How do things become popular?

Do you remember the Mannequin Challenge? What about the Harlem Shake? Or maybe the ice-bucket challenge? Chances are you probably recall at least one of them, and that’s because they all went viral. I decided to find out if there’s any science behind why things become popular… Cue Jonah Berger, Professor of Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of the book ‘Contagious’…

  • Our underlying psychology explaining why we share things can be broken down into a framework called STEPPS: Social currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical value, and Stories.
  • Social currency relates to the idea that the better something makes us look, the more likely we are to share it with others – we like to share positive things.
  • The idea of Public is that the easier something is to see, the easier it is to imitate, for example by ‘following the crowd’.
  • Sometimes people also want to seem unique and so decide to follow the crowd to some extent in order to fit in, but then change a minor detail eg. they buy the same model car but in a different colour.
  • Jonah’s top tip is to try to understand why people do what they do and think about the psychology – why do people talk and share in the first place?

You can listen to the full interview for the Naked Scientists here.

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