#EmptyShelf17 #5: Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age by @j1berger

#EmptyShelf17 #5: Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age by @j1berger

Another book that I’ve managed to buy twice, and finally read once!

I love this description of marketing (often a dirty word – especially in church circles where I’m trying to persuade people to make the best use of communication skills) on p.62:

To Dave, marketing isn’t about trying to convince people to purchase things they don’t want or need. Marketing is about tapping into their genuine enthusiasm for products and services that they find useful. Or fun. Or beautiful. Marketing is about spreading the love.

The book is essentially a masterclass is how to make your story/product ‘contagious’, or ‘viral’ in a digital age, largely around creating “buzz” aka “a conversation piece”. It considers human desires and behaviours, and how that translates into understanding what they might share, and why… and how companies with little/no budget can get their story out there (also, many of the churches that I’m working with!).

Sometimes products catch on because they are better than others/easier to use, others because they are cheaper, others because of advertising that brought things to people’s attention, but Berger argues that there’s more to it than this!

People are social creatures – we talk, we share, and we recommend! We share stories, news and information with others around us, and with those online – and these conversations affect 20-50% of all ‘purchasing decisions.’ Advertising is not seen as credible because it ‘has an angle’, whereas we trust our friends to ‘tell it to us straight’. Stories are also targeted, as we’ll typically direct the information towards an (already) interested audience. Berger gives an interesting story of being sent books to review (which are often just one copy), and being sent TWO copies, with an offer to pass one onto someone else who might be interested – starting the targeting at ground level!

Berger emphasises that ‘word of mouth’ is available to everyone, as it just requires ‘getting people to talk’. Research in 2013 (when this book was published), indicated that only 7% of word-of-mouth happened online – but because online is more visible than the larger percentage of time that people spend offline – we have a record of chats and conversations in a way that we don’t of other aspects of our lives. The book seeks to understand why some stories are more contagious, and certain rumours are more infectious, and highlights 6 areas:

  • Social Currency: We share things that make us look good
  • Triggers: Things need to be in our consciousness to want to share them
  • Emotion: We want to share the things we care about (exciting is more shared than sad)
  • Public: If something is public, and on show, it’s visible to others and enters their consciousness
  • Practical Value: People like to share useful bits of information that we think will help people
  • Stories: Humans tell stories – and useful information can be embedded in what seems like idle chatter!

Berger appears to be indicating that most of what we share is not ‘virtue-signalling‘ (not a term around in 2013), but a genuine desire for connection/to find our place. It’s not about how ‘influential’ we are (it takes a lot of ‘little’ things for something to catch, even if the spark is provided by someone known), how much money we’ve got, but more about are we talking about the things that people are concerned about, and are we applying the STEPPS model to connect relevantly?

Buy the book (Amazon)

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Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @MMUBS. Interested in digital Literacy in the third sector. Author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’, regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.
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