Book Review: Contagious
Content Marketing

Book Review: Contagious

5th June 2014

At SES London this year in one of the content marketing/social sharing sessions which featured Matt Roberts from Lindex, he mentioned Contagious by Jonah Berger as one item on a list of resources and items that they had found useful in evaluating whether or not they were producing “shareable content”.

Intrigued, I ordered a copy during the session (thank you conference Wi-Fi!) and thought I would share my thoughts on the book for anyone else who may find it useful.

What is the book about?

The book is a great insight into some of the science and psychology behind why people share and what makes content popular. It focuses on online sharing – why does some content go viral and not others? Is there a pattern behind the “most read” and “most shared” articles on news sites? It then talks about how we as marketers can leverage this same phenomenon to help our products/ideas get more “buzz”.

About the author

Jonah Berger is a marketer who was sat in a traditional science class one day and wondered whether the same logical approach and research techniques could be applied to psychology and sociology. A PhD, ten years of research and a career as a professor of marketing later, we have Contagious!

Breaking down social sharing

The book kicks off with an intro about why some things just catch on. In some cases it’s because they’re better/cheaper/more widely advertised, but there’s often more to it than that.

“Social Transmission”, or social sharing is the single biggest common factor. Berger provides us with plenty of interesting stats and examples demonstrating social transmission in action. For example, did you know that only 7% of all word of mouth happens online? A sobering thought when you consider the focus we give to making things “go viral” on the web.

On that point of going viral, only one-third of 1 percent of all YouTube videos have more than 1 million views. Why these videos? Is there a science behind social sharing and if so, how can we harness it to deliver the right results for our businesses, even if our product isn’t inherently exciting or naturally shareable?

Contagiousness can be distilled into six key principles and these comprise the bulk of the book. Berger goes into detail about and provides actionable STEPPS for:

1. Social Currency
2. Triggers
3. Emotion
4. Public
5. Practical Value
6. Stories


Contagious shares six key steps for social sharing.
Six key STEPPS to help make your content Contagious!


You see, STEPPS!

Berger packs the book full of lots of great examples that you’ll recognise, which really helps drive home the principles he’s discussing. We’ve almost all heard of “Will It Blend”, or Susan Boyle’s performance on Britain’s Got Talent. These are fantastic examples of Social Currency and Emotion in action.

Blendtec got started with a meagre $50 marketing budget. I’m so glad it went viral, as without those early first videos, we would never have gotten this:

Who should read this book?

Anyone whose role touches on social media or content marketing could learn a lot from this book. Bloggers, community managers, planners, strategists – I think everyone could draw something from it. Even if you’re just interested in the psychology behind why people do what they do – I think you’ll find it a great read. Anything that helps us understand our customers can only be a good thing.

Why read it?

The book is a great way to formulate a checklist when writing any content to understand whether it’s likely to become contagious. There’s a handy table at the back of the book which summarises some of the key points and is a great refresher when looking to analyse your own content.

Questions to ask when writing to create shareable content
A handy list of questions to ask yourself when drafting content.

The book can help you conduct research on what works – score content you’ve previously shared based on the six STEPPS using a scale, of 1-5 for example. Does your most contagious content happen when your total score across the six STEPPS is greater than 15? 20? Or does your audience respond best to content that has a high Social Currency or Practical Value? You may find using just one principle is enough, or you may need to combine two or more to get the effect you want.

An example of a graph that lets you visualise how contagious your content might be.
An example of a graph that lets you visualise how contagious your content might be.

Happy reading!


Written By
Arianne Donoghue is the Paid Media Development Manager at Epiphany. Having started off her digital career client side over a decade ago, Arianne has worked for both agencies and brands in-house, specialising in all things paid search. She is now back agency side supporting on biddable media digital strategy. You...
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