In 2012, Dollar Shave Club posted a video that went viral and changed the course of their business forever. That video now has over 26 million views on YouTube.

One piece of viral content can be a game changer for your business. And if you understand why people share content online, you can potentially create your own viral content.

But creating viral content is difficult. Over 30,000 hours of video content are uploaded to YouTube every hour. And only a very small fraction of that content ever goes viral. Thousands of new blog posts are published every day. Over 100 million photos and videos are uploaded to Instagram every day.

So how do you make your own content stand out and go viral?

Viral marketing expert Jonah Berger offers some clues in his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. In the book, Berger offers six key ingredients for viral content. Perhaps the most powerful of these is a concept called social currency.

In this post, I will explain exactly what social currency is and four ways you can use it in your marketing. There’s no guarantee that your content will ever go viral but if applied correctly, you should at least see a big boost in shares.

What Is Social Currency?

In his book Contagious, Professor Jonah Berger outlines six steps for making content, ideas or products go viral. Step number one is something he calls social currency.

Social currency is the idea that people will share stories, ideas, articles, products with others because it makes them look good. Humans are hard-wired to want to form a good impression with other people and sharing a humorous post on social media or telling an interesting story can create this impression.

To truly leverage social currency in your marketing, you will need to understand your audience well. Almost everyone wants to look good in front of other people. But what you do to look good in front of others may differ from what other people do to look good.

We generally try to look good in a way that is consistent with our own self-image. If you see yourself as an intelligent person, you will probably try to make yourself look good by advertising your intelligence. Consider who your audience is and how do they want to be seen by their peers.

This will largely come down to factors like their age, marital status and profession. For example, a 19 year old, single college student might want to be seen as cool, funny and high social status. Whereas a 45 year old, married, white-collar professional is more likely to want to be perceived as successful and smart.

Once you understand how your audience wants to be perceived, you can help them to create that perception.

Make Your Audience Look Important

One of the best ways to offer social capital is by making your audience look important. No matter who your target market is, people typically have a desire to be perceived as important.

In 2012, LinkedIn ran an excellent campaign that helped their top users show off their importance. The top 10% most viewed profiles received notifications that their account was among the top viewed profiles of 2012. These users quickly shared the news with their friends and followers because it made them look important.

One simple way of making your followers look important is through user generated content. For example, you could ask customers to submit photos of them using your product. If you re-post these photos on your social media channels, those customers will feel important and be inclined to share the post.

Make Your Audience Look Smart

Why do people like to tell their friends if they get a top grade on a test?

Because it makes them look smart.

Not everyone wants to look smart in front of others. In fact, some people will make an intentional effort to not look smart. So again, it’s important to understand your target market and how they want to be perceived.

Online quizzes tend to get a lot of shares because they give people an opportunity to show off their intelligence. Take this quiz from for example:

Thousands of readers took to social media to share their top results on the test with friends.

Language learning app, Duolingo also does a great job of making their users look smart. When users complete a lesson in Duolingo every day and reach a milestone streak (eg. 50 days), the user will receive a congratulations message from the app and be given the opportunity to share the achievement with friends.

Make Your Audience Look Funny

A survey that asked social media users why they share posts found that 49% of users will share funny content. Humorous content offers a form of social currency because it broadcasts that you have a sense of humor when you share it.

Brands like Old Spice and Skittles regularly generate thousands of views and shares on their social media posts by posting humorous content.

Finding funny videos or memes related to your business can be a great way to leverage social currency and get more shares.

Make Your Audience Look Socially Responsible

Many people like to make themselves look good by sharing content that shows they are a socially responsible or ethical person.

Australian social media influencer, Kerwin Rae has been able to generate millions of shares on his Facebook videos on parenting topics. His video titled “Must Watch For Every Parent” has been viewed over 51 million times on Facebook and has over 24k shares.

This is a fantastic form of social currency for parents of young children. When parents share this video, it signals to their friends that they are a caring and responsible parent.

In 2014, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge became one of the most viral marketing campaigns of all time. The campaign generated over $115 million in donations from more than 2.5 million people.

There are many reasons why this campaign was so successful. But social currency was a big contributing factor. Being part of the ice bucket challenge made participants look good and showed they are a socially responsible person, promoting a good cause.


People love to share things that make them look good.

You now have four ways you can provide social currency to your audience by making them look good. While social currency can be used to gain more shares on social media, the concept also applies to traditional word of mouth marketing.

Remember to always keep in mind your target audience. Consider how your audience wants to be perceived by their peers and then craft content that based that.

Social currency is not the only factor behind viral content. If you’re interested in learning more about the psychology of virality, I suggest reading Jonah Berger’s book Contagious.


Richard McGrath is an Australian based digital marketing expert. He currently works as the digital campaign manager in one of Australia’s largest finance companies.

Richard also blogs on, where he analyses marketing campaigns from some of the world’s top brands and influencers. He reviews the psychology and persuasion factors that make these campaigns successful. You can connect with Richard on LinkedIn.

About Evgeniy Garkaviy
I'm SEO specialist and certified Adwords consultant. I have been working in Search Engine Marketing for over three year. In addition working in SEO, I love writing about the subject and contributing to forum discussion in forums about various aspects of Search Engine Optimisation from link building to content development. Read more about me here