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Audiobook Review: ‘Contagious’ by Jonah Berger

Audiobook Review: ‘Contagious’ by Jonah Berger post image

Title: Contagious: Why Things Catch On
Author: Jonah Berger
Narrator: Keith Nobbs
Genre: Nonfiction
Year: 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Acquired: Purchased from Audible
Rating: ★★★★☆

Review: What makes things popular?

That’s the fiendishly complex question at the center of Contagious by Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In the book, Berger looks to explain “social epidemics” — moments where ideas, products or behaviors spread through a population — and to look at what features converge to make these ideas, products or behaviors viral or likely to spread by word-of-mouth. Berger and his colleagues have outlined six principles of contagiousness: products or ideas that contain social currency and are triggered, emotional, public, practically valuable, and wrapped into stories.

The book is an interesting mix of the obvious and the counter-intuitive. I wish I had examples for you, but since I listened to the audio book I didn’t take any notes and the specifics have faded in my brain. But, I do distinctly remember having moments where I thought his conclusion gelled with what I assumed about viral content, while other times his research indicated features of popular content that I wouldn’t have pegged before.

The book is also full of interesting, real-world examples. I was most curious about some research Berger and his colleagues did on what newspaper stories are shared most and how emotions play into what we remember and share with others. If I remember correctly, people are just as likely to share content that is “positive” as they are to share content that is “negative,” but only when the emotions that a story triggers are very strong. That’s not the conclusion I would have expected.

Overall, this is an excellent piece of accessible nonfiction. And despite not having a narrative arc to move forward like I usually like in audio books, this one works well to listen to. Keith Nobbs is an engaging narrator, and the structure of the book is clearly laid out in the introduction. Plus, it’s pretty short (around 7 hours), so I didn’t feel like I’d forgotten the beginning by the time I made it to the end.

If you’re into marketing or curious about what makes thins go viral, Contagious would be a great place to start reading.

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  • Belle Wong April 25, 2013, 9:51 am

    I’m on hold for this one at the library – now that I’ve read your review, I can hardly wait to get it. I’ve always been curious about the drivers behind something that goes viral. I’m reading The Blogger Abides right now, by Mental Floss blogger Chris Higgins, and he had an interesting note about sharing, that while people might rip you apart in comments, he’s noticed that most people share links they like, and almost never share links they don’t like. I’m not sure how that plays into the research you mentioned about newspaper content and strong emotions, but it’s an interesting point.

    • Kim April 30, 2013, 6:31 pm

      I may have gotten that a little off. I was listening to this on audio while driving and my memory is fuzzy. I’m curious about The Blogger Abides — it sounds interesting!

  • Rebecca @ Love at First Book April 25, 2013, 1:17 pm

    This book sounds sooo good! I was just chatting with a friend about #tbt. One day on Instagram recently like 8 of my friends put up an old picture with #tbt. I had to google it, but it’s throwback Thursday. But who came up with that? And how did a bunch of my friends know about it all at once? We’re all working adults in our late 20s. So how did this catch on?

    • Kim April 30, 2013, 6:31 pm

      I’ve never heard of that! I am totally out of the loop.

  • Allison @ The Book Wheel April 25, 2013, 11:46 pm

    I don’t listen to a lot of audiobooks, but this one fits right up my alley for the ones I do listen to! I’m going to have to download a copy for while I’m at work!

    • Kim April 30, 2013, 6:32 pm

      It was really good on audio, easy to follow and pretty quick.

  • Charlie April 26, 2013, 7:58 am

    The research I’ve done as a web designer sort of fits into this theme though so many articles are short and say the same thing, a book sounds a lot more in-depth. Definitely one to look for.

    • Kim April 30, 2013, 6:32 pm

      The book definitely surprised me in parts. Some of the conclusions seem obvious, but then he also gives a lot of examples and way to put the principles in practice.