Framework 116 Contagiousness (Stepps)


Contagious refers to the likely rapid spread, ie

"...diffuse from person to person by word-of-mouth and social influence..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

Why does something go viral? What is the underlying human behaviour?

NB The word 'viral' is used as an analogy to diseases. In this case it has one important difference, ie the expected length of the transmission chain. In the case of diseases, it spreads solely from the initial individual to others and outwards to the entire population. In contrast, for products, services and ideas, the likelihood that one person will generate an extremely long chain is small. Viral in this case means that it is more likely to spread irrespective of the transmission chain.

Answers to the 2 questions varies from completely random (impossible to predict) to humour or cuteness (babies and animals) to generate excitement and buzz.

"...regardless of how plain or boring a product or idea may seem, there are ways to make it contagious..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

Why is it?

"...certain stories are more contagious, and certain rumours are more infectious. Some online content goes viral, other content never gets passed on. Some products get a great deal of word-of-mouth, while others go unmentioned. Why? What causes certain products, ideas, and behaviours to be talked about more?..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

Some reasons some products, services, ideas, etc are more popular:

- they are better quality, ie more convenient, easier to use, more effective, etc

- more attractive price-wise, ie more value for money, cheaper, etc

- better promotion, ie more advertising, better known, etc

However, these only explain part of the story. There are

"...Instances where products, ideas, and behaviours diffuse through a population. They start with a small set of individuals or organisations and spread, often from person to person, almost like a virus......while it's easy to find examples of social contagion, is much harder to actually get something to catch on......why do some products, ideas, and behaviours succeed and others fail?..."
Jonah Berger, 2013

Generally, it is thought that social epidemics are driven by a handful of exceptional people, ie opinion leaders, connectors, salespersons, mavericks, informal leaders, influencers, gatekeepers, etc. However, this focuses too much on the messenger, ie person, and not enough on the message, ie content.


Understooding the underlying psychological and sociological processes behind the science of social transmission (psychology of sharing) is necessary if your product, services, ideas, etc to become more popular. This involves 6 principles or ingredients (STEPPS), ie social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value and stories. These cause things to be talked about, shared and imitated. This concept will explain why people gossip, why certain online content goes viral, why rumours spread, why certain topics dominate informal conversations, etc

"...talking and sharing are some of our most fundamental behaviours.."
Jonah Berger, 2013


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