Contagious – By Jonah Berger CHAPTER 1: Social Currency – 3 Imperatives to get people talking about your big (or not so big) idea

I should have known that somewhere, at some point in time, while talking about how to make ideas catch on, the McDonald’s brand would enter the conversation…but the McRib though??! Seriously?

Mr.Berger argues that in order for any idea to spread, you have to somehow get people talking about it. You have to make it relevant and interesting to people. So much so, that they want to talk about it with others. When an idea gains this type of traction, it has social currency. People will talk about it not just because the idea itself is cool or intriguing, but because simply sharing the idea with others confers a certain amount of coolness and intrigue on the person doing the sharing. This in turn increases their social status – which is a great way to motivate people to the spread the word.There are three ways to ignite this process:

1. Inner remarkability: glass vs. rubber

The point is made that when people get together, they choose what to talk about with others. Will they choose the mundane details of their everyday lives to chat about with friends or will they pick topics that are unique and interesting? Most likely, if they have something unique to talk about, they will be eager to share that first. The first rule in increasing chatter, therefore is to find what is remarkable or interesting about your idea and market that – the inner remarkability. The example given is when the drink company Snapple decided to replace corny jokes on their beverage lids with interesting and unbelievable, but true facts that would be conversation starters for their customers. For instance, did you know that a glass ball bounces higher than rubber?

My question was, well what if your idea really isn’t all that remarkable? The answer is find something about your idea, even if it is not very exciting inherently and frame or creatively look at it in a new way that makes it notable. The 100$ Philly cheesesteak was a great example. Knowing how difficult it is for restaurants to succeed, one owner took a very common idea, in this case the cheesesteak, and made it into a novelty by charging $100 for a gourmet version of the old classic. Not only did it get people talking and clamoring to try this $100 sandwich, it drove business to his restaurant through word of mouth, helping to secure its success.

2. Leverage game mechanics through competition – The mayor of Foursquare

According to the author, what also gets people talking is when they can compare themselves to others or to a benchmark and gauge how well they are doing. The better they do, or the more they feel challenged yet at the same time capable, the more likely they are to engage with the activity or idea. Intrapersonal drive makes us work harder when an idea is set up in the form of a game that allows us to track our own progress, and slowly but surely reach higher levels. Interpersonal comparisons make people want to compete and win against others, and maybe even show off a little bit what we have achieved. People will respond to games that allow them to do this even if what they get in return is very little; like being given the title Mayor of Foursquare when you post more reviews than others. I’m not totally convinced that most people and communities are driven by the perk of comparisons and competitions with others though, maybe Mr.Berger’s perspective is a little BIASED? Thoughts?

3. Make people feel like insiders – The “McRib”

To guide people towards accepting an idea, running with it and telling others, you need to make them feel that by having that information they have been inducted into and club. With that little bit of knowledge, they now are part of the in crowd…and who doesn’t want to be part of the “in” crowd? When accessing the idea seems like a little bit of a challenge because it is either for an exclusive group of people or is scarce and difficult to find, it becomes even more appealing. Take the case of the McRIB. when it was first introduced it did not do well. To increase sales, the company made it scarce – in a limited edition offering only certain times of year at certain locations. Eventually, it gained a following and immense popularity as people posted and tweeted in search of the next offering of the sandwich.

Reflecting on this idea, I can see it’s applicability to less privileged community settings where people often feel left out of the conversations and the last to know about really good, important information. Framing the information in a way that shows that people who have been on the outside are now being invited into the club of information may be a way to get people talking about new ideas. Another hopeful point of this chapter is that social currency can trump monetary incentives to get people to buy into a new idea. This is great news when focusing on communities or populations that may have few resources.


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