SPI 059: How Viral Happens—An Interview with Jonah Berger, Author of Contagious

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In this session of The Smart Passive Income Podcast, I’m really excited to chat with Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at Wharton’s School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of his new book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

To sum it up, the book is about why and how stuff goes viral.

Even though it’s highly unlikely that we’re going to have that one video, one article or one anything?that just spreads like crazy that takes us from nothing to world-famous in less than a day (although that could and does happen sometimes), there are principles behind why things go viral that we as business owners and content creators can use to get better and faster results.

Jonah breaks down contagiousness into six specific principles:

  1. Social Currency
  2. Triggers
  3. Emotion
  4. Public
  5. Practical Value
  6. Stories

Six STEPPS, if you will, which we talk about during our session together.

More specifically, in this session you’ll find out about:

  • What exactly causes things to go viral and why that’s important.
  • The meaning of social currency and how content creators can use it.
  • What motivates people to share things.
  • What triggers are and how to use them in marketing.
  • The importance of naming things.
  • The role that emotion plays when it comes to the content people share.
  • The definition of “practical value.”
  • How to differentiate between features and benefits.
  • Plus a whole lot more…

Right click here to download the MP3

Items mentioned in this podcast include:

If you liked this episode, let Jonah know on Twitter here.

Also, keep in mind that ‘viral’ doesn’t necessarily mean world-wide. Viral within a specific community or a niche market can have a significant impact on your business and bottom line, and for bloggers and business owners that becomes a more attainable goal.

When I created GreenExamAcademy.com, most of the world didn’t even know about it, but after Google picked up a lot of what I wrote and people started to share it on forums and blogs, it went viral for those who were interested in learning about the LEED exam—for those that mattered.

Most of the world still doesn’t even know what the heck the LEED exam is or about my website, but the world that matters does.

Thank you all for checking out this session of the SPI podcast! If you haven’t done so already please take a minute to leave a quick rating and review of the podcast on iTunes by clicking on the link below, it would be extremely helpful for the show!

Click here to leave a review for the podcast!

Thanks again, and I wish you all the best!

Cheers! :)


Click Here to Download the Transcript for Session 59 (PDF)

  • http://www.webthesmartway.com Siegfried

    Hey Pat, great podcast!
    TBH I didn’t know that subway story. Need to check it out :) Best Regards!

    • http://contentmarketingup.com Michael Chibuzor

      Yes it’s truly a great podcast I enjoyed every bit of it. Pat is always giving out the best information and that’s why I’m happy that his blog came back, after the few days of getting off the radar.

      By the way, congrats to you Pat for the lessons you shared with us. I benefited immensely from it.

      I just thought that your readers would like this post about ranking pages in Google: >> http://contentmarketingup.com/rank-content-pages/

    • http://candikota.blogspot.com Kang Jum

      Very Inspiring for other bloggers so that there is a gap and jalaan better. Motivate to do more for the future of our own blog.

  • http://www.blogsmartguide.com Phanindra

    The interview with Jonah is great Pat. The opinions related to the emotional driving which can make content go viral is right. And I loved your personal website.


  • http://www.healthbenefitsweb.com Bhavani

    I’m great fan of your Podcasts and this one is amazing right from the beginning to the end. Whenever someone achieves the things which we have left out it first does create a small sad feeling but again it also serves as a motivation to start over new things. The personal suggestions we make when we like something always preferred because its the trust and the credibility.

    Also waiting for the release of “Let Go” .

  • http://www.adaptdnation.com Cody Stevenson

    Another great podcast Pat! I just spent the last two weeks listening to all 59. What a great wealth of information. Can’t wait for the next session. Now I’m going to go back a listen to the ones that really hit home for me.

    – Cody

  • http://www.discoverwithandy.com Andy

    Great podcast, and about a topic that really hits us all. Our desire to share things is what makes random quotes like “baby monkey…riding on a pig, baby monkey” awesome to people that know, and draws curiosity from those that want to know.

    Being able to decipher what causes sharing is I’d say the number one secret to the success of killer sites like The Oatmeal as well.

    Going to have to give this one a 2nd listen to pickup all the insights – Thanks!

