Read “Contagious” and Learn How to Take Your Ideas Viral

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viral marketing examplesWant to know my sure-fire advice for taking your video viral?  Just video yourself doing anything you’d never want a single soul to see – ever.  That should do it.  Up until I read Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger, that was the best advice I could give.

Aren’t you glad I got my hands on this book?  I’m glad too because now I have a much more solid understanding of why things go viral and even more importantly, how to put certain elements in place to increase the likelihood that my product, service or video will have the best chance of going viral. And after reading this review, so will you.

It’s Like Made to Stick, and Then Some

If you think Contagious sounds a lot like the Heath Brothers’ Made to Stick, you’d be on the right track.  You see, Jonah Berger’s mentor in graduate school was Chip Heath and as he says early in the book, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

The key distinction between the two books is that Made to Stick (as the name implies) is about how to get ideas to stick so that people remember them.  Contagious is more about how to get ideas to spread, so that people talk about them.  And this is why I bought a Kindle copy of this book on early order as soon as a friend mentioned it to me.

The Six Elements to Consider for Contagious Ideas

Let’s just jump right into the nitty-gritty.  I know you’re probably chomping at the keyboard and scrolling through this review to get to the meat of the book.

Contagious quickly gets to the key points – that a viral idea, product, service or video has to contain at least a couple of these six ingredients:

  1. Social Currency:  The bottom line is that human beings like to brag.  We like to see ourselves as being special, important, knowledgeable and unique.  In short, human beings want to look good.  So if sharing something is going to make us look good, we’re going to share it.  The examples given in the book include: A restaurant bar with a secret entrance through a phone booth.  They don’t promote this entrance, you just have to know about it.  The place is packed.
  2. Triggers: This is really an interesting element of contagious ideas.  Would you believe that Cheerieos gets more word of mouth than Disney?  It’s all because of triggers.  People have breakfast every day; they don’t go to Disney every day.  And it’s this daily dose of Cheerios at breakfast that generates the word of mouth.  The phrase to remember here is, “Top of mind, tip of tongue.”
  3. Emotion:  Making people feel something gets them to talk about it.  One of my favorite examples is the Google video that shows the story of a meeting, turning into a romance turning into a wedding, all through the various search terms entered in the search field of Google.  “When we care, we share” is the phrase associated with this element.
  4. Public:  This is one of my favorite elements in viral content.  Berger illustrates this element using the Armstrong Livestrong story and the story of the Mustache movement for men’s health awareness.   The basic idea is to make some element of your idea, product or service visible to the world in such a way that makes people ask about it and ultimately participate in it.
  5. Practical Value:  This is one element that may or may not be a function of your idea.  But if your idea has practical value; if it shows people how to do something, overcome a challenge in a creative way or solve a problem, it’s got a higher likelihood of being shared. Think of this one as, “News you can use.”
  6. Stories:  This element should come as no surprise.  Stories have always been amazingly powerful and shareable.  Everyone loves a good story.  Read this chapter carefully because the stories you create have to have a specific connection and relevance to the idea you are trying to spread.  Remember that, “Information travels under the guise of idle chatter.”

Contagious Contains Even More Content You Can Use

Another wonderful thing about Contagious is that there is even more content.  You’ll find a downloadable workbook as a PDF file that you can use to add some viral ingredients to your idea.

There is also a STEPPS (those are the six elements I described above) framework on a single sheet that you can carry along with you. Finally, there’s a book club discussion guide that you can use with your team.

Don’t Just Read Contagious BE Contagious

When you get your own copy of Contagious you’ll want to read it all the way through for the sheer entertainment value.  But then, I’d recommend that you download the worksheets and keep them close and handy.

This is a book you’ll want to spend some time with and perhaps use it as a checklist.  Another element that I like about the book is how useful it can be in starting discussions with your team about how to give your ideas and campaigns the highest chance of success. You’ll learn valuable viral marketing examples.

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering why some ideas spread while others don’t – read Contagious and learn how to add a viral element to your business.

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Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."