Why does everything have to go viral?

Why social currency and viral content are so important in learning and development.

Why You Should Care
How many times have you been told to go on a training, and you wish you didn’t have to – wouldn’t it be better to really look forward to it? Read on to find out why social currency is so important to L&D initiatives.

When L&D (learning and development) have to persuade people to go on a course that they don’t want to attend, it’s a sure-fire way to waste budget, time and resources.

On the other hand, when demand for a training event outstrips the supply or (more controversially) when stakeholders are angry with you for not involving them earlier – that’s when you know you’re onto a winning programme. How much people talk about your L&D programme internally is the single most important measure of its success, beyond the ‘how many people attended’ or how well they rated the course in the survey afterwards.

The final frontier?

Years ago, when digital media was relatively new, we worked with a global company to help their marketing teams feel more confident using new digital marketing platforms like Snapchat and TikTok along with traditional media. We built the learning journey around the analogy of “space exploration”. Apart from being a way to indulge my love of Star Trek Discovery, it epitomized a mindset shift.

We wanted people to embrace the new ways they could reach their customers, rather than avoiding social platforms because they were facing the unknown. The messages were about leaving the safe planet of traditional advertising, taking off to seek new opportunities in new worlds, a brilliant crew facing challenges together, that sort of thing.

But something strange happened as the global roll out began. On the client’s internal social media platform Yammer, we began to see photos popping up of teams around the world dressed in space suits. The ‘journey to space’ film invitation that we’d sent as a teaser had got them so excited that they were turning up all dressed up as if they were joining a star ship crew. After the New York team posted how brilliant they looked in their space suits, it didn’t take long for the Sydney team to post a photo of themselves as astronauts in front of the Opera House, and it went viral from there. People loved it and started competing with more elaborate posts. It was good fun and a great way to see colleagues in a different light.

But it was more than that.

It raised awareness about the training, created a sense of anticipation in advance, and made the workshops more enjoyable. Crucially, because the viral activity (admittedly unplanned) brought to life the mindset shift required for the behaviour change. The positive impact on the day-to-day activities of the marketing team was phenomenal.


“Going viral, even if only internally, means that people are intrigued, want to be involved, look forward to coming, and enjoy sharing and connecting about the new skills afterwards. How many times have you been told to go on a training, and you wish you didn’t have to – wouldn’t it be better to really look forward to it?


When you want adults at work to learn something new, you can book time in their diaries, create a toolkit and present it to them. You can measure success by how many people attended and how they rated the training – these are easily quantifiable measures and comparable with other courses.

But let’s not ignore the qualitative measures of success – did people enjoy the training, were people able to talk about what they learned to their boss or peers (about the content, not just ‘I went on a course’) afterwards, and crucially do they want to talk about it? Was it good enough to go viral?

Not just for the likes

This is why we increasingly measure the success of training by how much people want to talk about it to each other, how much people want to photograph themselves there, and how much people want to share about it on social media.

But isn’t this just self-promotion? Yes – but for the right reasons. If you treat every L&D learning journey as an internal campaign, you need a strong internal brand and name, you need to make the benefits to the individuals and the business clear, you need to raise excitement and expectations ahead of time, and then the experience itself must be brilliant. And on top of that, you need people to want to tell other people about it.

Far better than a boring training that no one wants to go to, or – possibly worse, an amazing training that no one talks about to anyone else afterwards. If you emerge from a learning journey and tell no one about it, and no one notices anything different in how you do things, did it have an impact? I’d argue no – in this case the tree didn’t make a sound if no one heard it fall.


“A crucial ingredient of a successful learning journey is how you want people to talk about it afterwards to their peers and bosses.


Have you made it easy for them to explain what it was? Have you given them opportunities and assets to share? Have you provided them with an opportunity to share, and rewarded them for sharing? Creating excitement and demand for learning motivates other people to learn, and it raises awareness of what was learned too.

When L&D goes viral, it’s a win win.

First published by Unleashed