  • http://www.jasonloveslife.com Jason Love

    Great podcast.
    I have been working on getting some of my popular videos shared. They are getting around 5,000 views, but I can’t quite get them to go viral.
    I need to look for a way to activate my viewers emotionally to get them to share more.

    For you Pat, I think your monthly income report is an example of a trigger.
    On a 1st week of the month I visit your site more to see if it is posted. The only reason I read it is to get myself excited about the possibilities of my website.

    Thanks for the great interview and glad to see you are back online.
    -Jason Love

  • Robert Farrington

    Hey Pat!

    Very timely podcast and welcome back! I just had my first post go truly viral this week with 7,000 visitors in just a few hours!

    I actually listened to Jonah last week on Social Triggers and combined some of his tactics with some of Corbett Barr’s.

    Needless to say, the result was awesome!

    • http://www.marketingyourfarm.com/ Iain

      That is awesome Robert.

      I have yet to have something go viral.

      I have run into mini viral things happening. Like a post that was well received but nothing viral.

      Hopefully, more people will see this type of thing happening with this information in the podcast.

  • http://wanttoquitmyjob.com Christian Erick

    Hi pat! very interesting podcast, even nowadays it’s really difficult for someone to get their stuff viral, there are so many things to take in count and at the end is always the user who decides if the share it or not.

    It’s very illustrative the way Jonah explains it, I guess I’ll be reading his book, thanks for sharing!

  • http://JuicersandBlender.com Niki

    Hey Pat!! Really nice and useful podcast. I have seen the book in our local bookstores. Will get a copy!

    I was also very motivated after watching the Joe Cross’s documentary and upgraded my Breville juicer to this Breville juicer . Since then me and my husband have been juicing very regularly!! Thanks to Costco!! Although we haven’t tried going on a juice diet.

  • Suad

    Hi Pat, great podcast. I am getting the book from the iBookstore. Thanks for sharing

  • http://officerevolt.com/knowing-when-it-is-important-to-say-no/ Just Say No

    Hey Pat,
    Great podcast as usual. I know this is slightly off topic.. but mentioned on the post… You have a new book coming out. Do you feel it is acceptable for people to use ghost writers? I am certainly not implying you did, just thinking of guys like James Patterson who puts out a book every week it seems. I know you are crazy busy and having 2 books is a ridiculous accomplishment. Just wanted to know how you would weigh in on the subject.

  • http://youronline.biz Darnell Jackson

    Good one Pat,

    This is interesting however,
    As a full time entrepreneur I have a hard time paying any attention to what college professors say as they usually deal in theory and talk about what other people actually do.

    I remembered asking an MBA professor, if you know so much about business why aren’t you rich running your own?

    It’s easy to examine why something worked well it’s hard as a mofo planning out what will and taking the risk.

    I would be excited to see him conduct an experiment and drum up impressive results using this strategy.

  • http://goldandsilverpassiveincome.com Tom

    Sounds similar to the book Make it Stick by Malcolm Gladwell. I haven’t listened to the podcast but will after work.

  • http://thegaragebandguide.com Patrick

    Another good one Pat – ‘going viral’ is one of the more uncontrollable aspects of IM/Online content creation.

    I really like Jonah’s approach – finding out the ‘science’ and emotional triggers behind what makes people share things and how to capitalise on it.

    Entertaining AND actionable – that’s how we like ’em!

  • http://rickzullo.com Rick

    This is a topic that’s been on my mind for a while, thanks Pat. I get a modest amount of search engine traffic to my blog, but I have one post that drives about 95% of it and for the life of me, I haven’t been able to figure out why. This podcast answers some of those questions for me, but I suppose there will always be that mystery factor that nobody can predict.

    • http://wdwprepschool.com Shannon

      If it’s coming from Google, it’s likely that you’ve hit on a good search term and are ranking fairly high for that. Things that are viral usually come as referrals from other people that have likely posted the link somewhere, such as a social media platform.

  • http://ymidoingthis.com Adam

    I just found your podcasts on my phone’s TunIn radio app and have been listening to all of the past podcasts. Great information. Looking forward to integrating marketing techniques and creating action plans for new sites.

