What can you do to improve your odds?

by Paul Flowers, President of Circa 46

From January to October 2015, U.S. brands published 35 million posts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, resulting in 65 billion actions – comments, shares, retweets, etc. – with online social audiences.

Yet, just 7% of these 65 billion actions involved actual sharing a brand’s content – rather than simply clicking “Like” – according to a recently published article in the Journal of Advertising Research. That 7% number demonstrates the difficulty brand marketers face in generating valuable “word-of-mouth” promotion. If it is that difficult for major brands to get their content shared, you can imagine how hard it is for senior housing communities!

So what can you do to improve your odds?

Here are six “STEPPS” that cause content to be talked about and shared as identified by Jonah Berger in his 2013 book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On. Senior housing marketers should consider integrating these STEPPS into their social media efforts:

Social Currency

Word-of-mouth is often practiced by someone to make a good impression. Berger calls it “social currency.” To get people talking about your community, give them a means to make themselves look good, but in a way that attaches them to your community. For example, post photos on Facebook of residents doing things that are novel, surprising or just plain interesting and then encourage those residents featured in the photos to share them with family and friends. With a little luck, those family and friends will share your photos with others.


“Triggers” are the cues that stimulate conversation and sharing. They not only boost word-of-mouth but also remind people about things they already want to do or remember about you. Linking your community with an idea or event – like a regularly scheduled speaker series or a visible relationship with the local college – keeps you front and center with prospects, their families and friends, and even opinion leaders.  While “social currency” gets people to talk, “triggers” keep them talking.


Content that evokes an emotional response – excitement, happiness, awe, or even anger – tends to be shared more often. Feel-good stories about your community or residents posted on social media sites, especially if there is an element of surprise, can arouse such emotions among readers and motivate them to pass the stories along to friends. It is always a good idea to prepare your content so that it will evoke feelings among your readers that get them talking about you.

Practical Value

People like to pass on useful information, whether it’s about saving time or money, or helping them have good experiences. Practical value is about helping; it’s “news you can use”. What sharable information can your community offer prospective residents or their adult children that can help improve their lives, while positioning you as the go-to authority for enhanced living as it relates to aging adults. Exercises to improve brain health? Checklists for measuring assistance needs? Heart-healthy recipes? You get the picture. Of these six STEPPS, “Practical Value” may be the easiest to apply.


Public visibility increases word-of-mouth. The more visible your community is, the more people will talk about you. Can people see your residents enjoying your community’s activities and amenities? Making the good things about your community more observable will make it more likely to become popular. It is hard to get excited about something you can’t see!


People don’t just share information, they tell stories. “Stories” give people an easy way to talk about ideas and they give people reasons to bring up information. Like the tale of the Trojan Horse, stories are vessels that can carry information that you want to be shared imbedded in a larger narrative. Look for interesting and emotional stories that people will want to share, but make sure your community, residents or staff are so essential that the stories cannot be told without these components.

Generating word-of-mouth does not require you to employ all six of these tactics. Even if you take advantage of just a few, you can harness the social influence of word-of-mouth for your community. These tactics don’t require a big advertising budget or take creative genius. The key is committing to a practice of consistently looking for opportunities to apply one or more of these approaches to get people talking about – and sharing – good things about your senior living community.

Paul Flowers is President of Circa 46, a marketing communications firm and Senior Housing Forum partner, that delivers the senior market to its clients. They specialize in leading-edge digital and traditional advertising methodology that is not only effective, but efficient – so it keeps marketing costs down.