3 lessons we can learn from the most ‘contagious’ brands

Everyone wants their content to go viral, though 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 Kardashians, 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.