Six key principles to driving social word of mouth from Jonah Berger


By Stephen Lepitak, -

March 10, 2013 | 4 min read

"If we can get people to talk about blenders then we can get them to talk about anything," says Jonah Berger, author of Contagious a book that discusses why some online content goes viral. It claims there are six principles that dictate whether content is shared or not.

Speaking at SXSW, Berger told the packed room his theories on what gets people talking online, telling them not to focus on the technology such as as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, but rather the psychology of sharing.

He touched on popular online content that has resulted in people sharing in their millions, highlighting his belief that there is a recipe for generating word of mouth and viral growth in order to market any product.

He aimed to dispel the myth that the use of cute cats would guarantee online success and revealed that only seven per cent of conversations took place online, meaning that marketers must still aim to generate traditional discussion foremost.

Berger also claimed that there was no research that proved that targeting 'influentials' online to discuss your message or product would generate interest and discussion as a result.

"Focus on the message rather than messenger," he advised claiming that the message was by far the most important aspect.

The six key principles were listed as the following:

1) Social currency

2) Triggers

3) Emotion

4) Public

5) Practical values

6) Stories

Explaining what he meant by the term 'Trigger' he highlighted the example of the 'popular' YouTube song by Rebecca Black which last year generated millions of views and downloads, mainly by those who wished to listen and mock the song. However, the video of the song has continued to generate a spike in YouTube views on Fridays due to its title and relevance to the day.

Breakfast cereal brand Cheerios apparently also saw a spike in online discussion at breakfast time each day as that is when people consume the product.

"If something is top of mind it's tip of tongue," he explained before advising the room to think of 'related trigger cues' such as Peanut butter and Jelly, and link their products or brands to a regular average routine such as KitKat's attempts to 'apply the concept' that the biscuit worked perfectly when accompanying coffee drinking.

Emotional arousal was another tip from Berger to the audience, as presented the Panda Cheese campaign from a couple of years ago that featured effective humour to drive its message that consumers should only buy Panda Cheese rather than any of its rivals.

Alongside humour, anger and fear were two other emotions found to prompt sharing. "High arousal emotion drives people to share. Just like a Trojan horse it drives brand discussion and messages that people to share," he claimed before explaining what he meant by Trojan Horse: "It carries something along for the ride - the message they want to get across in the middle.

"For example I would challenge anybody to talk about the Panda Cheese campaign without mentioning Pandas."

Berger's message through this talk was clearly contagious, as his book was sold out at SXSW within an hour of him giving this presentation. Said the sales assistant at the conference centre, "his book really was contagious."


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