How to make an idea go viral

At the third convening of the Yale Public Voices fellowship, Katie Orenstein, Founder and CEO of the OpEd Project, shared 5 tips on how to make an idea go viral:

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Photo from Traffic Spinners

1) Name it. Like Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie does. Ngoze’s famous TED talk, “The Danger of the Single Story,” launched a global conversation questioning our global conversation. By naming it powerfully, she brought the shock of the familiar to a longstanding problem.  Sometimes a name can bring a new idea into existence. Conversely, sometimes an idea has been waiting so long for a name that giving it one is like putting a match to a haystack.  In 1963, Betty Friedan famously named The Feminine Mystique, igniting a new wave of feminism and permanently changing the social fabric of the United States and the world.

2) Simplify. The idea must be tight and simple enough to travel across time and space with minimal distortion. Simplification is not the same thing as dumbing down–quite the contrary, according to Leonardo da Vinci, who believed that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”  Simple is also aerodynamic.

3) Create a refrainRefrain (from the Vulgar Latin refringere, “to repeat”, and later from Old French refrandre): the line(s) that are repeated in music or verse.  Cadence, rhythm, repetition are the close friends of memory and virality. Ever wonder how The Odyssey was remembered and retold by the bards, long before it was written down?

4) Tap into emotionMake your idea resonant at a heart level (not just a head level).  OpEd Project Public Voices fellow Carol Anderson’s op-ed on Ferguson and white rage in The Washington Post did just that.  It was one of the Post’s most shared op-eds of 2014.

5) Give memorable examplesShow and Tell.  Share examples that are meaningful, retell-able “nuggets” – that are descriptive, funny or poignant, easily understandable, irresistible to share, but clear enough to resist distortion across generations of tellers.

Follow @theopedproject on Twitter for more tips.


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