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Word of mouth is what makes some products and ideas catch on and not others, says author Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at The Wharton School. But how can you get and keep people talking? According to him, word of mouth is not as unpredictable or mysterious as it may seem: there are key principles for making any product or idea go viral.

Three surprising truths about word of mouth:
1. More word of mouth takes place offline than online: The average business leader estimates that about 50% of the word of mouth that takes place about his or her brand, product, or service happens online. But Jonah Berger reports that, “the actual number is 7%.”
2. Focus on the message, not the messenger! Too much focus on finding influential opinion leaders to spread your message is harmful when it distracts you from what really drives sharing: the message itself.
3. Any brand, product, or idea can be made contagious: It may seem easier to make a beautiful new car go viral than a more mundane product like a household cleaner, but in fact anything can be engineered to be infectious.

How to get people talking
Harnessing the power of word of mouth requires understanding why people discuss and share some messages more than others.
• People talk about what makes them look good: “What we talk about influences how others see us. It’s social currency.” The three key “ingredients” of high social currency are remarkability, exclusivity and game mechanics.
• Certain emotions provoke people to share. High arousal emotions, such as anger, humor, and awe have been found to increase sharing; on the other hand, low arousal emotions, such as sadness and contentment, decrease sharing.
• People share news others can use: a message is more practically valuable when the information is clearly presented and the content is narrowly targeted (narrower target reminds people of specific individuals with whom they then feel compelled to share the message).

How to keep people talking
Some messages may get talked about once, while others are repeated over and over. High social currency, high arousal emotions, and high practical value may get people talking, but those factors don’t guarantee that the message will continue to stay in circulation long enough to catch on. For that, you need triggers.
• Understand how to trigger discussion: Berger reports that at least 15% of word of mouth is in response to unconscious triggers.
• Design effective triggers. The most effective triggers have high rate of frequency, and/or have strong links to the message being sent, and/or are located where the target audience can act on the message.

Influitive uses advocacy marketing to create buzz

Customers are already talking to each other about your products and services, so why leave those conversations to chance? This is the question at Influitive, a B2B marketing company. While most companies recognize the importance of WoM, many fail to organize their customer touch points so as to leverage it systematically and effectively. Influitive is striving to fill this gap through a discipline it calls advocacy marketing.

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What is the best way to disseminate your ideas?

Based on Contagious: Why Things Catch on by Jonah Berger (Simon & Schuster, March 2013), The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise ? by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith (Portfolio/Penguin, 2012) and the interview with Jim Williams, Vice President of Marketing, Influitive, May 2013.
Business Digest nº 237, june 2013.

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How to get your ideas to spread

According to marketing guru Seth Godin, “we are living in a century of idea diffusion”. The key to business success is now the ability to spread your ideas, no matter what they are.