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on 14 May 2013
I love the concept of creating content that is easy to talk about and Berger breaks it down into 6 factors that contribute to creating really sharable content. These ideas are really well explained and make intuitive sense, so after the intro I couldn't wait to get into the meat of what makes these points tick and how they can be used.

Berger is passionate about having testable scientific rigour to underlie his points. This was another great hook for me - things should be proven, repeatable and solid. Sadly this is where the book falls flat - because his examples are often naive or just poor science that fails to deliver on his premise.

For example, he mentions an experiment to support the idea that people like to talk about themselves (I think we can all agree that people love to talk without the need for an experiment to prove it, but hey ho). The unforgivable sin is that he chooses an experiment that doesn't show that. The test asks people to take a paid survey and at some point they are given a few minutes of boring downtime. They can choose to wait it out, or they can choose to take less money for the survey but be allowed to talk about themselves during that downtime instead. The paper's authors claim that because their participants will sacrifice money to talk, it means that we find talking about ourselves so beguiling that we'll give up money to do it. All it really proves is that people will pay to avoid boredom. To back that up, many free to play videogames base their entire income on forcing people to wait or pay money to skip the wait. People find that BOREDOM abhorrent enough that they will pay to avoid it - making the game company millions of dollars. So this experiment doesn't back up his point, instead it makes you think he's trying to obsfucate the truth using SCIENCE. The book and his points are worse off for it.

A few pages later Berger says things should be gamified with badges because people like to have a symbol that proves they have accomplished something - and then they share it. That's fine if it's a national medal or a Nobel prize, but digital badges passed beyond saturation point years ago. My friends' Facebook walls are clogged with foursquare and candy crush badges (and whatever else the latest games are posting on their behalf). Rather than wanting to share badges and pass them on, we're becoming hyper-aware of not spamming our friends with crap - because we know how irritating they are when they clog up our social feeds. This in itself falls foul of one of his own points - people share things that other people will think is cool to give them social capital. This point is awesome and really rings true, but it directly contradicts people's real behaviour when it comes to badges.

The book is chock so full of these contradictions and shlock science that all the good stuff gets lost.
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on 9 February 2016
Like most business / popular psychology books of recent times (and when did that line begin to get blurred?) this guide to creating content that gets shared is effectively a magazine article or blog expanded to book form. Building on the foundations set by the likes of Gladwell and Cialdini, Jonah Berger presents six factors that encourage people to share content and ideas:

1 Social currency - sharing it makes us look good
2 Triggers - we are reminded of the content at key moments
3 Emotion - the content engages us
4 Public - application of the idea or content is visible to others
5 Practical Value - the information is useful and applicable
6 Stories - the content can be encapsulated and communicated in a compelling narrative

Berger doesn't really explain how his got to six and why he stopped there (surely not because it was a good number for a book) but this structure does help to create a handy mnemonic, STEPPS, and Lord knows we all love a mnemonic.

And it's fair to say that he practices what he preaches. These basic ideas are expanded to book length through the liberal use of illustrations, examples and stories, and as a marketer I can immediately see the practical value of each one. In fact I've marked at least eight pages which contain ideas I will build on in my own blog - so it's certainly shareable.

There is some padding within the 200 pages: a simple tale about how Apple positions its logo on laptops, which could have even told in a sentence or two is expanded over three of four pages. But to be fair, Berger has adopted the now ubiquitous feature-writer style so it's generally an easy read.

Reassuringly, despite the books subtitle, How to build word of mouth in the digital age, Berger is not a social media evangelist. He recognises the potential power but makes the point early in the book that only seven percent of word of mouth happens online. Most word of mouth - and the most effective word of mouth - happens face-to-face. This shouldn't be a surprise but it will be for many and for that reason alone it's a book any marketer would do well to read.
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According to Berger, "The first issue with all the hype around social media is that people tend to ignore the importance of offline word of mouth, even though offline discussions are more prevalent, and potentially even more impactful, than online ones." I agree while presuming to suggest that many (if not most) offline discussions occur because of an initial online connection. "The second issue is that Facebook and Twitter are technologies, not strategies." I agree. However, they are immensely important enablers. "Harnessing the power of word of mouth, online or offline, requires understanding why people talk and why some things get talked about and shared more than others. The psychology of sharing. The science of social transmission." Berger has much of substantial value to say about both. What cause certain products, ideas, and behaviors to be talked about more? "That's what this book is about."

I was (and remain) especially interested in Berger's discussion of what he characterizes as six "ingredients" or principles embraced by an acronym: STEPPS. They are Social Currency (enable people to discuss with others what is most important to them); Triggers (prompt or remind people to discuss what could be of benefit to you); Emotion (reveal how much you care but the feelings [begin italics] must [end italics] be genuine, sincere, and authentic); Public (offer what is self-sufficient in terms of its appeal); Practical Value (much of its appeal is determined by its usefulness); and Stories (anchor the message in human experience with which others can identify). Berger suggests that these six as STEPPS (pun intended) during the process of crafting contagious content. "These ingredients lead ideas to get talked about and succeed...[however, they] are unlike a recipe because not all six ingredients are required to make a product or idea contagious. Sure, the more the better" but not every offering must possess all of them.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to indicate the scope of Berger's coverage.

o Social Transmission, and, Generating Word of Mouth (Pages 7-15)
o Six Principles of Contagiousness (21-24)
o Minting a New Type of Currency (33-36)
o A Brief Note on Motivation (57-59)
o What Makes for an Effective Trigger? (85-90)
o The Power of Awe (102-104)
o Focus on Feelings, and, Kindling the Fire with High-Arousal Emotions (112-118)
o The Psychology of Imitation, and, The Power of Observability (127-136)
o The Psychology of Deals (162-168)
o Stories as Vessels (181-189)
o Making Virality Possible (193-195)
o Epilogue (203-210)

Before concluding his brilliant book, Berger observes, "The best part of the STEPPS framework is that anyone can use it." He's convinced (and I agree) that almost anyone, including those whom he calls "regular people, offering regular products and ideas," can succeed with effective use of only one or two of these ingredients.

I realize that no brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the material that Jonah Berger provides in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of it. Also, I hope that those who read this commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not they wish to read the book and, in that event, will have at least some idea of how create contagious products, ideas, and behaviors that attract interest, initiate online connections, and generate offline discussions.
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on 17 May 2015
Really good, really clear, gives enough information to get the messages across but doesn't labour any of the points. Well constructured , gives 7 well defined concepts and walks you through each one, and when combined you get a very clear blow by blow understanding of why some ideas are contagious.
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on 4 January 2016
Half way through this book and I can't recommend it enough! Jonah Berger has great experience and understanding into what makes things Contagious and breaks in down into easy to understand sections with real world examples. A must read for anyone in marketing and design.
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on 18 July 2015
I learn a lot about how to make articles/videos viral, and since i work in IM i need info like this. I advice anybody in the Internet Biz should read it.
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on 15 April 2016
Excellent book. Could have been written in a less verbose style, but the core content is worth its weight in .. eh... silver. Fascinating to see that there's so much deep psychology involved with marketing. Highly recommended.
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on 3 December 2015
Keep coming back to this book for new ideas and listen to the audio version in the car. Good structure for thinking of ways of spreading the word about a product and told in an engaging fashion.
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on 22 February 2016
An enjoyable read with some good examples. A good introduction to creating products and ideas that people want to share. If you're into digital marketing I would definitely recommend it
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on 1 June 2015
By far one of the best books about viral marketing I've ever read. It has a lot of practical real life examples and it is written in a very understandable way. Would totally recommend!
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