Book Review – Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Contagious: Why Things Catch On


As a digital marketing manager specializing in social media, I’m like a proud parent with the “My Child is on the Honor Roll” bumper sticker: I love social media and it’s easy to idolize. But a book I read recently gave a practical reminder that social media is a supportive communications vehicle, rather than a marketing strategy. For true success, a great social media presence requires contagious content!

Book Review | Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On is a must-read for anyone seeking to differentiate their product or service in the marketplace and gain viral exposure through customer referrals.

In the opening, Berger hooks every reader with this stat from a study by the Keller Fay Group: only 7% of word-of-mouth happens online.

Now, before you throw your MacBook out with the bathwater, reconsider this surprising information through another lens – there is not a lack of valuable opportunities accessible through online marketing, but rather there are even more opportunities to trigger off-line conversations about your brand through strategic digital marketing. A key take-away from Contagious is this:

Social media should be designed to support off-line conversations for maximum impact.

Contagious breaks down the author’s six driving principals (STEPPS) uncovering why and how content becomes viral and, well, contagious.

  1. Social Currency – People care about how they look to others. Help them feel smart and appear in-the-know by giving them something they can share with others that will boost their social IQ. Whether it’s a funny video that just broke on YouTube or the phone number for the best tax pro in town, find a way to be their next bit of social currency.
  2. Triggers – As Berger says, “top of mind means tip-of-tongue”. By creating a context for your product outside its typical space, you’ll be thought of by your audience when they least expect it. (Try going just one Wednesday without being reminded that it’s Hump Day a la the Geico camel and tell me that triggers don’t work. I dare you!) 
  3. Emotion – “When we care, we share.” Emotional content reaches a place deep inside us that begs us to share it. Case in point? Every mom who’s watched this Publix Valentine’s Day commercial.
  4. Public – “Built to show, built to grow.” When your product or service leaves visible behavior residue, it’s more likely that it will be imitated by  others. Whether it’s the orange Cheetos dust (literal residue), a Bloomingdales big brown bag, or a yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet, find ways to help your products or services advertise themselves.
  5. Practical Value – Want your content to spread like wildfire? Berger shares the most simple solution of all: offer content with incredible value and package your knowledge and expertise so people can easily pass it on. From infographics and handy “how to’s”, people love sharing tools to simplify and solve everyday problems. Help them be a hero!
  6. Stories – Everyday brand stories travel under what seems like idle chatter. Berger stresses that stories are vessels, just like the famous Trojan horse. A narrative or story that people want to tell will carry your idea long for the ride. (Example: Think Jared from Subway.)

Can’t imagine how to incorporate all of these principles in one Facebook post? Fear not! Try adding even one or two of these ingredients to your brand’s story and you’ll see a big impact.

Keep this diagram handy after you read the book and remember to add some contagious content into your marketing mix to give both your social media and off-line communications a boost!