Virality is not born, it is made : Part 2 | Minting Social Currency


n my last post, I talked about how products go viral! If you haven`t read it before landing here, I recommend reading PART-1 of this series.

One of the things I talked about in the last post was the STEPPS framework that explains how to design products to introduce a virality factor; especially word of mouth virality. STEPPS stands for Social Currency, Triggers, Emotions, Public, Pragmatic value, and Stories. In this post, I will touch upon Social Currency and try to decipher what it means in the context of Product design and virality.

A few researchers at Harvard did a study; they gave individuals two options- (1) Talk about the behavior or attitudes of someone else (2) Talk about their attitude towards an individual or a subject. The study concluded that #2 activated the same brain cells that respond to pleasures like money, food, or love.

Humans are behaviorally designed to seek rewards; sometimes, this is explicit, and others are more latent in its manifestation. We love talking about our accomplishments and naturally shy away from showcasing our failures. Remember buying a OnePlus phone in its initial days? The invite-only system of getting the phone made us feel more accomplished, and we couldn`t stop but rave about the device to our friends. Our gadgets, clothes, shoes, and everything else builds the silent identity we may be unaware of, but others may notice instantly.

Therefore, just like we buy something in exchange for money, we love making a more intangible transaction, buying social validation or impression by talking about things that separate us from others- an iPhone, iWatch, or even a high-end shoe. This is the power of WORD OF MOUTH!

My goal is not to introduce you to social currency; most of you may already know about it or have felt this too but probably were unaware of the term. I want to talk about how products use Social Currency to build virality in their design. To design for a product to go viral, we need to appropriate the idea of social currency; we need to give them reasons to talk about the product or company, and here is how we do it –

Components of Social Currency

(1) Intrinsic peculiarity – The idea is to think hard about features that make the product exciting and surprising. The product doesn`t have to be completely novel; instead, the focus should be on creating or carving something interesting that will stick with people. Remember Steve Jobb`s first-ever iPhone presentation where he asked the audience – “How do you see what`s on the next page on your phone?” and moments after he showcased the “scroll.” A simple feature, but he presented it as extraordinary. People couldn`t stop thinking about that!

(2) Leveraging Game Mechanics – Humans have one thing prominently familiar with animals – we need a leader to look up to. This is not only true for executive leadership running billion-dollar companies but an ordinary Duolingo user wanting to get on top of the leader board.

The point is, we love competition, and we may not accept it openly, but we get attracted towards systems that reward people using a leader board format. We crave to move up the ladder, hoping to be on top one day. If you have made the team on Dream11, or have watched “Yeh mai kar leta hu aap Dream11 pe team bana lo” (I will do this, you can create your own team on Dream11 app) ads, you would understand what I am talking about. For those who don`t know about Dream11, it is a fantasy sports app where users create their imaginary teams and compete against other players during a live match. Therefore, leveraging game mechanics is another crucial point for enhancing social transmission.

(3) Make them “Insiders” – Best way to understand this is by recalling how CRED works. If your credit score is less than 750, you cannot be a part of the CRED “club.” It is the gated community that CRED has so successfully built with India`s top creditworthy individuals. Users value products more if they feel a sense of belonging and realize that the privilege is scarce; not everyone has it. Therefore, they love to brag about it with their friends and family.

It is essential to mention that these are just a few ways companies design virality into their products. This model has become ultra-dynamic and may change continuously as a response to user or market needs.

In my next blog, I will focus on the next component of the STEPPS framework – [T]riggers.

Please provide your feedback on my articles at feedback will be invaluable towards improving the content.

**This post is inspired by Jonah Berger`s research and his book '