Review: Contagious – How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age

Cover of Jonah Berger's book, Contagious.

A padded but readable guide to creating content people will share

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 positively 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 he 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 practises 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 that 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 been told in a sentence or two, is expanded over three or 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 book’s 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.

Contagious – How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age is available here.