The Basics of Jonah Berger’s Contagious with Criticism

Viral of Content Marketing is King Homer SimpsonContagious Introduction

There are a lot of social scientists who believe they understand virality or what causes certain ideas to spread. Opinion leaders were thought to shape public views such that as gatekeepers of ideas, opinion leaders were able to command the masses to follow their preferences and whims. For Jonah Berger, following the messenger is not the way to go. In fact, individuals are only the spark or the tinder for the spread of an idea. The size of a forest fire is not contigent on the size of the spark but rather on the number of trees that spread that spark.

Having read the Tipping Point, Berger was impressed with the power of trends to be spread. The problem with the Tipping Point was that it didn’t go behind the descriptive to the methodological almost as if there was no way to take these anecdotes and provide a form around which this knowledge could be repurposed to create viral content. Made to Stick is another noteworthy source for inspiration about how ideas remain memorable to readers. Again, there was no methodology. Enter Contagious, Jonah Berger’s Wharton output for general audiences; a book that lays out what he believes are the underlying principles by which memes and other ideas get shared. From the Blentec youtube videos to Baby name choices, Contagious lays out the prerequisites of virality.

What you should be conscious of>>>

1) Viral content has to be shared at scale which means a lot of people have to have the same response to viral content which is “I want others to see this too!”

2) The good news is that anything / any product can be potentially viral. You can engineer virality according to Jonah Berger, so please buy his book to find out more;- P

3) Certain characterisistic make it sharable. The same principles are universally part of ALL virality, according to Jonah Berger, they are: social currency, triggers, emotions, public, practical value and stories.

STEPPS from Jonah Berger's Book

The Mnemonic for Virality: STEPPS

There are six metrics that each on their own explain why an idea goes viral. These metrics on their own are a powerful weapon, although there is no hard and fast rule, having all six elements presumably is the optimal format. Rest assured, as a thinking person, you will be happy to know that virality is replicable according to Jonah Berger. Not all elements are required for content marketing success however. A minimum of one metric is required by definition!

Social Currency Logo1)    Social Currency: how do I look cool by sharing this content? What we talk about makes us cool as conversationalists therefore social currency is something we are always trying to acquire.

Jonah Berger Triggers That Matter2)     Triggers: if you think of a dog you might also then think of cats. People talk about what comes to their mind, triggers like everyday things like new triggers in the environment can get you thinking about certain products.

Emotional Metrics of Jonah Berger's Contagious3)     Emotion: we share what we care about. The most powerful emotion for sharing is likely awe. Content that focuses on feeling and deep emotion is powerful whether the emotion is good OR bad.

Jonah Berger Public Contagious4)     Public: can people see it easily. If it’s built to share like the Apple logo, then it is a piece of status. If you can see a Lance Armstrong bracelet then you’ll like / share / buy it.

Contagious Practical Value5)     Practical Value: repackaging knowledge in a shareable format is often the key to successful content marketing. Useful information that is free often has good sharing potential.

Jonah Berger Stories6)     Stories: properly tell stories as moral lessons. Info is really just idol chatter, the most powerful advertising and content marketing has the brand along for the ride. We need to build Trojan horses to create content marketing.

Contagious criticism Ironic social criticismCriticism of Contagious Metrics

The general structure is fairly acceptable but in terms of applicability, the Contagious model is not actually that applicable. You could build your content marketing strategy around the Contagious metrics but that won’t make your content viral by default. Content marketing is talked about as if it is the saviour of organic search marketing and gaining an online presence. The reality is that stories are the number one shareable items. Human beings love a good story. If you’re start-up does not have a good story then you will need to piggyback on other metrics but that is super hard to achieve. Berger has cunningly laid out a book that helps understand virality better which subtly implies high value for the reader but he makes no promises about helping you create viral content which is what 60% of the people buying the book are likely hoping for….(figure made up)

Contagious criticism Ironic social criticismCriticism | Engineering Virality

Another criticism of Jonah Berger’s Contagious is that he doesn’t layout how many piece of failed viral content you can expect to make before seeing any benefit from virality itself. He doesn’t lay out a clear process for idea generation. The creative development of ideas is something that surely happens spontaneously in the shower or will jogging. How do we know if our idea is valid and will go viral? How much planning should go into virality? Is it a system of meaning? Some of the most shared content is really about non-commercial sharable items. A huge majority of viral content is not something that can be tapped into commercially. In fact, if you try to tack on a brand or product to that viral content that you have engineered, you are likely to not really get the result you want. Most people hate to share brands for free. So designing a viral piece of content that gets shared with a brand along for the ride is rather tough.

Contagious criticism Ironic social criticismCriticism | The Gatekeeper is Powerful

Unless the Gatekeeper is a celebrity like Alec Baldwin and the airline wants you to stop playing Words with Friends, then Gatekeepers aren’t a factor. Gatekeepers have a significant impact although it’s difficult to measure. If the creators of content are lumped in as gatekeepers of ideas, one could logical say that Contagious is a useless book since Gatekeepers/ Content Marketers aren’t able to control the message. The paradox within Jonah Berger’s model is that the reason most people buy the book is to figure out how to create viral content. One of the other reasons people bought the book is that Jonah Berger is riding on the story of Wharton School of Management which is one of the best MBA programs in the US. Jonah Berger is himself a gatekeeper of a viral piece of content called Contagious. Obviously, when Guy Kawasaki shares something on Linkedin, people naturally want to like his message because he has previous credibility in the startup space. In other words, Authorship is important and Authorship is a proxy for the socalled “Gatekeeper”. Most vloggers don’t grow their audience with one piece of content marketing, they need to build up credibility. Note that Gatekeepers don’t just buy credibility they have the earn it. Therefore, Berger is wrong about the significance of credibility of the producer and the credibility of influencers who draw people’s attention to such content.

Contagious Content Is Viral Jonah BergerThis is part of a synopsis of Jonah Berger’s Contagious complete with analysis and criticism. 

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