Book Club

Contagious: Why Things Catch On

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Why I Read This Book

I first heard about this book while reading a blog post on where it was mentioned and referred to as an “excellent book”.

The title of the book instantly had me interested and after seeing that it got plenty of positive reviews online I decided to get a copy and read it for our book club. As the title suggests, this book is about what makes something go viral.


Quick Summary

Berger looks at many examples to examine this including news stories, YouTube videos and pieces of advertising. In his research, he found 6 common ingredients in most viral content.

He refers to them using the acronym STEPPS which are:


1. Social Currency – People are more likely to share something or tell their friends about it if it makes them seem cool or interesting.

2. Triggers – A good way of getting people to think of something regularly is to get them to associate it with something they see or do every day.

3. Emotion – If it has an emotional effect it will be far more memorable.

4. Public – Berger uses the phrase “Monkey see, monkey do” to describe this. If someone sees others using your product or spreading your message, they’re more likely to want to get involved.

5. Practical Value – People will share content if they’ve learned something from it.

6. Stories – People like to be told a good story and they also like to pass it on.


There is a chapter dedicated to each of the 6 STEPPS, describing them using relevant and recent examples and research. The stories from the chapter on triggers are the ones I found most interesting. In this chapter he tells us how sales of Mars Bars increased in 1997, the year of the NASA Pathfinder mission to Mars.

Contagious: Why things catch on

Berger also tells us about Rebecca Black’s 2011 viral YouTube music video “Friday” and how views of this video peaked every Friday and how an advertising campaign linking Kit Kat bars with coffee increased sales by one third within 12 months by triggering thoughts of Kit Kat during coffee breaks.


What I Learned

The book is full of examples like this and they don’t just make for some interesting reading, they also give great insights into why we share content and each one backs up one or more of his 6 STEPPS.

I don’t for one minute think that this a guaranteed way of creating viral content but I’m convinced that each of the STEPPS plays in important role in what we share and what we just forget about.

The book itself is a good example of these STEPPS in action as:

– It has given me some interesting things to talk about (Social Currency);

– Since reading the book any advertising and viral content I come across makes me think of it (Triggers);

– There was an element of surprise in many of the examples in the book (Emotion);

– I found out about this book on the Moz blog and you (assuming this is the first you’ve heard of it) found out about it on our blog (Public);

– It’s taught me about some important things to keep in mind while creating content (Practical Value), and;

– Each example is told in the form of a story so it’s nice and easy to remember and to tell my friends about (Stories).

 All of these factors make it a book that I couldn’t help but talk about and if you decide to read it I’m sure you will tell others about it too.


Book reviewed by Robert Grehan, 16 May 2014.

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