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Contagious – Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

Contagious book by Jonah BergerDo you work with anyone who’s ever said, “Let’s make a viral video”? CEOs and marketing managers who think the magic formula to marketing is simply to contrive viral success just don’t understand the way word of mouth works.

It’s possible to generate word of mouth activity by paying for lots of exposure, but something having natural viral potential depends very much on luck. But understanding what makes things catch on can help you to come up with ideas that stand a better chance of catching on.

That’s what this book is about. Jonah Berger has spent more than a decade studying what makes us share things, not only on social media but also on email. He’s studied thousands of pieces of content and tracked how they are shared, then categorised these into types.

For example, Berger’s studies led initially to the suggestion that people are more likely to share positive things than negative things, but other factors affect sharing behaviour – anger and anxiety.

What makes people share things?

He says, “Articles about Wall Street fat cats getting hefty bonuses during the economic downturn induced lots of anger, while articles about topics like summer T-shirts evoked no anger at all. Articles about things like the stock market tanking made people pretty anxious, while articles about things like Emmy Award nominees evoked no anxiety.

“If it were true that people share positive content and avoid sharing negative content, then anger and anxiety should, like sadness, reduce sharing. But this wasn’t the case.”

What Berger and his team concluded was that it is arousal that “kindles the fire”. Whether something is positive or negative, it’s how it arouses us that determines our desire to tell others about it.

Elsewhere in Contagious, the author shares a framework for shareable content, which he calls STEPPS – an acronym for six key features of contagious content.

  • Social currency – people need to feel they will look good when talking about it.
  • Triggers – create a context that can spark recall so they can be reminded to share the story.
  • Emotion – does talking about your product or story create emotional arousal?
  • Public – make it easily viewable in public. Can people see it in action?
  • Practical value – if your product or story can help people to help others, they will talk about it.
  • Stories – is your product part of a bigger story, embedded so that it is integral to something else?

I could go on about this more, but I don’t want to spoil your desire to read the full book, which you can buy on Amazon.

Virality Explained

Read Jonah’s analysis of some of the top viral sensations of recent years – from Rebecca Black and Susan Boyle to Charlie Bit My Finger and the Dollar Shave Club.

Virality Explained screen shot

The Virality Explained website features all these and more.

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