How Ideas Spread

Course No. 5332
Professor Jonah Berger, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
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Course No. 5332
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  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring a variety of visuals designed to aid in your understanding of the course material. Among these are images and photographs that illustrate topics like the fundamentals of consumer psychology and the analytical power of Big Data; there are also diagrams that visually reinforce importance concepts, such as how word of mouth actually works.
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Course Overview

What makes one novel a bestseller, while a similar work languishes unnoticed? Why are the same few baby names suddenly everywhere? Why is everyone at work talking about that same viral video?

Welcome to the science of social epidemics: the cutting-edge study of why some ideas, products, and concepts spread wildly, while others quickly flame out.

Anyone who has ever had something to sell, a cause to promote, or a message to spread knows that there are enormous obstacles in creating a message that resonates, cutting through the clutter, and cracking the code of the social epidemic to make their product or idea the word on the street.

Enormous sums of time and money have been spent trying to answer the question of why some ideas catch on. And not only is it an ever-present challenge for businesses, governments, and organizations, but it has long been a source of inquiry for psychologists, economists, and sociologists as well.

Now, in How Ideas Spread, you can discover what researchers studying the science of social transmission have uncovered about why some messages get through, stick in our memory, and get shared with others. Taught by Jonah Berger—a best-selling author, expert in social dynamics, and Associate Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania—this enlightening course draws on lessons from business, social psychology, economics, and popular culture to give you the cross-disciplinary tools necessary to identify and promote contagious ideas that last. Across 12 half-hour lectures filled with absorbing stories and intriguing information, you’ll learn the psychological and sociological mechanisms that lead products, ideas, and behaviors to catch on, plus specific techniques that can be applied in your personal and professional life, whatever your field or interest.

Along the way, you’ll hear of clever publicity ideas, failed government campaigns, and doomed product launches, plus a wealth of surprising discoveries about human behavior. You’ll also encounter an abundance of provocative questions:

  • Can someone you’ve never met have an impact on your behavior?
  • Can merely seeing something multiple times make you like it more?
  • What makes some messages “tastier” than others?
  • Can negative publicity actually increase sales?
  • Is there an elite group of “influencers” responsible for ideas and products catching on? And are companies who pay a certain reality star hefty sums for online mentions getting their money’s worth?

Study the Science and Art of Social Epidemics

Remember Livestrong bracelets? Odds are that the answer is yes, because more than 80,000,000 were sold and demand quickly outstripped supply. Well, the Livestrong bracelet is a classic example of a social epidemic. Seemingly out of nowhere, this accessory was suddenly everywhere.

How Ideas Spread explains why ideas like this worked while other ideas, despite enormous publicity, failed, such as the “Just Say No” campaign to prevent drug abuse by children. You’ll learn why a simple video about corn-husking or a blender can be shared millions of times, while seemingly more compelling content stagnates. And you’ll discover whether Disney or Cheerios generates more word of mouth, and why.

These lectures deliver one powerful case study after another in teaching you how you can leverage three main concepts—individual psychology, social influence, and social networks—to design infectious messages.

You’ll come away with actionable techniques and practical information, including:

  • four key principles that make information more memorable;
  • why word of mouth is more than 10 times as powerful as traditional advertising;
  • how triggers in the environment can influence everything from what we buy to how we vote;
  • which types of sales messaging drives consumers to act; and
  • why your looser social ties are more likely to help you find a job than closer ones.

Groundbreaking First-Hand Research

In addition to describing noted studies and illuminating the wisdom of figures such as Steve Jobs, Professor Berger shares findings from a decade’s worth of his original research into why things catch on. Along with colleagues from Wharton, he has looked at thousands of pieces of online content, tens of thousands of brands, and millions of purchases, using that data for investigations into such questions as which kinds of articles make the New York Times most-emailed list, or how social influence shapes everything from the cars we buy to life-or-death decisions about our healthcare.

By applying rigorous scientific methods to these important questions, Professor Berger and his colleagues determined that there is indeed a science behind why people share. Here, you’ll learn the six key factors or psychological principles that came up again and again in this research, whether looking at products, ideas, news, or even rumors.

