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Jonah Berger: Just because someone has more followers doesn’t mean they have greater influ...
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Jonah Berger: Just because someone has more followers doesn’t mean they have greater influence on peoples’ behavior

The professor and best‑selling author open up about virality and social influence.

One possible explanation on how invisible influence works, you mention in the book, “Invisible Influence”, is social desirability. It’s interesting that many people don’t think others influence them because being influenced is a bad thing. How can we understand that which influence is good or bad?

Influence itself is neither good nor bad. It’s a principle of human behavior. It’s the outcome that is good or bad. Sometimes it leads us to make better choices and sometimes it makes us worse off. That is why we need to understand its power and how to harness it.

When do we start imitating others and when do we avoid what they are doing?

Part of it depends on WHO those others are.  We imitate others we want to look like and avoid doing things that send undesired identity signals.

Muzafer Sherif’s research tells us that even when the answer is clear, people still imitate others. Do people just do whatever others are doing?

Not always, but the fact that we imitate even when the answer is clear points to influence’s power.

Photo Credit: Wharton Magazine, Spring 2017 Issue

 

Does it mean that you could turn anything into a hit once you get a chunk of social influencers on your side?

We can certainly use influence to help get things to catch on. People can only imitate what they can observe, so by making private things more public, we can increase the likelihood others imitate them.

When we’re not sure about the right thing to do, we look others to help us figure it out, whether it’s finding a right parking spot or ordering the dessert. How can we break this chain?

You don’t have to. In these cases, influence is probably a good thing.  Others can provide information about what is better and worse.

 

The fact that social media is anonymous certainly encourages people to say more negative things than they might otherwise. To encourage people to be more positive, removing anonymity might help.

 

We hear so many stories about how today’s masterpiece movies, novels etc once rejected by everyone and almost never happens, just like in the Harry Potter case. Why did so many publishers pass up the opportunity to sign J.K. Rowling or others?

Hard to say for sure, but many publishers may not have realized it was a hit.  Even so-called “industry experts” often have trouble predicting success because success isn’t just about the best thing winning, it’s about how influence shapes what wins.

We are kind of losing the Internet to the culture of hate. Could have social media might actually a bad influence on us?

The fact that social media is anonymous certainly encourages people to say more negative things than they might otherwise. To encourage people to be more positive, removing anonymity might help.

Do followers and likes number in social media actually say something?

Not as much as you might think. They indicate that many people have at one point passively connected to someone or something, but they don’t necessarily indicate influence. Just because someone has more followers doesn’t mean they have the greater influence on peoples’ behavior.

 

 

Do you think the importance and dynamics of “word of mouth” are changing over the years, perhaps to the current values of our culture or the ease of sharing created by social media?

Word of mouth is 10 times as important as traditional advertising, but only about 7% of it is online. most word of mouth is actually offline or face to face.

Speaking of viral, what the overnight sensations tell us? Only after two years, we barely remember there was a song called “Gangnam Style”.

Viral hits come and go, but they’re not random luck or chance.  As I talk about in Contagious, 6 key factors or STEPPS drive their success.  That stands for social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value, and stories.

You believe there is a science behind what catches on. How does creativity play a role in science?

Science is about the truth, but creativity is vital to discovering that truth.  Thinking about things in a new way or combining existing ideas to notice something new that pushes things forward.

What does all this mean for happiness, health, and success, both at home at work?

I wrote the book to help people identify influence in their own lives.  Once we’ve done that, and recognized it, we can take advantage of its upsides and avoid its downsides.  We can choose our influence, use it make better choices and motivate ourselves and others. [Revised, and re-edited from an interview by Ali Tufan Koc]

Cover Photo: Andrew Hetherington, Fast Company Magazine


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