What Makes Online Content Go Viral? Book Review - Contagious by Jonah Berger



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Book Review - Contagious by Jonah Berger

What the book says

‘What makes things popular? And what is it that makes online content go viral?’
‘Why do people talk about certain products and ideas more than others? And why are some stories and rumours more infectious?’

Berger combines ground-breaking research with powerful stories and reveals the secret science behind word of mouth and social communication.

What I say

This was an absolutely fascinating book, which totally played on my love of how people think and act. This book is full of real life examples, all of which, I am sure will be known by everyone, but have probably never given thought as to why they became so well known. And everything is backed up by actual research so isn't just based on someone's opinion - what is not to love!

This book is split into 6 reasons as to why things are more popular that others.

  1. Social Currency

  2. Triggers

  3. Emotion

  4. Public

  5. Practical level

  6. Stories

So in a nutshell….

Social currency - this is looking at the age old theory of knowledge is power. This chapter looks at why you tell certain things to your friends to look cool and in the know. Whether it is a trendy new restaurant in your town, a secret event, or just something remarkable, people like to feel like insiders, not the last person to know, so this is when this strategy comes into play.


This is all about when a certain situation, place or time makes you remember a certain product. At breakfast time you are more likely to remember something to do with breakfast cereal, and breakfast happens everyday, compared to being reminded of a holiday destination when you only go on holiday once or twice a year. It is all about how often a situation arises in which you will be reminded of a product to then tell someone about it. You also want triggers to happen at the right time, not the wrong time. The example given was remembering a scare campaign advert to get you to buy shower mats which is remembered only when having a shower - as soon as you come out all is forgotten about until your next shower.


This is all about emotion that causes high arousal rather than just happy or sad. Things that cause us to get excited and increase our arousal, whether that is in a positive way such as excitement or negatively such as anger, will be something we are more likely to share than something that makes us content or sad as that dumbs down our emotions. Think about how you can stock this emotional fire!


When we see others doing something then we are more likely to do it. Whether that is actually seeing someone use a product because their branding is highly visible - logos clearly displayed on products, Apple springs to mind, or the perceived idea that lots of people are doing it. How can you make the public private? A great example was the Movember moustache.

Practical Level

How can you product help someone? Show the value in your product or idea that is able to answer someone’s question. People like to help each other and share information that will help a friend they will pass it on. This is also when being specific to your niche helps too, because if it reminds someone of a particular friend that would be interested in your product they are more likely to share than if if had a broader appeal. Show your expertise and how you can help is always something I bang on about being the main part of any content strategy plan and Berger has just confirmed it!


Using stories to convey your message means people are much more likely to remember rather than just being giving the facts. People are naturally storytellers, and if they are telling a friend about a certain product they used, it normally comes with a bit of a story about where they were, what they were doing, and the outcome. This triggers emotion from the listener, which is what they remember - combine in your message to this story and voila! To make a story really impactful combine the elements above!

In Conclusion

I found this book so interesting I didn’t want it to end! Any insight into why humans do what they do is fascinating! And once told, the answers are so obvious! The findings in this book should definitely be thought about in your business and backs up my mission on the importance of having a brand and well defined content marketing strategies.

It may be that you have 1, all, or just a couple of these factors in a certain video, podcast, advert etc but these things should definitely become a consideration in your content strategy.

I think this book is a must read for small business owners, and even if the aim is not to make your product go viral, thinking of these items in your general communications will allow people to connect with you in a more meaningful way.

amy caiger brand and content marketing

About Me

I'm a Brand and Marketing Specialist with over 12 years experience. My mission is to help biz owners create awesome brands that stand out from their competitors and connect with their audience. 

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