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The key points of 'Contagious: Why Things Catch On' by Jonah Berger

In 'Contagious: Why Things Catch On' by Jonah Berger, the author explores the science behind why certain things become popular and widely shared. Berger introduces the concept of STEPPS - Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories - as the key factors that drive contagious content. Additionally, he delves into the power of word of mouth and the role of social influence in shaping the spread of ideas and products. This book provides valuable insights into the psychology of sharing and the factors that make content go viral.

Key Takeaways

  • Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories are the 6 key STEPPS of contagious content.

  • Word of mouth is a powerful force driven by the science of social transmission, emotion, and triggers.

  • Social influence plays a significant role in the spread of ideas, with peer influence, social proof, and authority being key factors.

  • Understanding the psychology of sharing and the principles of contagious content can help businesses and individuals create content that is more likely to go viral.

  • The role of emotion and practical value in contagious content cannot be overstated, as they drive engagement and sharing among audiences.

The Power of Word of Mouth

The Science of Social Transmission

Understanding the science of social transmission is crucial to grasping why certain ideas or products become popular. Word of mouth is a powerful tool in the spread of information, often more effective than traditional advertising. People are more likely to trust and act upon recommendations from friends and family than from companies.

Social transmission occurs when people share information with one another. This can happen through various channels such as face-to-face conversations, social media, emails, and more. A key aspect of social transmission is its ability to foster a sense of community and belonging among individuals who share similar interests or values.

To maximize the potential of social transmission, it's important to understand the factors that encourage people to talk and share. Here's a list of elements that can boost word of mouth:

  • High-quality content or products

  • Unique or novel experiences

  • Emotional connections

  • Relevance to the audience's lifestyle

  • Ease of sharing

The Role of Emotion in Sharing

Emotions play a pivotal role in determining whether content is shared or not. High-arousal emotions, such as awe, anger, or anxiety, significantly increase the likelihood of content being passed along. This is because they create a kind of emotional energy that compels people to take action.

Viral content often taps into these emotions, crafting messages that resonate on a deeply personal level. For instance, a marketing campaign that evokes a strong sense of injustice or inspiration is more likely to be shared, as people feel moved to spread the word.

  • Content that evokes high-arousal emotions is more shareable

  • Emotions like awe, anger, and anxiety compel action

  • Personal resonance makes messages more impactful

The Impact of Triggers on Word of Mouth

Triggers are environmental reminders or cues that can significantly influence the likelihood of a product or idea being talked about. The more frequently people encounter these triggers, the more likely they are to discuss the related product or idea. For instance, the mere sight of a can of Coca-Cola can prompt discussions about the brand or memories associated with it.

Top-of-mind means tip-of-tongue. A well-crafted trigger not only captures attention but also stays with the audience, ensuring that the message resurfaces in conversations over time. Consider the following factors when creating effective triggers:

  • Relevance to the product or idea

  • Frequency of exposure

  • Emotional connection

  • Timing and context

The 6 Key STEPPS of Contagious Content

Social Currency

We all love to share things that make us look good and knowledgeable in front of our peers. Social currency is the concept that people are more likely to talk about something if it makes them seem cool, smart, or in-the-know. It's about the status we gain when we share certain pieces of information.

  • People share to manage the impressions of others.

  • Exclusive information is more likely to be shared.

  • Achievements or affiliations can provide social currency.

Understanding the dynamics of social currency can help marketers create content that people feel compelled to share. It's not just about the information itself, but how that information reflects on the person sharing it.


Triggers are cues that prompt people to think about related things. When we see or hear something that reminds us of a product or idea, we're more likely to talk about it. For instance, when someone mentions peanut butter, it often triggers the thought of jelly. These triggers are everywhere in our environment, and they can be powerful tools for marketers to use in making their content contagious.

Consistency is key when it comes to triggers. The more frequently a trigger is encountered, the more likely it is to keep a product or idea top-of-mind. Here's a simple list of qualities that effective triggers share:

  • They are frequent in the environment.

  • They are related to the product or idea in a natural way.

  • They evoke a strong association.

It's important to note that not all triggers are created equal. Some are more effective than others at driving word of mouth. For example, a study on the most talked-about brands on social media found that those with strong, memorable triggers had higher mentions. The American Institute of Parliamentarians website is a resource where one can find insights into how businesses leverage such strategies.


Content that evokes strong emotions often becomes contagious, as people are more likely to share experiences that affect them deeply. High-arousal emotions, such as awe, excitement, or amusement, significantly increase the likelihood of content being shared. Conversely, content that triggers low-arousal emotions like sadness may be less shareable.

  • Awe-inspiring content can lead to a sense of wonder and prompt sharing.

  • Amusing content tends to be enjoyable and relatable, making it widely shareable.

  • Content that evokes anger or anxiety can also be shared widely, as it often prompts a call to action.


Making behavior observable facilitates social influence; when actions are public, they can be imitated. The more public something is, the more it becomes a social norm, and the more likely people are to conform to it. For instance, a product that is designed to be visible when used encourages others to follow suit, as they can see who is using it and may experience a fear of missing out (FOMO).

