"Just as people use money to buy products or services, they use social currency to achieve desired positive impressions"

Jonah Berger, professor at the Wharton School, on why social influence matters in marketing

Published 4 years ago on Jan 19, 2018 7 minutes Read

What were the key takeaways as you were doing the background research for Contagious?
The biggest one would be that “Self-sharing” follows us throughout our lives. We tell friends about our new clothing purchases and shows family members the op-ed piece we’re sending to the local newspaper. This desire to share our thoughts, opinions, and experience is one reason social media and online social networks have become so popular. People blog about their preferences, post Facebook status updates about what they ate for lunch, and tweet about why they hate the current government. 

As many observers have commented, today’s social-network-addicted people can’t seem to stop sharing — what they think, like, and want — with everyone, all the time. So, why do people talk so much about their own attitudes and experiences? It’s more than just vanity; we’re actually wired to find it pleasurable. Harvard neuroscientists, Jason Mitchell, and Diana Tamir, found that disclosing information about oneself is intrinsically rewarding.

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. So to get people talking, companies and organisations need to mint social currency. Give people a way to make themselves look good while promoting their products and ideas along the way.

What then is the biggest challenge for marketers in their attempt to win wallet share in the digital age?
I think the challenge is they focus too much on the technology and not enough on the psychology. People think it is about being on certain digital channels or using certain social media channels. If you actually look at the data, only about 7% of word of mouth is online; most word of mouth is offline. We tend to overestimate online word of mouth because it’s easier to see. Social media sites provide a handy record of all the clips, comments, and other content we share online. So when we look at it, it seems like a lot. But we don’t think as much about all the offline conversations we had over that same time period because we can’t easily see them.

So it is really easy to chase fads but it is a lot hard to understand why people do what they


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