How To Be More Contagious

Consuming and sharing content normally creates an emotional benefit, not a financial one. Hence the obstacle: companies try to use content to create financial benefits for themselves instead of emotional benefits for their readers. This completely overturns the traditional business view of what content should accomplish.

Studies show we’re hard-wired to talk about ourselves. Around 50% of what people talk about on social is ‘me‘ focused, and it’s not just vanity (although there are an ENORMOUS number of selfies and/or pictures of the food in front of you out there, but I digress…). Harvard neuroscientists Jason Mitchell and Diana Tamir discovered that disclosing information about ourselves is intrinsically rewarding. They found that sharing personal opinions activates the same brain circuits that respond to rewards like food and money. So how do you climb aboard those conversations?

In his book Contagious, Dr. Jonah Berger establishes three key strategies to help create the kind of content that gives people a way to make themselves look good while promoting you and your ideas along the way.

  • Identify your inner remarkability.
People like sharing information that is remarkable and unique (like the fact that the average human has more than five pounds of bacteria in their body, regardless of how often you wash your hands….). Dr. Berger explains, “Some people like to be the life of the party, but no one wants to be the death of it. We all want to be liked. The desire for social approval is a fundamental human motivation. If we tell someone a cool fact it makes us seem more engaging. If we tell someone about a secret bar hidden inside a hot dog restaurant, it makes us seem cool. Sharing extraordinary, novel, or entertaining stories makes people seem more extraordinary, novel, and entertaining.
He and his fellow researchers found a hierarchy of “conversationability” among different companies. Lady Gaga and Hollywood blockbusters were talked about about twice as much as less remarkable brands like a local bank or over-the-counter medicine. Without any promotion (that is, only organic reach) a short list of the top five highest industry categories are:
  • Amateur sports teams
  • Farming/agriculture
  • Fashion designer
  • Professional athletes
  • Music industry
The five lowest are:
  • Appliances
  • Books
  • Telecommunications
  • Household supplies
  • Tools and equipment
If you’re in the top five industries, the opportunity to ferment activity around your content is higher. As a member in the the second list, you have less organic opportunity, but the chance for you to become remarkable becomes more interesting (Check out the “Will It Blend? series of videos by Blendtec….who knew blenders could be so entertaining?). The solution Blendtec came up with wasn’t cheap or easy, but their unique and consistently humorous series has garnered almost 802,000(!) subscribers to their YouTube channel. The key to finding your remarkability is to think about what makes you surprising, interesting, or novel….finish this sentence: “Only we…” and you have a start.

  • Help people achieve something with your content.
Next, Dr. Berger explains why status translates into social transmission: “Just like many other animals, people care about hierarchy. Apes engage in status displays and dogs try to figure out who is the alpha. Humans are no different. We like feeling that we’re high status, top dog, or leader of the pack. But status is inherently relational. Being leader of the pack requires a pack, and doing better than others.

He suggests the use of, and this explains the rise of, game mechanics or “gamification” in content strategy. Games are closely related to people engaging with and transmitting content. Some examples include achieving a ‘status level’, winning an award, getting a high score on a quiz, and being included on a “best of” list. These also help generate further sharing….after all, what good is it if you win and you can’t tell the world about it?

  • Make it exclusive.
Considering the overwhelming amount of information density (both good and not-so-much….) on the Internet, how can you use exclusivity to your advantage? For every eBook you try to sell, someone else will be willing to give similar ideas away…

Get used to it.

Content and information are not scarce. However, according to Christopher Penn of SHIFT Communications, “Scarcity is actually more powerful than ever on the social web. While content may be free, what has become extremely scarce is time, attention and influence.” So you can make people feel like insiders, which is something rare, making them feel special and unique. Because of that, they’re not only more likely to like your product or service, but tell others about it more. Why? Because it makes them look good! Insider knowledge is social currency.

As you consider your remarkability, how to help others achieve something with what you publish, and creative ways to deliver exclusive insight to your targeted audience, think about how you have encountered these online in the past couple of days, and take some notes.

Hey, you caught the “bug” and they got your attention! They can help you figure out how to get in front of your audience, too.

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