According to Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On six principles help make things go viral:
- social currency, meaning making people feel like they are cool insiders
- triggers that link products and ideas to factors prevalent in the environment
- emotional resonance, meaning making people want to share the emotional experience with others
- observability, i.e. monkey see, monkey do
- usefulness, i.e. practical or helpful information that people want to share
- storytelling around a product or idea
These concepts are all similar to those identified in Joe Sugarman’s classic Triggers and even in Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Although there no real new revelations in Contagious: Why Things Catch On, the stories it includes make an entertaining read. For example, the NASA’s Mars Pathfinder landing caused an unexpected increase in the sales of Mars candy bars. Why? Because the Mars Pathfinder acted as a trigger when people purchased candy bars.
The “Emotion” chapter most reflected my experience in what makes internet content go viral – high arousal emotions. Surprisingly (or not), sex and love are not on the list. Berger lists the high arousal emotions as awe, excitement, amusement (humor), anger, and anxiety.
In my own experiment, I would add disgust. The September 16, 2012 Facebook post below on a fan page with a mere 4,600 fans at the time generated a whopping 87,536 comments and 6,847 shares. Comments included “puke”, “Nasty”, “Putrid”, and “barfstravaganza”.
Contagious: Why Things Catch On is a light and entertaining read which unfortunately doesn’t convey any new insights into the psychology of marketing. Three out of five stars.