Jonah Berger tells us that things which “catch on”, that go viral, spread like a virus. They are a social epidemic— They start with a small set of users and spread from person to person. But why do things ‘catch on’? Some become popular because they are just plain better. Another reason is attractive pricing. Advertising also plays a role. However, although quality, price, and advertising contribute to products and ideas being successful, they don’t explain the whole story. Berger has 7 lessons for why things go viral.
Lesson1: Social Transmission
Social influence has a huge impact on whether products, ideas, and behaviors catch on. People love to share stories, news, and information with those around them. While ads will always argue that their products are the best, our friends tell it to us straight. Additionally, word of mouth is more targeted toward an interested audience. We don’t share a news story or recommendation with everyone we know. We select particular people who we think would find that given piece of information most relevant.
Lesson 2: Social Currency
We share things that make us look good to others. Social-network-addicted people can’t seem to stop sharing with everyone, all the time. Just as people use the money to buy products or services, they use social currency to make an impression among their families, friends, and colleagues.
Lesson 3: Triggers
We talk about products, brands, and organizations all the time. Every day, the average American engages in more than sixteen word-of-mouth exchanges where they say something positive or negative about a brand. Sights smell, and sounds can trigger related thoughts about these brands. So to make our products or services contagious we need to think about whether recognition will be triggered by the everyday environment or sensory stimulation of the target audience.
Lesson 4: Emotion
Emotion sharing maintains and strengthens relationships. Even if we’re not in the same place, the fact that we both feel the same way bonds us together. Positive emotions also generate arousal. So to be contagious, rather than talking about facts and features we need to focus on feelings; the underlying emotions that motivate people to action.
Lesson 5: Public
A key factor in driving products to catch on is public visibility. If something is built to show, it’s built to grow. People imitate because others’ choices provide information. Psychologists call this idea “social proof.” People can imitate only when they can see what others are doing. To be contagious, our product or service needs to be visible to its intended public and in use, within the peer group, our intended consumer belongs to.
Lesson 6: Practical Value
People like to pass along practical, useful information. However, a deal needs to be impactful to get shared. Putting something on sale can make it seem like a good deal. But if a product is always on sale, people start to adjust their expectations.
Lesson 7: Stories
Narratives are more engrossing than basic facts. They have a beginning, middle, and end. If we get sucked in early, we’ll stay for the conclusion. When we hear people tell a good story we hang on to every word. Virality is most valuable when the brand or product benefit is integral to the story.