Making Your Ideas Contagious

When it comes to creating contagious content, don’t worry about data. This is because creating ideas and products that spread is tied to understanding consumers and their emotions.

While we all hope for our products and ideas to spread, it most likely won’t happen randomly. Instead, what we have to do is take a more structured approach to spreading our ideas.

This is what Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger talks about in his book “Contagious.”

Berger explains that ideas and products don’t catch on because a handful of “influential” people talk about them. Instead, social epidemics are driven by the products and ideas themselves, meaning that products and ideas don’t spread unless hundreds, if not thousands, of people are passing the product or message along themselves.

So the question is, why do certain products and ideas spread?

Well there are certain characteristics that make products and ideas more likely to be talked about and shared than others.

It’s not random, it’s not luck and it’s not chance. There’s a science to why people talk and share certain things more than others. And if we understand that science, then we can craft contagious content and get our content to catch on.

Jonah Berger says there are 6 key principles, or STEPPS as he calls it, that drive things to catch on.

They are: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories.

1) Social Currency

People don’t just share things for how it makes them look, they also share things because they want to help others. So one way to get people to talk about or share your stuff, is to make them look good in the process. The better something makes someone look, the more likely they are to share it.

2) Triggers

It’s one thing to get people to hear about your product or idea, and it’s another thing to get people to remember your product or idea once they do. Using a trigger is how you can get people to remember you after they have already heard about you.

So what’s a trigger? A trigger is a stimulus in an environment that reminds you of something.

Triggers is why Cheerios gets talked about more than Disneyland, even though Disneyland is way more exciting.

Everyone eats breakfast every day so they’re more likely to talk about Cheerios. In this example, breakfast is the trigger. When you think about breakfast, you’re likely to also think about Cheerios. But rarely will something in your environment ever come up that will trigger you to think about Disneyland. Disneyland has poor triggers.

What this means is, when you create a product or an idea, you have to consider the context. What environmental stimulus is going to trigger people to think about your product or idea? What’s the thing in the environment that is going to remind people of you even when you’re not around?

Triggers are important because you can spend a lot of time and effort trying to remind people you exist: advertising, sending them emails, doing other sorts of things. But if you set up good triggers, the environment will naturally do it for you.

3) Emotion

Emotional content is 20% more likely to be shared. Simply put, when we care, we share.

The more emotion we feel about a piece of content or a message, we’re much more likely to pass it on. However, this does depend on the type of emotion your ideas and products evoke. Awe, excitement, humor, anger and anxiety, for example, leads to more shares. Contentment and sadness doesn’t.

When you’re crafting contagious content, focus on high arousal emotions, not low arousal emotions.

4) Public

Getting things to catch on isn’t just about getting more word of mouth. It’s also about harnessing the power of social influence and making it easier for people to imitate others by showing people that other people like your products and ideas as well. This is what’s known as social proof, which is the idea that we often use others as a signal for how we should behave. So ask yourself, how can you make it easier for people to see that other people are using your ideas and products as well?

5) Practical Value

Does talking about your products or ideas help people? Practical advice is shareable advice.

6) Stories

Tell a story. Stories are the currency of conversation and if you can get people to pass along your message in a form of a story, you’ll be much more successful. This is because stories are naturally more compelling than facts. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. If people get drawn into your story early, they’ll stick around to hear the rest of it.

Parting thoughts

These are the 6 principles, or STEPPS, that drive things to catch on. Understand, you don’t need to include all 6 in every single product and idea your create. You can use 1 or 2 for each project you’re working on. This is because it’s better to have one product, idea or campaign hit one of the principles at 95% than to hit all of the principles at 55%.


5 thoughts on “Making Your Ideas Contagious

  1. The part about triggers really got me thinking. The Cheerios to Disneyland comparison was very true and something I never thought of before, but you’re right, were definitely more likely to think about Cheerios on a daily basis than Disneyland. Your product or idea have to resonate with your target audience enough to stick in their minds so certain things throughout their days suddenly remind them of you and your work. Nice one Vincent


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