Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

One of the most surprising pieces of information Berger provides in his book, Contagious, is the importance of in-person word of mouth transmission of ideas. Berger asks the question, “What percent of word of mouth do you think happens online?” The answer surprised me, as I’m sure it will surprise you. I’ll get back to that in a bit.

Did you know that there is a new currency in the world? I’m not referring to crypto currency. I’m referring to a currency that is far more elusive, currency that is impossible to control.

I’m referring to the currency of online viral content, the most powerful of which is the meme.

This currency can change lives literally overnight, turning an unknown creator into a powerful influencer with one single publication. The beauty of this currency is also its curse: anyone and everyone has an equal opportunity to cash in.

Everywhere you look, there are books, articles, videos, podcasts and conferences dedicated to revealing the secret of the viral hit. Those who have made it to the status of full-time online influencers are highly-sought after speakers, paid big bucks to share their success story.

The only thing is, there doesn’t seem to be a sure-fire recipe. Most of the time, it is only by accident that something goes viral. Consider the photo below.

I happen to know this family, from our time living in the community of Three Hills, Alberta. Theunis was simply doing his regular yard work, and all the while a tornado was brewing a few kilometres away. His wife, Cecilia, saw the tornado in the background, and quickly snapped a photo. She had no idea that, after sending it to some family members, it would become a viral hit.

In this case, the viral photo didn’t result in much more than a flurry of media attention. For aspiring influencers, it might be frustrating to watch someone strike viral gold and not cash in on the opportunity.

What is it about this photo, and others like it, that make it go viral? In his book, Contagious, Jonah Berger provides six reasons why things catch on: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories.

In what is probably the best explanation for why things go viral, Berger provides many examples to show how combining several or all of these six elements can increase the chances of your content being shared across social networks, both online and offline.

And, this is the key: offline word of mouth sharing of ideas. You’ll see why this is key when I reveal the answer to the question, “What percent of word of mouth do you think happens online?”

Most people believe that something around 50-60% of word of mouth happens online, which makes sense. We spend quite a lot of time online, so most people would think that we are influenced mainly by what is shared with us online.

However, as Berger reveals in his book, the number is not even close to 50%. The actual number is 7%! Only 7% of word of mouth influence happens online. Want to know why that is the case? I encourage you to pick up a copy of Contagious*. It will be worth it!

If you have been searching for a recipe for viral success, Berger’s book comes about as close to a sure-fire recipe for success that currently exists.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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