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How to Make Your Ideas Contagious

As leaders we need to understand how to make our ideas catch on. This is most effectively done through word of mouth and social influence. It’s more persuasive than advertising and is more targeted to an interested audience.

Jonah Berger shares the science behind word of mouth in Contagious and even teaches a class at The Wharton School by the same name.

Interestingly, most people think that most word of mouth happens online. But research finds that only 7 percent of word of mouth happens online. “Offline discussions are more prevalent, and potentially even more impactful, than online ones.

Berger presents many examples of contagious ideas that seem clever in hindsight. And we can learn from these. From these examples and his own research, he has assembled six principles or STEPPS for making products, ideas, and behaviors more likely to become popular:

Social Currency: We share things that make us look good. Find the inner remarkablility that makes people feel like insiders. Give people ways to achieve and provide visible symbols of status that they can show to others.

Triggers: How do we remind people to talk about our products and ideas? People talk about what comes to mind. Top of mind leads to tip of tongue. There is immediate and ongoing word of mouth. Movies benefit from immediate word of mouth, but many ideas and initiatives benefit from ongoing word of mouth. What keeps people talking? Triggers. Think context. Think about whether the message will be triggered by the everyday environments of the target audience. “A strong trigger can be much more effective than a catchy slogan.”

Emotion: When we care, we share. Naturally contagious content usually evokes some sort of emotion. Not all emotions are equal. Awe is good. Sad is not. High-arousal emotions—awe, funny, anger, anxiety—are shared more than low-arousal emotions like contentment and sadness.

Public: Built to show, built to grow. Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate; products and ideas that advertise themselves.

Practical Value: Products and ideas we can use. Highlight the value and package our knowledge and expertise so that people can easily pass it on.

Stories: People don’t just share information, they tell stories. Information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter. Embed your products and ideas in stories that people want to tell.

The more of these principles you use the better, but not all are required to make your idea contagious.



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