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Contagious Book Summary – Jonah Berger

What you will learn from reading Contagious:

– The principles of creating social content that is shareable.

– The STEPPS framework for making something contagious.

– How to leverage social currency to get people to share things.

Word of mouth more effective than any advertising and social media only accounts for 7% of word of mouth. So with your content, advertising and service aim to create a conversation piece. Something worth talking about outside of the digital sphere.


The STEPPS Framework:

Social currency – we share things that make us look good 

Triggers – top of mine, tip of tongue 

Emotion – when we care, we share 

Public – built to show, built to grow 

Practical value – news you can use 

Stories – information travels under the guide of idle chatter (Trojan horse) 


Social Currency:

3 Key Facets of Social Currency:

  • Find inner remarkability.
  • Leverage game mechanics.
  • Make people feel like insiders. 


Game mechanics:

Gamified means metrics need to be created or recorded that let people see where they stand in a certain task. Then once completed give them a tangible, visible symbol that can be shared with others. Also, award outstanding performances, as recipients of awards love boasting about them. Increasing the social spread. 

Be an insider:

Remember — Exclusivity isn’t just about money or celebrity. It’s about knowledge. Knowing certain information or being connected to people who do. You can achieve similar by limiting access to invitation only or make people an insider. 

Sharing certain things makes us look good to others. Meaning we are more likely to share so like in perennial seller, aiming to make the audience look or be good is the aim. Show of interesting fact or insider knowledge is a type of social currency which buys favour and impresses peers. 


The bar has a please don’t tell anyone about our secret entrance. Makes people feel like insiders and special. People feel like sharing when they are special. 



Two dimensions of a trigger —frequency and strength. 

Some products and ideas consistently trigger other ideas, becoming more influential over time.  

Top of mind triggering. Can also become behavioural. Products and ideas have habitats, or sets of triggers that cause people to think about them. 

Especially good triggers prompt someone to make an association connection to context or environment. 

Example: Kit Kat marketed itself as perfect for a coffee break, linked environment with existing environment.  

Questions to ask identify a good trigger:

How can we create a ritual or behaviour around our product? 

Will the message be triggered by the everyday environments of the target audience? 

How can I create a trigger within a routine behaviour of my target market? 



Positive High Arousal Emotions:



Amusement (Humour) 


Negative high arousal emotions:




Something which arouses emotions most likely to be shared.  

Positive emotions more likely to be shared such as awe and amazement provoke a strong emotional response. 

Belittlement and commonplace cause can rile emotions of anger which could be used in a political campaign. 

Arouse the audience through skilful use of rhetoric get them excited and likely to share, less rational when emotional. 



Behaviour is public, thoughts are private. 

Make it Visible:

If product or idea is observable, it’s influence is increased.  If a restaurants windows are frosted it’s hard to see in. Paradoxically though, it can create a sense of mystery, but would have to have some rumour around the restaurant beforehand.


Using Distinctiveness 

Make logo or brand particular noticeable adds to the public effect. 

Apple white headphones were first headphones to be white. All others then were black. Therefore, they stood out and seemed to be more popular than they were.

Sparklers in night club to get attention to bottle service. 


Social Proof:

Movement itself elicits a social proof and we assume as most are doing it, it’s the right thing to do. 

Preventing a behaviour requires opposite, make the public private. Making others behaviour less observable. 


Questions for public:

How can we make the private public? And make people feel comfortable doing so? A movement? 


Practical value:

Things we find useful more likely to be shared, specificity to a certain audience helps word of mouth travel in that community as they feel their niche is represented. 

Useful + impressive double whammy. 



Narrative and stories inherently shareable and carry deep powerful underlying message.  

Validity in this case is less important to us than our enjoyment of the story, captures interest and get caught up.   


Good Questions to ask for creating a contagious idea:

How can we get people to promote what we want? 

What makes people have to tell someone about something? 

How can I make someone look good to others? 

Key human insight – we exaggerate stories to make them more remarkable