Nobody can predict virality, though some brands come do create content that consistently gets lots of social shares. Here are three lessons from brands like Taco Bell, Delta, and.... the Kardashian Kollection?

Everyone wants their content to go viral, but it’s so unpredictable that you can’t plan for it. But some brands manage to create content that consistently gets so many shares that you wonder if they’ve cracked the code for virality.

Based on person-to-person sharing, DigitasLBi and Jonah Berger, a Wharton School professor with an expertise in viral marketing and social influence, have compiled a list of the “most contagious” brands on Facebook and Twitter.

"Comparing content across these features on a granular level enables users to analyze social content with unprecedented detail," says Berger. "Triangulating these data points and combining them into a single score, the Contagious Index, enables users to make a quick yet powerful evaluation of a brand's social media."

What can you take away from the Contagious Index? Here are three main points.

1. Humanize your brand

Storytelling” is one of those marketing buzzwords that’s so overused it’s all but lost its meaning.

But it has its roots in the idea that by telling stories, a brand humanizes itself by appealing to people, rather than blatantly trying to sell them stuff all the time.


No brand on Facebook exemplifies this better than Humans of New York (HoNY), which still has a contagious score of 100.

HoNY isn’t even really a brand; it’s a photo project that’s nailed storytelling so well that it’s sort of become one.

Another way you humanize your brand: featuring actual humans in your content. HoNY demonstrates this perfectly, as does the Kardashian Kollection, which has a contagious score of 93 on Facebook.

I am not a fan of the (Read more...) nor am I a fan of the fact that they spell the word "collection" with a K. But I still can't deny that the family has collectively mastered social media.


The sisters update their fashion label's page several times a day with pictures of their outfits, their hair, their kids, their #tbt.

Being celebrities, the Kardashians are their brand, but it's possible for other companies to follow suit, according to Bob Cargill, social media director of Overdrive Interactive.

"Look at [T-Mobile CEO] John Legere. There's an example of a corporate guy who's a celebrity because he's so personable and out there," says Cargill. "Even though someone may think it's extreme and cheesy and unbusinesslike, there's no reason you can't have some people at any organization become social celebrities to some degree."

2. Incorporate fans into the brand

Like HoNY, Mary Kay has a perfect contagious score and it’s easy to see why. The cosmetics brand’s entire business model is based on peer-to-peer sales so the fans who share Mary Kay’s content are often the same as the “beauty consultants” who sell it.

As a result, Mary Kay posts have extraordinarily high Like-to-share ratios. In the example above, the Kardashians have about 67 Likes for every share; Mary Kay barely has one.


Of course, Mary Kay fans have a financial incentive to promote the brand’s posts, which isn’t typically the case. Pokémon, whose contagious score is 99, brings its 713,000 Twitter followers into the brand by simply engaging them.

Pokémon asks questions and invites fans to participate. Some recent Tweets have asked them to caption images and share their Pokémon Halloween costumes. And they do.


Many fast food brands are known for posting irreverent, funny content on Twitter. But Taco Bell is the most contagious one, with a score of 97.2.

Taco Bell incorporates its fans into the brand by retweeting them. The latest iOS update came with many new emojis, including the long-awaited taco.

Retweeting can come off as lazy. But when done correctly, it creates a sense of intimacy with followers, ensuring future engagement. That same day, Kim tweeted about the retweet, clearly getting a kick out of being “Taco Bell famous.”

"The perception is that this huge brand cares about me. That's the power of retweeting and commenting; then people become brand ambassadors," says Jon Stefansky, CEO of Viewbix.

In addition to retweeting user-generated content, the brand retweets the kind of content it knows its fans would like, such as this BuzzFeed quiz that determines what Taco Bell item you are based on your zodiac sign. My fellow Aries: you are Crunchwrap Supremes.

3. Remember: It's called social media

Social media has become such a big part of companies' branding that it's easy to forget what it really is: a way for people to interact.

"I think brands that do well on social are brands that are connecting well with their customers," says Stefansky. "It's not about coupons, it's not about offers. It's about creating relationships."

He adds that many of the brands that earned a spot on the list are those that instill passion in consumers. For example, Starbucks, the top "quick-service restaurant" on Facebook with a score of 98.


"Whether someone is a big Starbucks fan or Dunkin Donuts fan, coffee is something people are passionate about," says Stefansky. "Those brands are reflecting what we care about, and what we want to tweet about and share with other people."

"What we care about" can also be negative. Take airlines, for example. If you have a great flight and manage to score a seat not next to anyone (!) it probably wouldn't occur to you to tweet about it. But what's the first thing you do if your luggage gets lost?

According to research from cloud-based software company Zendesk, 50 percent of consumers use social media to resolve service issues, 46 percent use it to vent about bad experiences. And people expect quick resolutions, an area in which airlines tend to excel.

"Airlines deal with the public all the time. They've learned what the public expects and they're just transferring that knowledge over to their social teams," he says. "They know how to deal with complaints, they know how important it is to respond quickly and to have a sense of humor."

They have become so deft at customer service, in part because of their circumstances. Traveling is stressful and tedious, and many people are at their worst.

I tweeted something cryptically horrible, just to see how quickly Delta, the most contagious airline on Twitter, responded. It took 17 minutes.


I wrote back to Delta and told them it was just an experiment, and then I deleted the original Tweet. I didn't fly anywhere yesterday, which also wasn't my birthday. If it was, I'd be a Scorpio and a soft taco would be my corresponding Taco Bell menu item.

Had anything I tweeted been true, the quick response certainly would have elevated Delta in my esteem. Like retweeting, being responsive now can create more engagement later.

But it's important for a brand to have an identity on social beyond being an outlet for customer service. Delta also creates content, frequently tweeting random travel tidbits.

One recent Tweet about the origin of the brand's name - the Mississippi Delta was the first area the airline served - got 86 retweets. That shows that people aren't only looking at Delta's social feeds when they want to complain.


Here's a quick takeaway from each of the brands highlighted above.

  • Delta: Remember that social media is primarily about interacting and connecting, not branding. Responding to your customers - promptly - is the first step toward winning them over.
  • Humans of New York: Nothing humanizes your brand like actual humans.
  • The Kardashian Kollection: Keep your content personal. You may not be particularly well-known, but who knows? Maybe you could be. Also, don't spell c-words with K's.
  • Mary Kay: Incorporate customers in your brand. Even if it's not inherently part of your business model, figure out a way to make them feel involved.
  • Pokémon: ...even if it's just by being conversational. If your social content asks questions, your fans will likely answer. Remember the guy who became friends with Applebee's on Facebook?
  • Starbucks: Play to people's passions. What is it about your brand that moves people?
  • Taco Bell: Retweet. Today's one-on-one Twitter interaction could make tomorrow's brand ambassador.

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