In the book ‘The Tipping Point’ published in 2000, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of ‘The Law of the Few,’ and stated that, ‘The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.’ Essentially what this means is that when messages or ideas spread in a society through word of mouth, rapidly like an epidemic, it is due to special influential people. Identifying these influential people and getting them on board to support our idea or cause would mean that our idea or cause would spread through the society like unhindered forest fire. However there has been a lot of criticism for ‘the law of the few’ most notably from Duncan Watts, author of ‘Six Degrees.’

In ‘Contagious,’ Wharton Professor Jonah Berger argues that irrespective of who originates or passes along a message, it can be contagious if it has six key attributes. The author has devoted a chapter each for these six attributes.

  • Social Currency – The basic premise of this chapter is ‘We share things that make us look good
  • Triggers – This chapter is built on the central idea, ‘Top of the mind, tip of the tongue
  • Emotion – In this chapter the authors illustrates several cases to drive home the point, ‘When we care, we share
  • Public – This chapter is built on the central idea, ‘Built to show, built to grow
  • Practical Value – The key message from this chapter can be boiled down to, ‘News you can use
  • Stories – The core of this chapter is built around, ‘Information travels under the guise of idle chatter

In the words of Jonah Berger, ‘Harnessing the power of word of mouth, online or offline, requires understanding why people talk and why some things get talked about and shared more than others. The psychology of sharing. The science of social transmission.’  The author uses a number of psychological studies and real world examples to drive home the point that the inherent attractiveness of any message/ idea can be enhanced so as to make it worth sharing in the minds of its recipients.

Just to ensure that Virality is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, the author has this piece of advice for anyone trying to implement his methodology, ‘When trying to generate word of mouth, many people forget one important detail. They focus so much to make people to talk that they ignore the part that really matters: what people are talking about.’

The most important consideration as per the author is that, ‘ensuring the idea not only goes viral but also to make it valuable to the sponsoring company. Virality is most valuable when the brand or product benefit is integral to the story. When it’s woven so deeply into the narrative that people can’t tell the story without mentioning the brand or the product or the company.’

Even if we are not a marketer, ‘Contagious’ by Jonah Berger is a book worth reading just to understand why we hit the ‘share’ or the ‘retweet’ or the ‘forward’ buttons for some messages while ignoring a vast majority of the messages that we receive.


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