The science and psychology of why videos go viral

The videos and memes you keep seeing on your feeds aren’t an accident. There are actually six principles that drive virality.

Ever since Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point,” psychologists have been trying to get to the bottom of what makes something “go viral.” But according to Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger, the mnemonic, “STEPPS,” holds the answers.

Here’s the breakdown:

Social Currency

We post and share content on social media to be perceived by others in a certain way. Because we care so much about what people think of us, it affects our online behavior. So to seem like a cool kid or “in the know,” we share popular content (otherwise known as memes) and often put our own twists on it.



Social currency gets people talking, but triggers keep them talking. Triggers are reminders for related concepts and ideas.

For example, if your friend said, “peanut butter and –,” you’d probably think of jelly. And once the thought of peanut butter and jelly is in your head, this vintage meme might come to mind:

Another example is the atrocious Rebecca Black song, “Friday.” The song was the most viral video of 2011, yet everyone hated it. So how did it rake in over 300 million views? If you look at the video’s search history, you’ll see a pattern 一 a spike in traffic every Friday.

Friday (the day) acted as a trigger, almost forcing people to think about and share the ridiculous song every week.