Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness

If you’re familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the title of this post will ring a bell.

I first began to formulate this framework as a model for understanding how ReTweets work (If you’re interested in my Science of ReTweets study, check out my live webinar Friday). But I think the concept extends far beond just Twitter in fact, it is a framework for understanding criteria required for an individual to share any kind of content. Each of these criteria has a corresponding action we as marketers can take to increase the contagiousness of our content and ideas.

As you can see there are three criteria and together they form a funnel of decreasing volumes, like a sales conversion rate funnel.

  1. A person must be exposed to your content to ever have a chance of spreading it. This means they have to be following you on Twitter, fans of your page on Facebook, on your email list etc.
  2. The person must become aware of your specific piece of content before they can spread it. They have to read your Tweet or open your email.
  3. That person must be motivated by something (generally in the content itself) to want to share it with their contacts.

Every piece of content, social network and campaign has vastly different conversion rates at each step of this process but, to understand the scales involved, it helps to visualize a hypothetical set of percentages. The gray boxes on the left of the graphic above represent assumed numbers: if you email 900 people and 20% of them notice and open the email and then 10% of those readers are forward it to a friend, your email was shared 18 times.

At each step we can change the numbers in our favor:

  1. Increase the number of people exposed to your content by building your reach. Get more email subscribers or Twitter followers.
  2. Create attention grabbing content. Do lots of testing on your subject lines to increase open rates.
  3. Include powerful viral calls to action.
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