- Social Currency
- Next Steps: Download the Guide or Read Next Article
My husband and I went to a festival of lights in Riverside, California this past December. The majority of the festival was located on a road that had a classic Main Street vibe with lots of small shops. We were pretty hungry, so we were primarily focusing on the local restaurants. I remember passing by a sandwich shop that appeared almost empty and thinking, “Maybe not a lot of people are hungry yet.” But then we proceeded to pass a ramen place, and it was absolutely PACKED inside and had a line out the door. As we kept walking, trying to reach the end of the line, my husband turned to me and said, “This place must be amazing!”
Why do we assume that busy restaurants must be delicious and empty ones are probably disgusting? Isn’t it possible that the sandwich shop we passed had the best meatball sub in all of California and people just don’t know?
Maybe you own that metaphorical sandwich shop. You know your service is the best in town and your product is a game-changer, but no one seems to be rushing to buy it.
A lot of the time, you just expect people to hear through some imaginary, product-promoting grapevine about your company. And then hopefully, your product or service will catch on.
Now, it’s time to put some action behind that expectation.
In the book Contagious by Jonah Berger, he elaborates on actual principles and actions you can take that can make your brand catch on (watch our video summary for a detailed overview), and I’m not talking about actions that require a big advertising budget. In fact, Berger explains, "Most...don't have the resources to spend on lots of advertising or marketing. They depend on people talking about them to be successful."
Catching on and becoming contagious is about leveling up your word of mouth marketing strategy, not begging your CEO for a larger ad budget.
So how exactly do you take your word of mouth marketing strategy to the next level? Berger outlines six STEPPS to success:
- Social Currency
- Practical Value
Let’s dive into each to discover actions you can take right now to make your brand contagious.
Have you ever had a piece of information or a product that you knew if you shared it with your friends they would think you were so cool?
I know that sounds a bit immature, but that’s the basic premise behind social currency and I promise it’s relevant long after high school. Berger explains it like this - “Just as people use money to buy products or services, they use social currency to achieve desired positive impressions among their families, friends, and colleagues.”
Insight #1: Make Customers Look Good
As a company, you want to give people a way to make themselves look good while talking about your products and services at the same time.
Your customers will share information about your company if it makes them seem fun and interesting to their friends, family members, and peers.
Answer these questions to brainstorm ideas for how you can make your customers look good:
- What information makes customers in my industry feel knowledgeable or in-the-know?
- What could I teach my customers to raise their credibility?
- What would make customers want to come back to me because I give them the inside scoop?
- What types of fun facts or tips and tricks could I share?
- How can I make my product feel exclusive or my customers feel like insiders?
- Is there an offer I could make to only a certain group of customers?
- Can I send a gift to only a certain status of customers?
- Could I start giving points to customers who hit certain benchmarks? Could those points then be redeemable for some cool prize?
Action Item Ideas
Start a newsletter
A newsletter is the perfect medium to provide customers with social currency. You can create multiple segments within your newsletter to target different types of information. Maybe you have sections like “Fascinating Facts,” “Seven Secrets to Success” or “Shocking Industry Stories.” As long as your newsletter provides people with information that will boost their social status among friends or colleagues, they’ll keep opening that monthly email for more.
Post on social media
Create little nuggets of credibility-increasing insights and share those facts and secrets on social media. Use Canva to make them look nice. Instead of just tracking impressions, start paying attention to comments and shares.
Share as part of the product
These tips and tricks could also be integrated into the product itself (think of jokes on a Laffy Taffy or fun facts on a Snapple bottle cap). For example, for software or web services, you might nestle these snippets on the loading screen while something is processing. For a physical product, tuck them in the packaging. Think of it like a fortune cookie - insert interesting facts anywhere into your product or service that you possibly can.
When people share good deals with their friends, they’re seen as being knowledgeable and helpful - something we’d all love to be known for. We’ll discuss later on how to make your promotion especially relevant.
Gamify your product or service
You can leverage game mechanics in your brand by creating something playable, competitive, and rewarding. A lot of the time, this is implemented as a club, status rankings, or a rewards program. If your customers can somehow advance through frequent purchases, writing reviews, sharing referrals, etc., they’ll be excited to brag to their friends about their high status.
Insight #2: People Like Talking About Themselves
According to Berger, "40% of what people talk about is their personal experiences or personal relationships." After explaining a few different studies, he concludes that it is actually rewarding for people to talk about themselves.
If people are already so eager to talk about their experiences, you just need to provide them with a platform. Take advantage of this by asking for reviews.
Ask yourself these questions to find ways to get people talking about themselves:
- What third-party platforms could I provide my customers with to talk about themselves?
- How can I reword my review or referral requests to focus more on the customer sharing their experience?
- How can I make the experience more focused on the customer?
Action Item Ideas
Reword review requests
Instead of requesting a review like this, “Tell us how we did,” reword it like this, “Tell us about your experience.” This emphasizes the customer’s personal story.
Brainstorm customer-centric questions
When asking questions in a review or video testimonial, ask questions that are directed at the customer’s experience with your product, not just questions about the product’s quality. For example, “Has this product improved this aspect of your life? If so, how? How was your personal experience working with our team?” etc.
If you want your product or service to be shared, you need to set yourself apart by doing something different. Berger suggests doing something interesting or surprising, and “One way to generate surprise is by breaking a pattern people have come to expect.”
Within each industry, there are certain patterns or expectations that a customer is used to experiencing. If you break that pattern or defy the expectations, people will be surprised, and they’ll want to talk about your brand.
Answer these questions to analyze how you can set your brand apart from the industry norm:
- What is the typical journey for a customer in my industry?
- How could I break that pattern?
- What could I do to surprise my customers?
- What are people not expecting but would be delighted to experience?
Action Item Ideas
Focus on exceptional service
If you are part of an industry where products sold between competitors are very similar, like solar panels, a great way to differentiate yourself is within the service process. Create delight and surprise through interactions with your sales, installation, and customer service teams. This might look like proactive communication during all stages of service, easy-to-access educational resources or workshops, or customer appreciation events.
Give a small gift
A small gift goes a long way and, in most industries, is unexpected. Giving your customers a hand-written thank you note or a cool piece of swag will surprise them, and they’ll want to tell their friends.