  • http://www.passiveproductive.com Sam Matla

    Awesome, I look forward to listening to this. I love anything mildly related to the psychology involved when purchasing something, it is truly fascinating.

    I’ll report back with my thoughts! :)

  • http://exclusivefijiguide.com Theresa Randall

    Bula Pat,
    This was a great podcast and guest (I love to listen to them at my day job). Can you tell us more about Snippet Publishing? What makes it unique? Anyway, I am definitely going to get the audiobook version of Contagious.
    Thanks again,

  • http://rich-blogger.com Kamil

    Hi Pat,

    nice to see new podcast :) really great stuff. It’s always inspiring, especially when you interview interesting people. In the first podcasts you had some which weren’t interviews, also interesting, but interviews in my opinion brings much more value.

    Best Regards

  • http://wealthyturtle.com Mike Collins

    Maybe it was just me, but Jonah’s audio didn’t sound very clear on my iphone (I listen in the car). Your voice was clear so maybe it just wasn’t a good connection.

    Regardless, it was an interesting topic. Good tips for “increasing your batting average” and the chances your content will go viral.

    PS – Welcome back!

  • Justin

    I’m skimming through the transcript now. One business I know that has been putting principles like this to work is that shave club advertised on tv- they send razors monthly. I know a few people who told me they saw the viral video after I mentioned something about it. Crazy simple business idea- amazing no one started until now.

    The above business might be a good future interview…

  • http://mywealthdesire.com/blog-2/ My Wealth Desire

    Very informative, another approach of marketing or to spread out our products. Actually, I read your pdf transcript and I love Jonah Berger principles and his contagious ideas.

  • http://excelspreadsheetshelp.blogspot.com Nick

    Hey Pat, for one of your upcoming podcasts you should interview Rob Alvey of Theme Park Review. He quit his job as a video game producer and now visits theme parks all over the world – and makes a liviing doing it!

  • http://2cubed.net/the-corporate-treadmill-an-analogy/ Chris Hufnagel

    Just started to listen to this and I had to comment about the intro. First, these are awesome and I think you started a trend with them. I hear this style of intro in a lot more podcasts these days. And second I must ask why soccer? I grew up playing soccer, played in high school, college, and still play today. for 2 seasons I coached my younger brothers team. I loved this and even though I still love playing I want to coach again! Just wondering where your love for soccer comes from.

    Keep the podcasts coming,
    Another soccer coach wannabe.

  • Fawaz

    Hi Pat,

    Love your podcasts, but after a few minutes I had a hardtime hearing your guest very well. This is around the 9 min mark. I actually had to stop the podcast because of the quality had gotten pretty bad while listening to the podcast in the car. Your voice was clear as crystal, but his was unclear. It was probably his microphone.

    So my questions it this, is there anything that you can do to improve your guest’s audio quality if their equipment isn’t the best for recording purposes?


  • http://www.messiejessieblog.co.uk Tom

    Nice to have you back!
    Podcast was good but let down by the sound quality. Could hear your voice loud and clear but struggled at times to hear what Jonah was saying :( Not your usual standard.

  • http://www.celebrityfunfacts.com/ Michel Vergotte

    Very good interview and podcast Pat. Thanks for sharing.

    I am ready to buy the book from Jonah Berger. I also just downloaded the prep material on his site, which is already a good summary of his insights & learnings.

    Speaking of which, I already changed the ‘tagline’ of one of my new sites following his interesting comment and views on “Social Currency”, i.e. -> Helping people “To Be In The Know…” – which people seem to value as important.

    Site (new tagline): http://www.celebrityfunfacts.com

    Let’s see if it works 😉

    All the best,

  • http://www.celebrityfunfacts.com Michel Vergotte

    Very good interview and podcast Pat. Thanks for sharing.

    I am ready to buy the book from Jonah Berger. Also just downloaded the prep material on his site, which is already a good summary of his insights & learnings.

    Speaking of which, I already changed the ‘theme / subtitle’ of one of my new sites following his interesting comments on “Social Currency”, i.e. -> Helping people “To Be In The Know…”

    Site: http://www.celebrityfunfacts.com/

    Let’s see if it works.

