Five Elements of Contagious Campaigns

Article 4 min
The ultimate goal of any successful social media campaign is to change your target audience's knowledge, attitude and behavior. If you create content that gets your audience talking and sharing, then you've got a viral campaign!

Illustration of five essential elements depicted as a periodic table with the title essential campaign elements.
There are five essential elements of a contagious campaign: showable, inviting, simple, measurable and exclusive.
VIRIN: 230419-D-ZW071-1001

Campaigns are unique to your communication strategy, but they do have some common threads that make them successful. Let's look at five elements that contagious campaigns have in common: showable, inviting, simple, measurable and exclusive.


Illustration of a play button and the letters Sh.
The first element of a contagious campaign is showable content.
VIRIN: 230419-D-ZW071-1002

It's Showable.

Highly contagious campaigns have elements that users want to be a part of. That might be an evocative photograph or video, such as a military homecoming, or a special event like an airshow. It's the kind of visual element that users feel compelled to be involved with. Showable content:

  • Is visually arresting
  • Lends itself to interaction
  • Doesn't rely on heavy text
  • Should be playable on mute (whether that be with open or closed captions)


Marine Corps Recruiting Depot Parris Island (MCRDPI) utilized its Instagram account to share images from "Pick-Up Day." The post had strong engagement numbers because it's an event every Marine has in common. Something that brings up such strong memories will create a strong reaction that compels people to stop scrolling and react.

Illustration of a hand and the letters In.
The second element of contagious campaigns is inviting content.
VIRIN: 230419-D-ZW071-1003

It's Inviting.

Contagious campaigns are two-way streets that invite participation and conversation and turn your audience into co-content creators. People want to talk about themselves, so give them an opportunity to share their experiences, background and expertise. Encourage users to put their own spin and their own style on their responses by not locking the audience in with how the question is framed. To keep the conversation going, shout out your biggest fans and highlight their comments. Inviting content:

  • Gets users talking about themselves
  • Acts like two-way communication
  • Requires conversations and participation


A Twitter post asking users to pick their favorite cadence might not get as much engagement as asking users to finish the cadence "Mama, mama can't you see..." or to add a verse to this special Marine Corps Birthday cadence. A best practice is to test this idea and look for potential pitfalls from another perspective. Reference this Army case study for an example of how replies can turn adversarial.

Illustration of a hand pointing with the letters Si.
The third element of contagious campaigns is simplicity.
VIRIN: 230419-D-ZW071-1004

It's Simple.

Contagious campaigns have a level of simplicity. If you have to explain to your users in ANY way (in the caption, in the comments, in a disclaimer), it's over. Obscure references, weighty language and confusing imagery will chase your audience away, and could potentially invite conversation that distracts from the original intent, but simple and relatable content keeps them with you. Simple content:

  • Is quickly and easily understood
  • Can be articulated to others
  • Makes people want to participate
  • Is accessible to all


The United States Army recently reimagined its "Be All You Can Be" campaign for a new and younger audience. The campaign requires no explanation, has clear and simple messaging and can be interpreted and personalized by multiple publics.

Illustration of a bar graph with the letters Me.
The fourth element of a contagious campaign is measurability.
VIRIN: 230419-D-ZW071-1005

It's Measurable.

Before your campaign even starts, you should know what your goals are and how they will be measured. Typically, these will fall into three categories: to inform, to connect and to protect. Measurable content is specific, relevant and time-bound. It:

  • Helps define what benchmarks prove you're making progress, remaining stagnant or losing ground
  • Gives you a clear quantifiable data point that equals "success"
  • Aids in reevaluating your communication strategy, if necessary


If your intent is to inform your public there are new forms that need to be downloaded, you could measure the number of forms downloaded. If your goal is to connect and establish a positive brand position, you could measure shares. Adding an interactive component to your campaign, such as housing part of the information on your website, allows you to track the traffic to a specific page and link.

Illustration of a crown with the letters Ex.
The fifth and final element of a contagious campaign is exclusivity.
VIRIN: 230419-D-ZW071-1006

It's Exclusive.

Contagious campaigns often have a level of exclusivity as a way to make people feel special. The military in and of itself is exclusive, so you have the potential to create content that is specific and unique, such as livestreams of training exercises, behind-the-scenes content or a day in the life of various military jobs. Show the things that help you stand apart from the general population; things that your unit has experienced, but other people have not. Exclusive content:

  • Caters to your audience
  • Uses a voice and tone that are authentic
  • Helps establish and create a bond with your stakeholders by building credibility and trust; In essence, you trust the audience with this exclusive content and want them to feel included in your "world"


This case study shows how MCC Mike DiMestico used humor and military propaganda posters to reinforce the principles of OPSEC. A campaign like "How do you roll up your sleeves?" wouldn't really resonate outside of a military audience, and that's ok. Don't lose the audience you have chasing the ones you don't need.

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