Contagious by Jonah Berger


Word of mouth is always more effective than advertising, and that is especially true when it comes to books. We’re much more likely to read a novel based on a friend’s recommendation than an ad. And if everyone we know is reading a particular book, we want to read it, too. But as authors, how do we get that buzz started?

Berger says there are six things that will get people talking about your product and what it does. Social currency is the most important. Does it make people feel cool when they discuss this thing? The second is triggers. People need a reason to talk about it. Emotion is a big factor. We need to be fired up about something in order to start talking about it, because who wants to share something boring?

Things have to be public to influence behavior. Think of those “I voted” stickers as an example. The product or information also has to have practical value. People want to help people by sharing tips. And finally, things go viral when they have an interesting story attached. Everyone loved the “United Breaks Guitars” video because it told a gripping story. To create buzz, things don’t need all six factors, but the more they have, the more likely they are to go viral.

All of this might seem simple, even obvious, but that’s what’s great about CONTAGIOUS. Berger is able to take complex subjects and explain their conclusions in snappy summaries, using interesting examples. Berger has done all the research, and he offers insight as to why things have already gone viral.

However, he doesn’t tell you how to use these insights yourself. There are no step-by-step instructions here. That’s because each product is unique. But if you understand the principles and see why they work, you should be able to apply them to your own situation. Of course, there’s no guarantee that incorporating all six factors into your marketing will make your content viral, but it certainly ups the odds.

CONTAGIOUS isn’t a how-to book for writers. Berger was speaking more to companies with everyday products to sell. Even so, he has already changed the way I share information about my novels. I also get why some of my blog posts and social media updates were widely shared but did not lead to book sales. The content was fine on its own, but never tied directly to my novels.

Even though it wasn’t written for fiction writers, I found CONTAGIOUS a very useful book. Berger shows that you don’t need a huge budget or “social mavens” to create buzz. You just need some creativity and a good handle on why some things are—or can be made—contagious.


CONTAGIOUS can be found here.


rating: 4 stars



I recommend this book.

6 thoughts on “Contagious by Jonah Berger

  1. I was disappointed to learn it’s not about zombies. Maybe like the book The Tipping Point – applicable beyond its original intent.

  2. Thank you, Alex, for Writing Slices. This book looks like a reward for the day I finish revising my novel.

  3. I should read this book, if only for the business insights. I’ve got some great people I work with who are always enthusiastic and always bring a positive attitude to whatever project they are working on that week. Others, not so much – I spend too much time convincing them that yes, this is a project they want to care about (and well, quality of work is their job!). So anyways, maybe this book can give me some new ways to get them excited about stuff.

    • This was a quick read for me. The book itself is short without any filler. I got a lot of out of it.

      One thing that struck a chord for me was how important social proof is. And I’m concerned about your friends who aren’t enthusiastic about their own work. It’s hard to get the ball rolling on word of mouth unless the author guides people to it in the first place. You don’t want to spam, of course, but giving people a reason to enjoy your stuff is a good thing!

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