    All the best,

  • http://medicalassistanttraininghq.com Terence

    Hi Pat and Jonah,
    It was a really fantastic podcast that you guys have put up and I have actually listened to it twice in one go. I am grateful that you guys are ever so willing to share your knowledge. Keep them coming Pat! Thanks again!

  • http://tricksreview.org george@seekdefo

    Social currency is changing the waY things go viral on the web

  • http://www.hostgatorcoupon101.com steve

    Very glad to see/hear the podcast up and running again. I like the STEPPS theory. I think I may need to pick up the book for more detail on each topic.

  • http://patientcashflow.com Sam Lee

    Great podcast, I will try to go down the list and listen to them all.

  • http://hqfatlossfactor.com Raj

    I really really liked the podcast.

    If the juicer doesn’t help then
    click here (This is an affiliate link!!)

  • http://www.clube-do-dinheiro.com Christiano

    Hi, Pat! I was re-reading your post http://www.smartpassiveincome.com/step-towards-ethical-link-building/ and… Don’t you think it’s a good time for a new post about your link building strategy?

    I mean, several Google updates happened in last 12 monthes and I’d love to listen how you are working your link building strategy really, because I’m sure you made big changes on it. :)

  • http://miliseconds.blogspot.com Miliseconds

    Hi Pat Why everything you do like smart and easy?

  • http://essaycollege.net/ essaycollege.net

    very impressive!

  • John Wilmshurst

    Hi Pat,
    Apologies for being off topic, I’m working my way through your inspiring podcasts and I’ve submitted some apps to Elance. In your podcast you talk about sharing the guy you use for apps, could I please get his info from you. It would be much appreciate.

  • http://www.theawesomepodcast.com Tim Paige – TheAwesomePodcast.com

    This was another one of my favorites. I heard of Jonah from Derek Halpern, but then listened again on your show. Love hearing how to take things to the contagious level.
    Thanks again for coming on my show Pat, was great having you there!

  • http://www.rujacksalad.com Rujacksalad

    Article about interview with Jonah Berger is great. A lot of inspiration about viral. There are several things about how viral happens. Also there is mp3 to listen. I like it. 😀

  • http://howtostartablogtoday.org/ Karan Labra

    Awesome stuff Pat..

    I just ordered jonah’s book that you mentioned in the title…..hoping to learn some good stuff…Launched a couple of products in the health niche. Hoping to shoot it big.

  • http://www.mamaceria.com Peaches

    Thanks Pat! Great stuffs! I am a fan of yours and has been revising most of your posts a few times. You are my inspiration !

    • http://urbanlabour.blogspot.com Lucky Joe

      Hi Pat, you made ??me really admire your thinking and agility in writing with a strong character.

  • http://swallowyourmarket.com Randy Carlisle

    Thanks for the interview with Jonah Berger! Lot’s of great information and stories around how things go viral. It’s good to know that I can always return to this podcast and glean more tips to implement on my sites – to help them explode with traffic. I plan to take a look at his book as well.

    Congrats on your new site – PatFlynn.me. Looking forwards to enjoying it as it evolves.

  • Casey Dennison

    Great podcast! Like Rebecca Black, there are a lot of people who blow up over every ones claiming that they are horrible. There is just something about criticism that that actually does more good than harm. Can it happen to anyone? Not always, but I think it comes down to standing out in a way (good or bad) that has the effect to make some people go viral, because they are making some king of impact, I guess you could say.

    There’s a group of underground rappers that have been around since the mid-eighties – which I found out about when I was young – and these are self made millionaires because of the impact they have created. They have a really large fan base, but if you ask a lot of people about them – they will say that they are the worse group in the world, because the music they create that stands out from everything else.

    It’s like when someone hates on you or your brand – you gain recognition because you have creating some kind of impact and people are talking about you, whether it’s good or bad.

    It doesn’t always happen to everyone, but I think it has to do with extremes. If you look at some of the Youtube videos that have gone viral, they are either really stupid or really awsome. There is no in between.

    It’s amazing, if you ask me..


