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Understanding 'Social Currency' from the book 'Contagious: How Things Catch On' by Jonah Berger



The following article includes an affiliate link to buy the book . That is, If you buy the book from this link, I would be getting a commission as I am a part of the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.

Have you ever wondered as to why when in the range of around Rs. 15,000, You can get an amazing smartphone, Most of you end up buying a nine times more expensive-Apple iPhone for around Rs.1,35,000 Why is that?
Or why is that when you can afford to buy a four wheeler car which is good enough for you and your family, You want to buy the prestigious 'Mercedes' or 'Audi'? 
Or why is that when you watch a funny video on YouTube, You cannot resist sharing it with your friends and family? Is it because you want them to laugh too or something else is cooking here?
Or why is that when you come to know about a secret which you are told to keep a secret, the first thing we do is spill the beans and make the private public?
Or why is that when you get something for a special price, You share it with everyone and let them know you got things for a special and exclusive price?

Well! We are going to find out by learning the six principles which makes ideas go viral. The six being STEPPS:

S: Social Currency

T: Triggers

E: Emotion

P: Public

P: Practical Value

S: Stories


These six principles are included in the book ‘Contagious: How Things Catch On’ by Associate Professor of Wharton University, Jonah Berger. The book talks about ‘word of mouth’ publicity and the six ways to get it. Jonah Berger decodes things like the video of Rebecca Black- ‘Friday’ which got a staggering 100 million+ views or how did Kit-Kat manage to do an amazing marketing campaign using ‘coffee’. He explains why stuff goes viral. He tells us why some things become trends and in a way also beautifully explains a lot about psychology.


Guys, What if I told you that this series of articles where I am going to share my learnings from the book 'Contagious: How Things Catch On' is only for my Linkedin connections i.e YOU! YES! That's right! I won't post these learnings on any other social media platforms or my website. Now, Would hearing this make you feel just a little more special than what you were feeling while at the start of the article? If you felt that, Then, You have already come experienced what Jonah Berger calls 'Social Currency' which is the lesson we will the focus of today’s article. It's actually quite simple to understand. We share something with others when it makes us look good. So, When you are thinking of buying an Apple iphone, ofcourse, You want to buy it for it's amazing product features, but, there is one key factor playing it's role too. It's 'Social Currency'. I will give you guys an example. Recently, I was invited to speak at an international conference, I along with the other speakers were to meet and have a sort of get together with the organizers. As, We all took our seats and were done introducing ourselves, Most of the speakers took out their Apple laptops even though, there was nothing to be written, no video to be shot, no audio to be recorded, no presentation to be shown. It was a simple case of 'Social Currency'. Everyone wanted to show to the world that they had the prestigious, branded and the cool 'Apple' device. It was about looking cool and awesome. And, That is what Social Currency is all about. It's about making us look good or smart or cool !


And, That is the reason why you would see people sharing funny videos on Facebook. It's because it makes them look good. It makes them look look funnier.

Also,That is one of the most important reasons, I feel that the rich buy extremely costly and exclusive clothes, watches and cars. It makes them look special, cool and different.

Infact, Brands make huge profit using the concept of 'Social Currency'.


Mr. Jonah Berger gives an example of a restaurant and bar named 'Crif Dogs' in NewYork who in 2007 came up with a brilliant idea. They had set up a small phone booth inside their restaurant and customers used to go in this phone booth and try their luck on getting a reservation by using the rotary-dial phone inside the phone booth. The booth also had a sign placed- 'Please Don't Tell Anyone!' making the customer feel special and exclusive. There was absolutely no advertisement of this phone booth of the restaurant anywhere in the city. But, Because the customers were told not to tell anyone about it and it made them feel unique, The existing customers used to tell this to lots of people. And, Then, Due to this, The restaurant took off like a rocket. So, Sometimes, Being 'an insider' makes you feel special and unique which prompts you to share those things with others.


The first of the six STEPPS which help in things, events, videos, etc go viral is Social Currency. Now, What is this? Let me try to explain to you in my own words and the way I understood it. Guys, Just try to remember the last time when you and your friends were having a chat and were sharing jokes they read on the internet. And, Amidst the discussion, You were tempted to share your joke with your friends. And, As you started the joke, everyone’s eyes were hooked onto you and they started hearing with all the attention in the world. And, As you said the punchline of the joke, Absolutely no one laughed except you. And, BOOM! You felt like you should go away and jump in the river and never ever come back. Now, Just think for a second. The joke you shared was neither written by you nor thought by you, but, even then, When you shared the joke, You felt humiliated.


WHY? It’s because the reason is simple. When we share good things with our friends and family, We look good. And, When we share something bad, We look bad. This is what Mr. Berger in 'Contagious: How Things Catch On' calls the- The Social Currency. So, Now, You would realise why so many people share stand-up comedy videos on their social media accounts. It’s because a great stand-up comedy video which they shared makes them look funnier. It makes you look have a great sense of humour. And, That is what the entire concept is all about. People share stuff with their friends which makes them look cool, good, humorous, gentle, kind, etc.

So, Now, You know why someone talks with you about the special deal they got onto the new shoes they brought (the deal makes them look exclusive and special) or why someone shares a secret with you (It makes them look like an insider and feel special about it ). Professor Berger in 'Contagious: How Things Catch On' also gives quite a few examples of what makes social currency. It includes things like Remark-ability and the feeling of making people feel special (like an insider). He takes the example of the viral video ‘Will It Blend?-iPhone' from the Youtube channel ‘Blendtech’s Will It Blend?’ where an iPhone is put inside a blender (mixer) and the ’smoothie’ button is switched on. And, Then, The unthinkable happens and the iPhone is done and dusted due to the blending in the blender. The video received more than 12 million views and was a huge success in terms of advertising the ‘WildSide Jar’. The video is remarkable as it blends something extra-ordiary thing. The video is shared by many people because of it’s remark ability. 


So, As we come close to the end of this article, I would only tell you this. That, This article is only for YOU i.e my Linkedin friends and family. So, Please don't share it with your friends on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram!


(See! I am trying to use the first principle of the six principles of STEPPS which makes things go viral and get immense 'word of mouth' publicity.)


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©2019 by Vanky Kenny Kataria