Contagious: Social Currency

shutterstock_44251531Contagious is usually a word associated with a virus or illness. However, in today’s day and age, “going viral” has taken on a whole new meaning. Videos, blogs, photos, etc. go viral as they say, becoming widespread and widely known. The message, it seems, has become contagious.

In “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Jonah Berger, Berger puts it quite nicely: “Contagious content is … so inherently viral that it spreads regardless of who is doing the talking.”

But is there an exact format when it comes to creating a contagious message? Is there a sure fire way to always produce something that will go viral?

Berger continues on in his book, giving six, as he calls them, STEPPS to make a message contagious. During these next six weeks of my blog, I would like to look at each of these STEPPS and share what I learn with you so that your Box and your message isn’t just out there, but that it goes viral. This industry is built upon word-of-mouth. So, with all the hubbub going on around us, you have to make your Box stand out. I believe that Berger’s STEPPS for making a message contagious could also pertain to your business on the web and on the streets.

The first is social currency. What does this mean? Well, let’s take this in steps. First, what people discuss will affect what others think of them; we all know this to be true. With that in mind, “people prefer sharing things that make them seem entertaining rather than boring, clever rather than dumb, and hip rather than dull.” So it seems, as Berger points out, word-of-mouth is a tool used to make a good impression. Thus, it is a type of currency: “Just as people use money to buy products or services, they use social currency to achieve desired positive impressions among their families, friends and colleagues.”

Thus, social currency. Make sense?

Diving in further, Berger gave three ways to obtain the so-called social currency:

1)   Inner Remarkability: Basically, what makes something stand out and different? Berger states “the key to finding inner remarkability is to think about what makes something interesting, surprising or novel.”

2)   Leverage Game Mechanics: Game mechanics are the elements of a game, like getting points for moves in solitaire. This is an internally motivating aspect as most people enjoy the feeling of achievement. It also encourages social compassion as “people don’t just care how they are doing, they care about their performance in relation to others.” So, you need to build a good game by giving people a way to quantify their performance, as “game mechanics help generate social currency because doing well makes us look good.” Like frequent flyer miles accumulating, “metrics need to be created or recorded that let people see where they stand.”

3)   Making People Feel Like Insiders: What about your message or product imbues scarcity and exclusivity? What will make people feel special about knowing and being a part of your business?

Social currency is the first of six STEPPS to a contagious message. Ask yourself how you can use it to your advantage, and then run with it.

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at