Thursday, October 09, 2014


Whether you're a marketer trying to sell your product or an HR professional trying to get people to do their appraisals on time, have you, at some point, tried to get a large number of people to talk about something and change their behaviour even for a short while?

If you have, then this book is for you.

Jonah Berger's Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age manages to attain the Holy Trifecta rare in so-called "management" books - it's readable, it's backed by research, and it inspires ideas.

Not just that, it also makes it sound like it's very easy to build word of mouth. Just follow the six steps and you'll have a viral phenomenon on your hands!

Frankly, I'm still not convinced that it's possible to build word of mouth using a "by the book" approach. But for what it's worth, Berger creates a very convincing framework of six S.T.E.P.P.S for the aspiring viral-er to follow. Here are the six steps.

  1. Social Currency: People care about how they look to others. For example, if you make a club exclusive or secret, people will tend to brag that they've been there - thus spreading word-of-mouth.
  2. Triggers: Top-of-mind means tip-of-tongue. Rebecca Black's horrible Friday song went viral because - you guessed it - people were reminded of it on Fridays! 
  3. Emotion: When we care, we share. That Susan Boyle 'Britain's Got Talent' video? It inspired awe - and that's why we shared it. (I just watched it again, and it's still as awesome as before. Go watch it. NOW.)
  4. Public: Built to show, built to grow. To use the simplest example, this is why brands have their own signature carry-bags. 
  5. Practical Value: News you can use. Did you know that articles about education and health are the ones that people share the most? Because they're so practical you'll WANT to share them with somebody else. 
  6. Stories: Information travels under the guise of idle chatter. If you tell me Flipkart has great customer service - meh. But if you tell me you ordered a product at 5 PM yesterday and got it at your doorstep at 10 AM today - THAT'S interesting.

Berger illustrates each of the S.T.E.P.P.S with an interesting set of examples, and cites enough research to make you believe he's got a point. All the S.T.E.P.P.S seem quite obvious at first sight (OBVIOUSLY emotion would cause more sharing), but he digs in and shows us the nuances (low-arousal emotions such as sadness or contentment don't result in sharing).

Despite my belief that it can't be that easy to create something viral, I have a feeling I'm going to come back to this book again and again. If nothing else, Berger's framework provides an interesting way of looking at the viral phenomenon, and his examples are sure to inspire some ideas.

Want to know more without buying the book? This might help. 
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