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The Jonah Berger Formula

From class discussion on the distribution of popularity and the success of certain products using network effects, I found assistant professor at the Wharton School of Business, Jonah Berger’s, studies on how products, ideas, and behaviors become social phenomena, to be extremely interesting and very tangibly related to this topic. In his work, he focuses on the value of messages that flows through a network versus the disemmination of the message itself.

He created 6 STEPPS that he believes can cause just about anything to go viral.

1. Social Currency. The idea that people readily share information that makes them look good, in other words, provides a sort of “bragging rights” within their social network. Give people a reason to brag. A reason that they want to be the forerunners of this new idea or product.

2. Triggers. A memory trigger. The product or idea is extremely memorable – easy to bring up, discuss, explain, or share. It is out of the ordinary and innovative, but also not too complex that it is impossible to explain in layman’s terms.

3. Emotion. Berger wrote, “When we care, we share.” Without a doubt, this is very true. People are not sharing information with little relevance to their own lives and the lives of those around them. The product, service or idea must be impactful in some way to a large group of people, or even society as a whole.

4. Public. When something can be easily viewed and shown to others, it is much more likely to catch on. This does not mean the product must be a tangible object, it can even be an idea that can be marketed and shared to the public. Simply, to grow, it just cannot be top-secret and confidential.

5. Practical Value. People can actually use this, whatever “this” is… People need it. There are so many different technological platforms and objects in our lives that hold no significant purpose. Give a simple reason why this will add efficiency to my day or happiness to my life, and go with it.

6. Stories. “Information travels under the guise of the idle chatter.” Give the product a story. Brand it to be a part of daily gossip, something that needs to be told… now.

I strongly agree with Berger’s assertions when creating this model. A key part of his model strives on the idea that there is much more value to a product when our friends are using it too. A new social media platform can arise tomorrow, next week, or even now, but it would hold no importance or significance in our live if none of our friends were using it as well. This is why it is a key point that friends and social networks play defining roles in what makes or breaks a new product.


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November 2015