Why things catch on, or not.

Here’s a leaf from academia, sometimes also known as common sense disguised under a veneer of jargon and big words. Inspired by and also intent on debunking the idea regarding the disproportionate influence of opinion leaders and trend setters in spreading fads and ideas, professor Jonah Berger set out to highlight the six STEPPS any message should try to incorporate in order to go viral among the regular Joes and Janes:

1. Social currency – we share things that make us look good, sound smart, compare favourably to others. Exclusivity in restaurants or flash sales websites is one example.

2. Triggers – we share ideas that are at the top of our mind. Sales of Mars bars spiked during NASA’s mission to the planet in 1997. Rebecca Black’s song, Friday, sees a spike in search every Friday.

3. Emotion – when we care, we share. That’s why we don’t share droll, boring stories, or events (although we somehow are compelled to tell others what we are having for breakfast). We share stories such as the one about United breaking a passenger’s guitar, something that triggers strong emotions.

4. Public – we follow others, but only if we can see what they are doing. Baristas put their own money in a tip jar to get the ball rolling. A new pub can get someone to stand in line, to get people wondering.

5. Practical value – we crave the opportunity to give advice and offer tips to others, especially if the advice is of practical value. Helping others also gives one a positive emotion. Sharing is caring.

6. Stories – people don’t just share information; they share stories, with information wrapped up in them. Stories are inherently more engaging and memorable, making them good vessels to spread ideas, brands and information. Stories, however, have to be on brand – Evian’s roller baby video has not done anything to stop a drop in sales.

It is hard to believe that any of this is remarkably new information (that will make me want to share the book). Exclusivity can help products catch on by making them look more desirable is not groundbreaking; that good storytelling sticks is a well-known fact since storytelling existed (has anyone wanted to write a forgettable story?).

Content aside, Professor Berger is also, unfortunately, not a good writer. While not one to use big words and academic jargon, he has chosen to fall to the other end of the spectrum by employing hackneyed marketing words such as inner remarkability, and repeating point after obvious point. This book should not catch on, but there are worse things with a larger following.

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