Jonah Berger Reveals How to Become a Viral Success

Last summer, Jonah Berger released his New York Times bestseller, Contagious. Its premise? To explain virality; in other words, why some things catch on and others, well, don’t.

Berger, a Wharton marketing professor, asserts that there is a secret science behind word of mouth and there are some almost fail-proof tools that entrepreneurs and companies can utilize in order to get more people talking about their product or idea.

We were quite taken with Berger’s “Viral 2.0” premise and we enjoyed his appearances on everything from NBC’s Today Show to Marie Forleo’s web TV channel (which consequentially made Contagious contagious). So we were delighted to have the opportunity to sit down with the Ivy League professor to ask him a few questions and have him explain Contagious in more detail.

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gA: Do you find any irony in the fact that your book, Contagious, was itself a contagious news story this summer?

JB: We used the principles from Contagious to market the book, so the fact that it’s been a hit demonstrates how useful these concepts are in making things catch on.

gA: You say 93% of what makes a product/ brand/ video etc. go viral is what happens off line. How did you arrive at this figure?

JB: Let’s be careful. 7% of word of mouth is online. This figure comes from the Keller Fay Group, a company that analyzes word of mouth.

gA: I am launching a new brand this year. How can I implement the theory of virality, as you present it in Contagious, in order to gain some notoriety?

JB: Follow the 6 key steps, I talk about in the book: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories. The more you build those into your marketing strategy, the more successful your launch will be.

gA: How do you teach Contagious at Wharton?

JB: The book is actually only one day of the class. The rest is about social networks, what makes information stick, and other aspects of diffusion.

gA: Why does all the cat stuff online always catch on?

JB: Social Currency and Emotion play a big role in why people share cat photos. They love their cats, and showing others what crazy things they can do is almost like showing off an aspect of themselves.

gA: What’s your favorite example of Contagious at work?

JB: I’ve worked with a number of companies like Google, Vanguard, Coca-Cola, and others to apply these ideas. But the $100 cheesesteak I talk about at the beginning of Contagious is still one of my favorites.

gA: Which is your favorite viral video of all time?

JB: I don’t have a favorite but Charlie the Unicorn is a classic.

gA: Which is your favorite social network?

JB: Face-to-face communication. Offline is the original social network.

gA: How do the top social networks differentiate from and complement one another?

JB: LinkedIn used to be about business, Facebook about your personal life, Twitter about news, and Instagram about photos. But they’ve all started to move into each other’s territory. Facebook wants to own news. Twitter would like to own more of your personal life. They’re all competing for the same real estate.

gA: Why do some of the ridiculous meme’s catch on?

JB: In part because they’re ridiculous. The more surprising or weird something is, the more remarkable it becomes. The more interesting something is, the more interesting it makes you look to share it.

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