viral marketing

Viral Marketing For Nonprofits: 3 Ways to Provide Practical Value

This post is part of our Community Manager Michelle Thai‘s series on Jonah Berger’s 6 STEPPS to Viral Marketing for Nonprofits. According to Jonah Berger, author of Contagious, one way to drive “word of mouth” is to provide practical value.

Jonah Berger says it’s important to give your community incredibly helpful and useful information because they’ll share it with others. In the process, they’ll inherently be building awareness for your organization as well.

For example, some of the most popular YouTube stars became well-known because of their incredibly useful videos. Think Michelle Phan and her make-up tutorial videos or all the great everyday tips from Neither are nearly as inspirational or hilarious as viral content is, but the videos of both Michelle Phan and Lifehacker have a large number of views because they’re highly useful.

Below are a few examples of nonprofits that have successfully leveraged practical value to get their supporters to spread the word.

Futures Without Violence: Helpful Graphics

Our client, Futures Without Violence (FWV), has a Facebook audience of over 38,000 fans, comprised mainly of parents and teenage girls.


FWV’s Facebook posts typically receive less than 200 shares and reach between 4,000 to 8,000 people, but the post above received 1,400 shares and reached approximately 90,000 people organically. Because this graphic – which helps visualize the warning signs of teen dating violence – is particularly useful to FWV’s audience, it drove many fans to share the post with their networks — resulting in unusually high reach.

Cleveland Clinic: Practical Blog Posts

Another organization that has successfully leveraged practical value to drive a high number of shares is Cleveland Clinic. While all of its Facebook posts are meant to be useful, we notice some posts receive many more shares than others — indicating some are more useful than others.

For example, Cleveland Clinic’s posts of recipes receive more shares than posts featuring other subject matter. The recipe post below received nearly 3,000 shares . Very few of Cleveland Clinic’s posts receive more than 1,000.


It’s also important to note that it’s good to be granular. Berger wrote, “Narrower content may actually be more likely to be shared because it reminds people of a specific friend or family member and makes them feel compelled to pass it along.”

Take a look at this post about the best and worst foods for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The post featuring a practical list on the left received nearly 400 more shares than the more generic post about breakfast foods on the right:

viral marketing


Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Mobile App + Webinars

Another excellent example of a nonprofit leveraging practical value is Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell Lab is a bird conservation organization. They have a wealth of information on hundreds of bird species, and their community is made up of bird watchers. To provide the community practical value, Cornell Lab developed their “Merlin Bird ID” mobile app. The free app helps bird watchers identify a bird species, as well as provide identifying tips from Cornell Lab’s experts.

Additionally, Cornell Lab offers one-hour webinars with live, interactive presentations. The webinars are always followed by a question and answer period, and each session highlights a specific group of birds:


In summary, people will share what they find to be helpful. If you want your community to share, spread the word, and build awareness for your nonprofit, provide content that is incredibly useful to them.

To learn about the other components that will help your nonprofit go viral, read our other post about Jonah Berger’s 6 STEPPS to viral marketing adapted for nonprofits. If you need help brainstorming or creating useful content for your community, don’t hesitate to contact us or leave a comment below.


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