Contagion, Social Media, and Why Things Catch On

Jonah Berger

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 Contagion, Social Media, and Why Things Catch On

Jonah Berger, Wharton @j1berger

Jonah Berger, Marketing Professor at the Wharton School, joins the Social Pros Podcast this week to discuss his bestseller Contagious: Why Things Catch on, the science behind those viral marketing hits, and the importance of setting realistic and helpful goals with a viral marketing campaign.

Read on for some of the highlights and tweetable moments, or listen to the full podcast.

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Tweetable Moments

“Companies don’t understand the science behind viral. They build it, hope it’ll be successful.” -@j1berger (tweet this)

Catching Fire

Why does something catch fire and become popular, while something else completely fizzles and fades into oblivion? How does social influence work? How does it shape everything, from the products we buy to the services that we use to the behaviors we engage in? All these questions will be answered in Jonah Berger’s new book Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

1296420 81434190 1024x768 Contagion, Social Media, and Why Things Catch OnAt the Wharton School at UPenn, Jonah did a six-month study of New York Times articles — over 7,000 pieces of content. They were following what made the most-emailed list and what got left in the dust. What seemed to make people want to share a piece of content? Not surprisingly, useful information was a huge driver of whether or not people shared the content. The most shared articles tended to be movie and restaurant reviews, tips for getting your kid into college, and what to do in a city if you only have 36 hours. “One reason people share is they want to pass along that useful content.”

As a professor, Jonah doesn’t just let his students learn about social media; they have to actually use it. Students who are not already on Twitter are to join it and build up a follower base, tracking who looks at their tweets, etc. They also have to try to make a viral video and get it distributed. Some are successful and get thousands of views, and some only get a few people to see their video. Understanding how something works, after all, isn’t just learning about it; it’s doing it.

So how are companies doing it wrong? Jonah says they’re focusing too much on online content without knowing how it works. “It’s really about understanding how that science works, and thinking about online as well as offline.” Putting together successful content is not about hitting a home run every time; it’s about getting your average up. “You’re not looking for 10 billion clients; you’re just looking for ten more clients.”

Social Media Stat of the Week: Every Facebook Fan is Worth $174.17

Everyone is always trying to put a dollar value on Facebook fans. The researchers over at Syncapse have put together a study for 2013 valuing the average Facebook fan at $174.17. Jeff brings to our attention this week an interview with Syncapse’s executive chief Michael Scissons published in a New York Times blog. The problem, of course, with this type of data is that it is limited and highly circumstantial. The value of Facebook to your business depends entirely on what kind of business you are, what kind of fans you have, what you sell, etc. These things, unfortunately for market researchers, are unquantifiable.

The study finds that “fans” tend to be Super Consumers and brand advocates. Jeff points out, though, we can’t measure the worth of a Facebook fan without also measuring the worth of a “fan” of the brand who may not happen to “like” the brand on Facebook. After all, you can be a Super Consumer of Coca Cola and not be on Facebook at all. What is the difference, if any, between the value of a brand fan and the value of a Facebook fan of the same brand? “Therein,” Jeff says, “lies the delta of value that aggregating those folks on Facebook creates.”

We’ve said this on the show before: the action of liking a brand on Facebook is a trailing indicator of relationship, not a leading indicator of relationship.

Four Your Information

How did you get involved in social media?
Jonah was not even on Twitter until about 8 months ago, but he started using it for Contagious. “The book encouraged me to get more on social media and work more in that space, not just in studying it but in using it as well.”

What do you like best about social media?
“I think it’s good in that it allows us to connect with people that we wouldn’t often see and get news from our friends and updates about people that we don’t always keep in touch with, so in some ways it’s made us closer.” But it’s not all good; it’s also negatively affected our behavior. “It makes us expect things very quickly, it makes us always look for the next soundbite in someone else’s life, it makes us not pay attention to information all the time.”

Do you have a favorite social network?
No, “I think different ones are good for different things, depending on your purpose.”

If you could do a Skype call with any living person, who might that be and why?
Jonah would like to have a Skype call with famous soccer player Lionel Messi. “Looking at someone who’s been successful in a different industry than you can often help you think differently than you would otherwise.”

See you next week!

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  • http://twitter.com/CrackMarketing Crack Marketing

    Really interesting book! Thanks for sharing us the podcast. Great job Jay!

  • Graciousstore

    Twitter is good as a marketing tool to the extent that you draw your followers’ attention to your business with the hope that someday they will become your customers

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    Great advice! It’s important for marketers to focus on the strategy and tactics that work. Thanks for sharing.

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    Thanks for sharing your perspective on this. I have been more than impressed by your post.