Jonah Berger Featured Personality

Ideas that Spread

S ocial benefit and nonprofit organizations need to grow to be effective. They have an important message and are doing really good work, but they need to get their message out there. It’s not enough just to do good work; you have to get your ideas to catch on. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t have a huge budget to spend on advertising. So, very simply, how can they get the word out? Word of mouth is a really powerful tool to do that. Not only is it ten times as effective as traditional advertising, it’s much cheaper. It’s much easier to diffuse that message if you can get people to talk and share your message. You don’t need a big advertising budget - you just have to figure out how to turn your customers or, in this case, supporters, into advocates. That’s really where the science comes in. We all know word of mouth matters. The last book we bought or movie we watched often came from someone we know. But to get word of mouth to work for us and get our ideas to spread, we have to understand why people share some things more than others. Sometimes we look at word of mouth, and at content that gets shared, and we think it’s random, it’s luck, or it’s chance. We think it’s a pot of lightning; there’s no way there’s a formula there! But there is a formula. Taking STEPPS We’ve looked at thousands of pieces of online content, at word of mouth from tens of thousands of brands, and at millions of purchases and, again and again, we see the same six factors coming up. I put them in

there’s a spike in shares, then it goes down, and another spike, and then it goes down, and another spike, and then it goes down. The spikes aren’t random. They’re seven days apart, every Wednesday or, as it’s colloquially known, hump day. While the content itself doesn’t change, when Wednesday rolls around, it provides a ready reminder, what psychologists call a trigger , to make people think about it and talk about it and share it. Something that’s top of mind is much more likely to be tip of tongue. If I said peanut butter and ..., you would say, jelly . If I said rum and... , you would likely finish with Coke . The point is that some things remind us of other things, even if those things aren’t present in the moment. The more frequent those reminders are, the more likely we are to think of those things. Peanut butter’s almost like a little advertisement for jelly. Jelly doesn’t have to remind us to get it. Peanut butter does all the work for jelly. If you look at what people talk about and share, much of it is driven by what’s top of mind, not just what’s interesting. If people are sitting around, you talk about what you’re doing this weekend and you talk about the weather.Those things aren’t the most exciting, but they’re top of mind. The weather’s right around us and the weekend’s right around the corner, so we’re triggered to think about it. Remember the Link Nonprofits too often ask if people like their message, not if people will think about their message. To make sure people think about your message, you’ve got to link your idea to

a framework that I call STEPPS. It’s not random, luck or chance - there’s a science here. STEPPS stands for S - social currency

T - triggers E - emotion P - public P - practical value S - stories

Each of those principles is a psychological driver of what people share. By understanding them, we can get all sorts of content, ideas, and messages to be more successful. We wonder too often how much people will like our message when they hear it. But we don’t worry as much as we should about whether they’ll remember to talk about it and share it later. You might be familiar with the GEICO ad for hump day, with the camel walking around the office, asking what day it is. At the end, someone says, “It’s hump day,” the camel gets really excited, and the ad says, “How happy are people to save money with GEICO? Happier than a camel on hump day.” The ad is a little funny, but it’s not that funny. GEICO didn’t spend much money putting it out there, yet it was the second most-shared ad of 2014. When you look at the data to find out why, you see an interesting pattern:

16 I Professional Performance

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