Why Things Go Viral: A Quick Review of “Contagious”

My copy of "Contagious"

My copy of “Contagious”

Last year, I read two books about what makes ideas and actions stick or tip. The first book was written by the Heath Brothers (Chip & Dan Heath) entitled “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” and the other one was the “Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” by Malcolm Gladwell.

The ideas presented in these books were very useful to me as a Community Relations Manager. I often consult these books whenever I’m crafting a strategy on communication and community organizing – and even on managing my Team.

They became my go-to-books until I got a copy of Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On” which was released this year.

In Contagious, Jonah Berger explored the science on why do people talk about certain products and ideas more than others? Why some stories and rumors are more infectious? And what makes online content go viral?

Though these intriguing questions were believed to be answered already by Malcolm Gladwell in his Tipping Point, Jonah Berger found the book frustrating because it was mainly descriptive. It did not, according to him, answer what was the underlying human behavior that drove those outcomes (or causing ideas to tip).

On Made to Stick, on the other hand, Jonah Berger noted that it only focused on making ideas “stick” – making people to remember them – but say less about how to make ideas and products spread, or getting people to pass them on.

Thus, Jonah Berger sought the science on what makes things catch on.

After completing his PhD and more than a decade of research, Jonah Berger has discovered some of the answers. He was able to come up with 6 Principles that are often at work that cause things to be talked about, shared and imitated. He called it STEPPS.

Social CurrencyWe share things that make us look good.

Most people would rather look smart than dumb, rich than poor, and cool than geeky. Just like the clothes we wear and the cars we drive. what we talk about influences how others see us.

TriggersTop of mind, tip of tongue.

Triggers are stimuli that prompt people to think about related things…People talk about whatever comes to mind, so the more often people think about product or idea, the more it will be talked about. We need to design products or ideas that are frequently triggered by the environment and create new triggers by linking our products and ideas to prevalent cues in that environment.

EmotionWhen we care, we share.

Emotional things often get shared, so rather than harping on function, we need to focus on feelings.

PublicBuilt to show, built to grow.

Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular. So wee need to make our products and ideas more public.

Practical ValueNews you can use.

People like to help others, so if we can show them our products or ideas will save time, improve health, or save money, they’ll spread the word.

StoriesInformation travels under the guise of idle chatter.

People don’t just share information, they tell stories…We need to make our message so integral to the narrative that people can’t tell story without it.

These STEPPS principles were presented in the book with groundbreaking research and powerful stories (i.e explaining Rebecca Black’s Friday popularity, etc) for the readers to capture well how they operate in the context of how things catch on.

So if you are looking for a book to understand the sudden popularity of Gangnam Style, Magnum Chocolate and Giyomi in the Philippines that made many of us crazy talking and sharing things about them – or if you want your ideas to spread overnight, Contagious is a perfect book for you!

You can get your copy of Contagious (hard cover only) in National Bookstore, Powerbooks and Fully Booked for Php995.00 only.