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By Starshine Roshell |

Q&A With Best-Selling Author Jonah Berger

Jonah Berger

Jonah Berger spent a decade studying what makes products and ideas go viral. Now the research behind his New York Times best-selling book Contagious: Why Things Catch On is available in a lynda.com course.

In the example-rich, one-hour course Viral Marketing: Crafting Shareable Content, the Wharton School marketing professor shares the six steps to crafting messages and information that get people talking.

In a recent Q&A, Berger revealed some surprises in his own research, corrected a common misconception about viral marketing—and told us about the one product he loves to share.

Who would benefit most from this course?

JB: Whether you’re a small-business owner or large company, a for-profit or a nonprofit, I think everyone wants their ideas to catch on. We want to build and make our enterprises more successful, and we see it all the time: social movements that come out of nowhere and products that are very popular.

I always wondered, why do we share some things rather than others? How does that work? If you’ve always wondered, this course will help you understand.

What’s a common misconception people have about “social epidemics” or viral marketing?

JB: One is that it’s all about online. Only 7 percent of word of mouth is online; most of it is offline, face-to-face. Offline sharing is a lot more important than people think.

Another common misconception is that you have to make something go viral and you have to get 10 million views. That’s not a bad thing, but you don’t just want to be a flash in the pan; you want enduring interest. So it’s all about understanding the science behind word of mouth and social transmission—and turning your existing followers into advocates.

In your research about how things become popular, did you discover anything that surprised you?

JB: That the things that matter online are not the things that matter offline. What we share online is about curating an online identity. Offline, we don’t always have the time to think about the most clever thing to say. So the channel matters.

What’s the last thing you shared with a friend—something that consciously or unconsciously you’re helping to popularize?

JB: There’s one thing I love to share. It’s this thing called a Sinjimoru. It’s a pocket that you stick on the back of your cell phone and it’s basically like a little kangaroo pouch, or wallet, for your phone.

What are some of the differences between teaching face-to-face, as you do at Wharton, and via video, as you do with lynda.com?

JB: The nice thing about an online course is having the time to reflect on the content and re-record sections as you like. Having a chance to construct and refine what you’re going to say often makes the material more effective.

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