Book Review: Contagious by Jonah Berger

You’ve heard it now a bazillion times: “This should go viral!” If there’s any word that’s been beaten up more than almost any other, it’s that one. The notion of having something go viral is so compelling and so buried into our experience with digital technology, that it’s become one of the biggest cliches in modern web development.

But, it’s still important. Having something that spreads - whether it’s a message, a product, a stance, whatever - is critical. It’s how great products permeate society, and how fundamental ideas make their way into all of our heads. The problem? It’s really hard.

Having something “go viral” might as well be the same as buying a lottery ticket. It’s such an exceedingly rare circumstance, that it’s hard to pin your strategy on that idea. That said, there are things you can do to increase the chance of your thing being spread to others, and Jonah Berger, in his book “Contagious”, lays out the secrets.

Berger takes a scientific approach, citing case studies of campaigns that have gone viral in the past (like Blendtec’s Will It Blend? campaign) and deconstructing the elements of those campaigns to evaluate how and why they spread. By doing this with a number of different campaigns, products and content, he identifies patterns that emerge, detailing out various aspects of what makes each so contagious.

In the book, Berger breaks down the aspects of virality into six different factors that help to contribute to the viral and contagious nature of something. Those six elements are:

  • Social Currency: things that give the person spreading the thing social currency with others. Particularly relevant for remarkable, scary, awe-inspiring things.
  • Triggers: viral content and things work best when they generate triggers that cause people to think of them often.
  • Emotion: things that cause higher levels of physiological arousal are more apt to be shared.
  • Public: what’s seen gets shared.
  • Practical Value: things with a high level of practicality tend to enjoy more virality than the opposite.
  • Stories: stories help things spread, but in particular, when they relate directly to the thing being shared.

The book is filled with anecdotes about companies, campaigns, products and content that have “gone viral”, with analysis for each one, identifying which of the above elements worked to make it successful.

If you’re looking for a great guide to help you think about how to make things more naturally shareable, I’d highly recommend the book. It’s an easy read, and immediately useful. Grab it now!

Related Posts

Default Yes vs. Default No

Are you and your team members default yes, or default no? One is good for startups, the other not so much.

Check Your Echo Chamber

The people you surround yourself with create your reality. Choose carefully.

Don't Forget the Goal

There's only one thing that matters when you're building software.

How To Get a Job Offer

Want to get a job in the field you love easily? This is how.

Required Reading for All Couples

If you're married, about to get married, or just committed to someone for a long period of time, these three books are absolutely required reading.

I Launched a New Podcast, and I Want You to Call In

I just launched a new podcast called Design By Committee, dedicated to answering your questions about UX, product design, content, strategy and anything else tech.

Shitty Sales Have Made Product Development Harder

Shitty, one-sided sales processes have made product development much more difficult for early stage startups.

Why I'm Cold Emailing You

You might have gotten a cold email from me. Tasteless? Some people think so. Here's why I'm doing it.

How I Found Your Email

I've been cold emailing a lot of people, and many folks are surprised that I found their email. Here's where I dug it up.

Sales is User Research, Undercover