  • http://acepropertyinspections.com.au/ Darren Beecham

    Thanks for introducing me to Viral Pat…just when you think you won’t enjoy something you learn something new…..excellent podcast

  • http://omgtoplists.com/ Michael

    That was a great podcast, Pat. Every website need to have EPIC content so that it can become viral.

  • http://instalhost.com Kelly

    That’s an exclusive interview. I have learned many thing from the post.

    • http://tiepthilienketblog.blogspot.com/p/khoa-hoc-tiep-thi-lien-ket-affiliate.html Khoa hoc Aff

      what have you learnt,Kelly ?

  • http://www.dearblogger.org Greg

    Hey Pat!

    Probly the first comment I’m posting here. I’m really curious about lead player. As someone who wants views on my screencasts (currently on YouTube) how would lead player help me? Is it a video creation software, or more marketing end?

    Cheers, hope you see this. Keep up the GREAT stuff.


  • http://rickzullo.com Rick

    I just listened to the episode a second time and it gave me the idea to try to an experiment: I want to see if I can use these principals to manufacture a blog post that’s more “viral” than my most “viral” post to date (which happened by accident). It may take me a while to figure it out, but I think the process itself will be instructive for composing future posts in general. Thanks again Pat for all your great info!

  • http://www.stumbleforward.com Chris @ Stumble Forward

    Great interview Pat. I never realized what all went into making something go viral and how things like emotions and story telling play a huge part int that. I also like the part on triggers as well.

    Your Be Everywhere strategy is such an inspiration to me and it’s kind of funny I was explaining SPI to my brother since he was kind of interested in learning more about you and I summed it up to him with Be Everywhere and that made me realize that is the trigger you were explaining the podcast. It’s funny how we remember those little things about you and associate them together. I can only hope to do this with my own brand at some point.

    Anyways keep up the the awesome podcast.

  • http://kimanziconstable.com Kimanzi Constable

    It’s amazing to see all the exposure Jonah is having and it’s deserved, he has some amazing content.

  • Laurice

    Thanks for a great post.
    I dont have to invest anything but my time and patience.
    my account is growing, when you click this.

  • fd dsfd

    Nice site, checking the comment.

  • http://igg.me/at/publicreporting/x/2467684 Henrik

    Thanks for once again creating a great podcast.

    By the way, it would be nice, if you could get someone on the podcast, who actually does something, not just “how to make money” authors. Too many people talk/write about getting into niches, how to make money out of them, and only few actually do this. And those who have successful niche business, have them only, because they run a “how to make money” website and then mention their website 1000s of times. :) Try to get someone, who actually runs a good website and make a case study out of it.

  • http://devitaliserunedent.blogspot.com/ Devitaliser une dent

    I just listened to the episode a second time and it gave me the idea to try to an experiment: I want to see if I can use these principals to manufacture a blog post that’s more “viral” than my most “viral” post to date (which happened by accident). It may take me a while to figure it out, but I think the process itself will be instructive for composing future posts in general. Thanks again Pat for all your great info!

  • http://devitaliserunedent.blogspot.com/ Devitaliser une dent

    It’s like when someone hates on you or your brand – you gain recognition because you have creating some kind of impact and people are talking about you, whether it’s good or bad.

    It doesn’t always happen to everyone, but I think it has to do with extremes. If you look at some of the Youtube videos that have gone viral, they are either really stupid or really awsome. There is no in between.

    It’s amazing, if you ask me..


  • http://www.jatinsharma.in Anurag

    Have you read the book Contagious? When you will read it, do let me know because than I can know whether I should buy it or not.

    And tip on the podcast was awesome, I learned many new things.

    Thanks for the podcast.

  • http://blogpromolist.com Mark

    Definitely, there is psychology involved when it comes to having content go viral. it is crucial to have all the necessary things in order to get people to share content. Though it is easy to share anything online, it is really hard to make another person do it for your brand.

  • http://holi-2013-sms-wallpapers-songs.blogspot.in/ Abhishek

    Posdcast was really amazing and I am looking forward to read the book Contagious. Hope it is going to be an awesome one.

  • http://sunrisesigns.com Ashley

    Excellent podcast. Lot’s of terrific stories on why things go viral. It’s amazing to see when things reach that tipping point and the length of time it takes for some to do so.

