Jonah Berger talks to McKinneyites about sharing, measuring and listening
While living in Durham as a visiting professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Jonah Berger was reading a local paper when he saw an ad for Urban Ministries of Durham’s Names for Change, went to the website, read that McKinney was behind it, and emailed our Chief Innovation Officer Jim Russell with accolades. It turns out we are neighbors at American Tobacco, and he could walk to our back door from his apartment. On Monday, May 12, he did just that and spent nearly an hour answering our questions about his book “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” and the research he’s done since it was published.
Jonah’s newest publication is a paper with Raghuram Iyengar about what drives online sharing versus offline sharing. At McKinney he talked specifically about our propensity to edit our responses online because we have the time to construct and refine what we say, which we often don’t have when we’re sharing offline. “Sharing face to face or on the phone is more about triggers,” he explained. “We don’t want to sit in silence.”
“I think sharing is about the sender and what the sender is feeling and thinking. A message comes first and then the thought, ‘Who can I pass this on to?’” Jonah compared sharing to gift giving: It’s hard to give a gift you hate.
Someone asked Jonah what we know about what goes on in our brain when we share. Jonah explained, “The neuroscience hasn’t gotten far enough — we have a long way to go. Areas of the brain do light up when we share, but we don’t know what that means.” People at Duke are doing research in this area, however, and we may know more soon.
Clients are increasingly interested in social because it’s cheap and because views are an easy metric to measure. “But what do these metrics mean?” asked Jonah. A lot of people clicked on something, but they may not have engaged with it. “I’m now thinking more about engagement, about commenting or sharing, not just viewing,” he said. “But it’s still not clear that online activity drives offline activity like in-store purchases.” Social is great for listening, however, and Jonah recommended the Google Trends feature as a good, cheap place to start.
When asked about the importance of advertisers identifying and using so-called influencers to spread their message, Jonah downplayed it. “The size of a forest fire doesn’t depend on the size of the initial spark. It depends on the network. There’s been too much interest in finding these people,” he said. This doesn’t mean that we should give up targeting, however. “But it’s less about who has the friends and followers, and it’s more about targeting an area of a network, about giving people who like the product the product because they like it and they’ll use it. Start there.”
Throughout his hour-long talk, Jonah reiterated that clients are going to start asking how social metrics (such as likes and followers) are linked to sales. “What we’re really looking for at the end of the day is whether people are listening to our message. And that’s really difficult to measure,” he said.