Contagious: How to build word of mouth in the digital age

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Contagious: How to build word of mouth in the digital age

People love to share. We tell our friends about great restaurants, or colleagues about good deals. Every hour there are more than 100 million conversations about brands. Word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 per cent of all purchasing decisions. If word of mouth helps things catch on, how can companies with products or services to sell, or organisations with a message to get across, make people want to talk about them?

Customers referred by their friends spend more, shop faster and are more
profitable overall.”
Jonah Berger

In Contagious, author Jonah Berger attempts to define what it is that makes some things take off and others fail. Along the way, he highlights a few surprising facts.

WARNING: Before you invest significant sums in trying to make something ‘go viral’ take a step back and consider this. If you were asked to estimate how much word of mouth happens online i.e, what percentage of chatter happens over social media, blogs, e-mail or chat rooms would your answer be 50 or 60 per cent? Or higher? In fact, research shows that only seven per cent of it happens online. While online social media sites are easier to see, and provide a handy record of how many views, tweets or likes, we can forget the fact that most people spend most of their time doing other things – talking to colleagues, or chatting to friends and neighbours. And another reason not to under-estimate the importance of off-line conversations is that although messages may be being conveyed online it doesn’t mean they are being taken notice of. People are bombarded with information online, but few things are more persuasive than a chat with a trusted friend.

Having conducted his own research into subjects such as which New York Times articles are most likely to be forwarded on, and analysed behavioural-economic studies, Berger believes that six steps are important in making something get talked about both on and offline. Not all six steps need to be in place for something to take off, but the more elements your concept has, the greater the chances of success.

In the epilogue, Berger highlights the way that ideas can spread with the story behind why there are so many Vietnamese nail bar beauticians in America – over 40 %. Actress Tippi Hedren helped a few of the first industrious refugees, who were often highly skilled in other professions but had poor language skills, to re-train. As more Vietnamese arrived, and could see the success of their predecessors, more people undertook the training to make their new lives a success. Just goes to show what can catch on…

About the author
Jonah Berger is Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania. He studies social influence and social epidemics, or how products, ideas, and behaviours become popular. His research is published in academic journals and the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review and The Economist. Berger has been recognized with a number of awards, and was named as one of the top young scholars by the Marketing Science Institute.


‘The book is an easy, breezy read, peppered with absorbing examples…Berger is clearly following his own advice with plenty of storytelling and emotion to sell his message…If there was a like button underneath it, you would probably find yourself clicking it’ Maija Palmer, Financial Times


Book Details

Author: Jonah Berger

ISBN: 9781451686579