  • http://josephfinkelberg.heyyobro.info/ Joseph Finkelberg

    Another great interview, Pat! There’s a new algorithm from Google – social mention. It tracks sites where social currency or social sharing happens.

    Viral starts when people begin to like your content. :)

  • http://www.mylearningprocess.com Miki Vicioso @ My Learning Process

    Hi Patt! great interview! Lot of interesting information, I’m going to have to buy that book to read a little more about pushing things viral.

  • http://aninternetbusinessmadeeasy.com Mel E

    Hi Patt,

    What a great interview, I enjoyed every minute of it – can’t wait for the book!

  • http://www.tgiffitness.com Heather

    Hey Pat, I just finished listening to your 59th podcast last night. I started with the first one in January. I didn’t know what to listen to on the way to work today lol. I love my Breville juicer too! I use it to make a really quick and healthy apple cider, that tastes amazing! No sugar added :)

  • http://thetwoweeknoticeproject.com/suck-it-up/ Jim Pestke

    Yet another great interview, Pat. It’s great to hear you get more and more comfortable interviewing other entrepreneurs on your podcast. Great mention for Jonah, he has some really great content and deserves the “viral” content you’ve offered here. Well done!

  • http://www.anymedsrx.com/latisse/ latisse

    nice article post, i like your article post.

  • http://www.bloggingfoundation.com prince

    nice post it was quite an interesting and informative article thanks for sharing

  • http://tiepthilienketblog.blogspot.com/p/cong-cu-tiep-thi-lien-ket.html tiepthilienket

    What a great podcast, Pat. Website need to have EPIC content so that it can become viral and build strong authority

  • http://wassup2day.com Annie

    Hey, I am reading your article for the first time and it seems quite interesting. Thanks for providing knowledge about viral pat.

  • http://gremathlessons.com Greg

    Interesting episode, Pat.

    I have a question for you though, do you think that there’s an inherent risk to creating content with this “formula” in mind? Could you ever envision it backfiring?

  • Miguel M

    Hey Pat,

    not sure if you noticed but the sound of your gest on this podcas and the previous one is not as good as it used to be. Do you know why that is?

    I noticed because i have gone through all your episodes in a row in a matter of 3-4 weeks. You rock, and this content is way better than anything else available online! I thank you for that!

  • http://www.makemoneynation.com Joseph Casarez

    Great article and podcast to go with it, it is always nice to get a different perspective and learn new marketing techniques. Keep up the great work Pat!

  • http://www.wrchallenge.org/ doctors excuse

    Great post with a valuable idea and information, really very interesting and amazing interview. Really great podcast and told us that a great content is really necessary for the websites to achieve more viral.

  • http://www.internetentrepreneurconnection.com Hector Avellaneda

    Awesome interview Pat! I’ve definitely been looking for ways to get more traffic to my site and even my eBook which released on Nov5th (election night) that I have for sale on Amazon. Of course, I think it’s an awesome book that I think everyone needs to get their hands on :) But I definitely took some golden nuggets of information from this interview and will look to form strategies around it.

    Thanks again!

  • http://www.kinhdoanhforex.net/mo-tai-khoan-demo-thuc-hanh-trade-forex-gold/ huong dan tai khoan

    That’s an exclusive interview. I have learned many thing from the post.
    Thanks both of you.

  • http://installationelectriquemaison-fr.blogspot.com/ thomas favore

    Hey, I am reading your article for the first time and it seems quite interesting. Thanks for providing knowledge about viral pat.
    Installation Electrique Maison

  • Patrick Brandon

    How many of these hit videos can you explain? Going viral isn’t random. It isn’t luck. It’s a science.


  • http://vdresden.ru Oleg Makarov

    Hey Pat,

    thx for another great SPI session. I just went to buy the Contagious book through your link. However the cover of the european edition of the book looks better. So I bought it in the amazon.de website after clicking your link.

    I hope amazon sets cookies, which work thoughout international domains, so you´ll get the commision.


  • http://www.explainify.com Explainify

    This is great. I recently wrote a blog post that tries to get people to understand that “viral” doesn’t just happen. Goes well with this post:


    Let me know what you think!