  • Visibility can act as a social signal

  • Public actions provide a form of social proof

  • Designing products with public visibility in mind can drive adoption

Practical Value

Content that provides practical value is shared because it is useful. People naturally want to help others by passing on valuable information that can save time, money, or improve health. For instance, a list of tips for saving on energy bills or a guide to healthy eating on a budget are likely to be circulated widely.

Sharing practical advice can empower individuals, making them feel knowledgeable and helpful. This is why 'how-to' guides and DIY tutorials often go viral. They not only solve a problem but also give the satisfaction of self-reliance.

Consider the following points when creating content with practical value:

  • It should be actionable and directly applicable.

  • The information must be credible and well-researched.

  • It should be presented in a clear and concise manner.


In 'Contagious: Why Things Catch On', Jonah Berger emphasizes that narratives are not just entertaining; they are vessels for information. Stories function as a trojan horse, subtly packaging and conveying a message in a way that is memorable and impactful. When people share a story, they're not just sharing entertainment—they're also unwittingly spreading the product or idea embedded within that narrative.

Stories resonate because they are relatable and often evoke a strong emotional response. This emotional connection can make the idea or product more persuasive and memorable. Consider the case of Theranos, a company that was once a storytelling powerhouse, captivating investors and the public alike with tales of revolutionary blood-testing technology.

To harness the power of stories in marketing, it's essential to understand the elements that make them stick. Here's a simple list:

  • Relatability: The audience should see themselves in the story.

  • Emotional pull: Stories should evoke emotions that align with the message.

  • Simplicity: A clear and concise narrative is more likely to be remembered and shared.

  • Surprise: An unexpected twist can make a story more engaging and memorable.

  • Authenticity: Genuine stories build trust and credibility.

The Role of Social Influence

The Power of Peer Influence

Peer influence is a potent force in shaping behaviors and decisions. When individuals see their friends or colleagues engaging in a certain activity or using a particular product, they are more likely to follow suit. This phenomenon is known as the social proof effect, where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.

The choices made by peers can significantly sway an individual's decisions, often more powerfully than traditional advertising. For instance, a person might be more inclined to read 'Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear' if they know their peers have found it inspiring and valuable.

Understanding the dynamics of peer influence can help marketers and influencers create strategies that leverage these social networks. By targeting key individuals within a group, known as opinion leaders, one can amplify the reach and effectiveness of their message.

The Principle of Social Proof

The principle of social proof is predicated on the idea that individuals look to others to guide their own actions, especially in situations where they are uncertain. This concept is particularly powerful in marketing and persuasion, as people often assume that the behavior of the majority is the correct behavior. When a product or idea is adopted by many, it becomes more attractive to potential users.

Social proof can manifest in various forms, from customer testimonials to user numbers, and even through celebrity endorsements. Here are some common examples of social proof in action:

  • User testimonials and reviews

  • Celebrity endorsements

  • Social media shares and likes

  • Media coverage and mentions

The Impact of Authority on Influence

The concept of authority is deeply ingrained in our social fabric, influencing our decisions and behaviors in profound ways. When individuals recognized as experts or leaders endorse a product or idea, their authority can significantly sway public opinion. This phenomenon is not just limited to celebrities but extends to professionals and experts in various fields.

People are more likely to follow the recommendations of an authority figure, even if it contradicts their own prior beliefs or knowledge. This deference to authority can be seen in diverse contexts, from consumer behavior to organizational practices.

  • Authority figures can create a sense of trust and credibility.

  • Their endorsement can act as a powerful trigger for action.

  • Authority can also lead to increased visibility and recognition of ideas or products.


In conclusion, 'Contagious: Why Things Catch On' by Jonah Berger provides valuable insights into the factors that make ideas, products, and behaviors go viral. The book explores the principles of social influence and word-of-mouth, shedding light on the psychology behind why certain things become popular. Understanding these key points can help businesses and individuals create content and products that are more likely to catch on and spread. Berger's research and analysis offer practical strategies for increasing the likelihood of contagiousness, making this book a must-read for marketers, entrepreneurs, and anyone interested in the dynamics of viral content and ideas.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main concept of 'Contagious: Why Things Catch On' by Jonah Berger?

The main concept of 'Contagious: Why Things Catch On' is to understand why certain ideas and products become popular and go viral, while others do not.

How does social currency play a role in contagious content?

Social currency refers to the value that people place on the information they share. In contagious content, social currency is important because people want to share things that make them look good or enhance their status.

What are triggers and how do they impact word of mouth?

Triggers are stimuli that prompt people to think about related things or take action. They impact word of mouth by creating top-of-mind awareness and making people more likely to talk about and share the content.

Why is emotion a key factor in sharing contagious content?

Emotion plays a key role in sharing contagious content because people are more likely to share content that evokes strong emotions, whether positive or negative. Emotion makes content more memorable and impactful.

How does the principle of social proof influence the spread of ideas and products?

The principle of social proof suggests that people look to others to guide their decisions and actions. When others are seen engaging with an idea or product, it creates a sense of legitimacy and encourages further adoption.

What is the impact of authority on influence in the context of contagious content?

Authority figures or credible sources can significantly influence the spread of ideas and products. When authoritative figures endorse or promote something, it can boost its credibility and influence others to follow suit.

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