Virality. It's what most marketers dream of, but few are able to achieve.

This elusive phenomenon is shrouded in mystery: Is viral content a product of sheer luck or hard work behind the scenes? And how much does it actually matter to your business goals?

To help answer these questions, I spoke with two experts, Steven Bartlett, the co-founder and CEO of Social Chain, and my wife, Carrie Kerpen, the co-founder and CEO of Likeable Media.

Dave Kerpen: What's the secret sauce behind "going viral"?

Steven Bartlett: There is so much noise on the internet at the moment, the recipe for going viral is getting more tactical and requires deeper insight than just metrics. The most important elements to achieving viral success are:

  • Understand human psychology

  • Emotionally tap into culture

  • Understand the social channels

  • Power of distribution

Carrie Kerpen: The biggest misconception with going viral is that virality just happens--that it's a magical, spontaneous combustion. In fact, there is a lot of planning (and money) that goes into creating the right conditions for something to "go viral." Beyoncé and Taylor Swift are perfect examples of this. Each album release is a carefully orchestrated, brilliant marketing plan.

DK: What's more important, "going viral" or reaching the right (smaller) audience?

SB: It's better to focus on building the foundation blocks of a strong community, and that starts from zero. If you go "viral" and have no reason for you to retain those people after, you'll essentially be a flash in the pan. Give people a reason to land on your page, engage, and then give them a reason to keep coming back.

CK: Reaching the right audience is absolutely more important. For a few products--particularly mass media, such as pop music or mainstream movies, or mass CPG products such as Pepsi--the right audience is pretty much everyone in the world. But for most products, the audience is far more specific and narrow, and oftentimes maintaining a sense of exclusivity is a core part of the appeal.

DK: How does a company go from "viral" to "making money"?

SB: If you can consistently execute the act of "going viral," that essentially means you're reaching a lot of people, in an impactful way, whether that's humor, information, or motivation. Going from "viral" to "making money" is achievable because going viral means you have a lot of people who are connecting with what you're doing. If you're doing "fitness," then fitness brands will want to reach the people you are constantly connecting with and will pay you money for it.

CK: Frankly, it's difficult. Virality is today's version of getting your 15 seconds of fame. Psy, who made what was, at the time, the most viewed YouTube video of all time, "Gangnam Style," later had an additional, smaller US hit and has since faded away. Alex from Target? He now has a talent agency and management company, but he hasn't been heard of much lately. For a brand, often the next step after going viral is to move away from driving buzz, and instead having a laser focus on harnessing the sudden interest to acquire new customers and drive sales.

DK: What are the 3 biggest social media trends for 2018?


  1. Chatbots. The customer experience is about to be revolutionized for brands, which can now personally engage with users, at scale. At the moment there are over 10,000 bots on Facebook Messenger with 300 million users on the platform, so expect big increases in the use of bots in 2018.

  2. E-commerce will be a big player on social media platforms throughout 2018, bringing audiences and buying closer together through platforms like Instagram.

  3. Social media will become increasingly an immersive experience with users engaging far beyond a like or a retweet. With AI and 360 becoming prominent, the integration of social feeds and reality is predicted to be the next big thing. This year we've seen social feeds being overlaid onto reality in the shape of AI lenses on the likes of Snapchat and Instagram, so it's exciting to see what 2018 holds.


  1. Activating messaging apps and chatbots will be increasingly important, as studies show that consumers now prefer to communicate with brands directly. By 2018, an expected 80 percent of mobile users worldwide will use messaging apps in 2018, while AI is expected to manage 85 percent of customer relationships by 2020.

  2. Running stories rather than single posts or videos will become more prevalent as many social platforms have started to offer this capability, including Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. As of November 2017, Instagram Stories now has 300 million daily active users.

  3. Augmented and virtual reality will continue to evolve and mature, and as they do, brands and marketers will have great opportunities to create innovative, valuable experiences for consumers. Already, we've seen IKEA and Gap demonstrate the practical implications of AR, while McDonald's and Häagen-Dazs have shown us the power of VR. This is just the beginning.  

Thanks for chatting with me, Steven and Carrie! 

Now it's your turn. Do you agree or disagree with Steven and Carrie? How important is it you for you and your company to "go viral"? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below. Who knows, maybe this article will even go viral.