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!

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