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cover of the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On"

Contagious: Why Things Catch On”

By: Jonah Berger

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About The Book

The book examines various factors that contribute to the spread of ideas and products, such as social influence, emotion, and the presence of practical value.
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Our Takeaways

We’ve all seen it – the viral hashtag, the sudden explosion of YouTube views, or the mass celebrity following. But what made these things catch on in such an explosive way? why some products and ideas become wildly popular while others remain relatively unknown?
In his bestselling book “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” Wharton professor Jonah Berger explains how social influence shapes consumer behavior. With a combination of data analysis and insights from psychology & marketing research, Berger helps us to understand how people make decisions when it comes to deciding which ideas and brands to spread beyond their own personal networks.

The book examines various factors that contribute to the spread of ideas and products, such as social influence, emotion, and the presence of practical value. The book also provides insights and tips for how to create content that is more likely to be shared and spread. Overall, the book aims to help readers understand the underlying mechanisms behind what makes something contagious and how to create contagious content.

The main ideas of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” are:

Social currency

Social currency is the idea that people are more likely to share something if it makes them look good or enhances their social standing. For example, if someone shares an interesting article on a topic that is considered knowledgeable or trendy, it can make them appear intelligent or well-informed to their friends and followers. Another example is sharing a picture of a luxurious vacation or exclusive event, which can make the person sharing it appear wealthy or successful. These types of content provide social currency because they make the person sharing it look good to others.

Triggers

Triggers are stimuli that increase the likelihood that someone will think about or share something. Triggers can be external, such as seeing an advertisement for a product, or internal, such as a particular emotion or memory that is associated with the product. For example, if someone sees an advertisement for a new brand of toothpaste, it might trigger them to think about their own dental hygiene and the need to buy toothpaste. Another example is if someone is feeling hungry, they might be more likely to think about or share a recipe or restaurant recommendation. Triggers can be powerful in influencing people’s behavior and decisions. Here are some additional examples of triggers:

An article about the health benefits of a particular food might trigger someone to think about their own diet and the need to eat healthier.
Seeing a picture of a celebrity wearing a certain type of clothing might trigger someone to think about the fashion trend and whether they should buy the same type of clothing.
A reminder about an upcoming event, such as a friend’s birthday or a concert, might trigger someone to think about buying a gift or purchasing tickets.
A sale or special offer on a product that someone was already considering buying might trigger them to make the purchase.
A friend sharing a funny video on social media might trigger someone to watch the video and share it with their own friends.

Emotion

Emotion plays a key role in why certain ideas and products become popular. Content that evokes strong emotions, such as awe, laughter, or anger, is more likely to be shared and spread. Here are some examples of how emotion can influence the spread of ideas and products:

A funny meme or video might evoke laughter, which can make people more likely to share it with others.
A news article about a controversial issue, such as politics or social justice, might evoke feelings of anger or outrage, leading people to share the article to express their own opinions or to discuss the issue with others.
A heartwarming story about a dog being rescued from a shelter might evoke feelings of joy and compassion, leading people to share the story with their friends.
An advertisement for a new product that features a heartwarming or inspiring message might evoke feelings of hope or optimism, leading people to share the advertisement with their friends.
A charity campaign that highlights the struggles of people in need might evoke feelings of empathy, leading people to donate or share the campaign with others.

Practical value

Practical value refers to the usefulness or utility of an idea or product, and content that provides value is more likely to be shared and spread. People are more likely to share something if it provides value, such as useful information or a solution to a problem. Here are some examples of how practical value can influence the spread of ideas and products:

A recipe that shows how to make a healthy and delicious meal is likely to be shared and spread because it provides practical value to people who want to eat well.
A tutorial or guide that shows how to fix a common problem, such as a leaky faucet or a slow computer, is likely to be shared and spread because it provides practical value to people who need help with these types of issues.
A news article that provides useful information about a current event or a developing situation is likely to be shared and spread because it provides practical value to people who want to stay informed.
A product review or recommendation that helps people make informed purchasing decisions is likely to be shared and spread because it provides practical value to people who are considering buying the product.

Public Behavior

Public refers to the visibility of an idea or product, and content that is more visible is more likely to be shared and spread. Here are some examples of how public visibility can influence the spread of ideas and products:

A product that is prominently displayed in a store or on a website is more likely to be seen and considered by potential customers.
A viral video that is featured on the homepage of a social media platform or on a popular news website is more likely to be seen and shared by a large number of people.
A celebrity endorsement or endorsement from a trusted source, such as a doctor or expert, can make an idea or product more visible and credible to the public.
A public event, such as a concert or charity fundraiser, can make an idea or product more visible to a large number of people.
An idea or product that is discussed or debated in the media, such as on television or in a newspaper, can also increase its public visibility and influence its spread.

Stories

Stories are narratives or accounts of events or experiences that can be powerful in influencing the spread of ideas and products. Here are some examples of how stories can influence the spread of ideas and products:

A personal story about how a product helped someone overcome a challenge or improve their life is likely to be shared and spread because it provides a compelling narrative that others can relate to.
A news story about a hero or inspiring figure who overcame adversity or made a positive impact on the world is likely to be shared and spread because it provides a captivating narrative that others can be inspired by.
A viral video or meme that tells a funny or heartwarming story is likely to be shared and spread because it provides an entertaining narrative that others can enjoy.
A company or brand that tells a compelling story about its history, mission, or values is likely to be shared and spread because it provides a unique and engaging narrative that others can connect with.

“STEPPS” framework

The book provides insights and tips for how to create contagious content using the “STEPPS” framework that is more likely to be shared and spread. and here are some examples of how multiple elements from the “STEPPS” framework can work together to influence the spread of ideas and products:

A funny video of a baby laughing might combine social currency (making the person sharing the video look funny or cute), triggers (seeing the video on social media or hearing others talk about it), emotion (evoking laughter), public visibility (being shared on a popular social media platform), and a story (showing a cute and funny moment in the baby’s life). These factors can work together to make the video more likely to be shared and spread.


A news article about a new study that shows the health benefits of a certain type of food might combine social currency (making the person sharing the article look knowledgeable), triggers (seeing the article on a news website or hearing others talk about it), emotion (evoking feelings of concern for one’s health), public visibility (being featured on a popular news website), practical value (providing useful information about a health topic), and a story (discussing the results of the study and how it can benefit people’s health). These factors can work together to make the article more likely to be shared and spread.


An advertisement for a new car that features a celebrity endorsement and a heartwarming story about a family road trip might combine social currency (making the person sharing the advertisement look fashionable or successful), triggers (seeing the advertisement on television or in a magazine), emotion (evoking feelings of happiness or nostalgia), public visibility (being featured on a popular television show or magazine), practical value (providing information about the car’s features and benefits), and a story (showing the car in action and providing a narrative about the family’s road trip). These factors can work together to make the advertisement more likely to be shared and spread.

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