this blog post, “Contagious: Why Things Catch On”, appear third in the Google results, when you simply look for the word “contagious”?

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You may suppose that the book exposes the secrets of making the things go viral, and it really does. Jonah Berger, an expert on marketing and a professor from the University of Pennsylvania, hints at the ideas and features that make products and brands, personal and otherwise, become so popular and transmissible.

According to Berger, whose expertise is in Word of Mouth, only 6 STEPPS can lead you to success with your trend or goods

STEPPS is the acronym to the following characteristic features of the highest viral achievements: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotions, Public, Practical Value and Stories

Social Currency

Berger points out that it is of a high value to make your information shareable. If everyone shares it on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Tumblr and other social media, it becomes continuous and durable. In other words, this information becomes popular among people. More than that, it proves to be the source of influence. The latter can be achieved through making a certain secret. Social Currency also makes a person look better in social eyes, the fact that you share something should give you satisfaction.


A trigger may be defined as something that is rather simple to remember about your brand, idea or product, in order to make it maximally stick to one’s memory. When you see or hear or think about triggers, you must think of brand automatically. Triggers are usually visual and catchy. They can be hidden in slogans, logos or mottos of companies or brand emblems as well. French music makes us buy French wine, breakfast makes you think about cereal. Just have a look at the crocodile of Lacoste or at the red-soled shoes of Christian Louboutin. They become good reminders of brands, spurring instant recognition every time they see the pattern, color or picture.


in_the_mood_of_joy-normalIt is obvious that we estimate things and phenomena by the emotions they evoke. Pleasant emotions (happiness, joy, awe, interest, gratitude, etc.) tend to form a positive opinion, whereas disagreeable emotions (anger, sadness, envy, etc.) are more likely to influence the choice of making an evaluation negatively. It means that our emotions actually affect our attitude to the things. Thus, aiming at making your product go viral, you should try to induce the most powerful emotions that enforce people to action. Examples of those active emotions are: laughter, joy, awe and anger. Any relationship is based on the emotional contact, so if you are angry, you are forced by your passion to share the reason to other people.


Publicity here concerns the product or the idea that should be shown to people to spread among them. The more times people see it, the more chance that they will remember it and share the information among their friends. Showing is rather easy in terms of the large web of Internet connections. However, when it comes to spreading, the process seems to be rather complicated, because you cannot make people decide whether to tell their friends about it or not. This decision will be made on their own.

Practical Value

The information should be practical and applicable. The fifth acronym of Berger’s STEPPS relates mostly to tips and how-to information. Every time you create something, you should think about what the value of it will be, and how people can use it. This also includes “Top [n]” and “[n] things you didn’t know about…” lists.


Your real life stories and anecdotes are closely connected with the third point among the STEPPS – emotions. Tell stories and people will listen to you. Think globally – they will even retell your story! Telling a good story about your company is a surefire way to reinforce your brand. On the contrary, creating a bad story is eroding your prestige.

What is your company story that you can tell your consumers? Does it contain your key points? Does your story reveal real events or imaginary ones? What I want to say is that people don’t like to advertise brands, but they like to tell stories. Stories about a great customer support team, or good or bad food and service experiences at restaurants. Will you follow the advice of a friend who tells you about something great they discovered? Yes. Give people stories to tell and they will promote your brand.


The 6 STEPPS suggested by Jonah Berger are simple, aren’t they? However, there are still so many questions to be answered. The outcome of practicing them is quite unpredictable, but it is worth trying for sure. You can venture and measure the difference between your results before taking these STEPPS and your outcomes after using Berger’s tactics. After all, you can see them work even now, as you are reading this article.

An easy to remember catchy name, “STEPPS”, lead to a good deal of shares on social media and prominent newspapers, and engendered positive emotions. The book gained a worldwide audience, across multiple business sectors. And last but not least, it is a wonderful story of a professor who has achieved success. Why not try it then?


Image attribution: Lead/Featured :Copyright: ‘‘ / 123RF Stock Photo

2nd: Multiple sources, origin unknown

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Maya is a marketing director at Get Essay Safe. An entrepreneur and traveler, she is running a startup and takes active part in team life. Maya provides consulting in marketing, social media, PR, digital, human resources.

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