As a sought-after consultant for Fortune 500 companies, the best-selling author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, and an award-winning researcher and lecturer at one of America’s elite business schools, Professor Berger brings both real-world expertise and a scholarly perspective to this course, making it a highly relevant, rewarding, and entertaining experience.

Whether you’re a small business owner or a nonprofit professional seeking guidance on crafting products and messages that grab hold, or you just want insights into how viral trends work, this course will open your eyes to the power of contagious ideas.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    Social Epidemics - Why Things Catch On
    What leads products, ideas, and behaviors to become popular? What causes them to die out? The answer lies in the science of how ideas spread, which you’ll begin to examine with the story behind Livestrong bracelets - one of the most notable social epidemics of our time. x
  • 2
    The Basics of Consumer Psychology
    Why can seeing something more frequently make you like it more? Find out here, as you look at consumer psychology and the way we naturally process information. Understand what happens from the moment people are exposed to information and begin to develop perceptions, and learn how these basic cognitive processes influence what eventually catches on. x
  • 3
    The Impact of Triggers on Consumer Choice
    Why might voting in a church versus a school change how you cast your ballot? Why would hearing French music at the grocery store make you more likely to buy French wine? Explore the phenomenon of triggers, from how they’re defined to how they influence what we like, what we buy, and top-of-mind awareness. x
  • 4
    Simple Rules to Make Ideas Stick
    Why do some things stick in memory while other ideas are quickly forgotten? Find out here, as you learn how ideas that fit with the four key principles of human memory - simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, and credibility - tend to be “stickier” or more memorable. x
  • 5
    The Social Influence of Conformity
    In the first of several lectures related to social influence, you’ll consider the phenomenon of conformity and its role in why ideas spread. You’ll learn why bartenders seed the tip jar, when people actually prefer waiting in line, and why conformity compels us to follow others even when we know they’re wrong. x
  • 6
    The Social Influence of Divergence
    Social influence is like a magnet - it can attract or repel. As you explore the notion of divergence and the meaning of consumption, discover when and why people avoid following the crowd and how anti-conformity has caused once-popular cars, designer bags, and other products to fall out of favor with their original audience. x
  • 7
    Word of Mouth - Powerful and Persuasive
    More than 10 times as effective as company-generated communications, word of mouth is a powerful tool - and it’s becoming more so each day. Examine the influence of word of mouth, how it differs from traditional advertising, and the role that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter play in shaping communication. x
  • 8
    The Social Currency of Shared Ideas
    From cat videos to New York Times science articles, some online content goes viral while the bulk of it never gets more than 10 views. Some products get lots of word of mouth activity, while others are never discussed. Discover the six key drivers of social transmission that lead products, ideas, and behaviors to generate buzz. x
  • 9
    Messages That Go Viral
    Wrap up the section on social influence by looking at the three remaining drivers of social transmission - stories, practical value, and making the private public - in the context of intriguing case studies. Learn about the failure of the “Just Say No” campaign, the success of a humble corn-husking video, and some shrewd design decisions by Apple. x
  • 10
    Social Networks - Channels of Influence
    Could a person you barely know affect your behavior? Consider this question as you begin to explore the channels through which information and influence spread. Learn about different types of social ties and how these ties impact what people share, the jobs people get, and life in general. x
  • 11
    Social Influencers - Myths and Science
    Are well-connected people or “influencers” the catalysts for ideas and products catching on? Examine this social-epidemic theory, the science behind how it does - or doesn’t - work, how likely it is to be true, and whether companies who pay reality TV star Kim Kardashian $10,000 per Tweet will see a return on their investment. x
  • 12
    Tracking Results - Big Data, Little Data
    Conclude the course with a thought-provoking discussion of Big Data. Learn how Google tries to predict everything from flu outbreaks to retail and home sales, why companies need to monitor social media chatter, and whether our addiction to analytics might be leading us astray. Also, consider the rise of Little Data and the effects of measuring and tracking the minutiae of our everyday lives. x

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  • 96-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Jonah Berger

About Your Professor

Jonah Berger, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Jonah Berger is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He holds a B.A. in Human Judgment and Decision Making from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from Stanford Graduate School of Business. He has served as a visiting faculty member at Duke University and Cornell University. The recipient of numerous awards for teaching and research, Professor Berger received...
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How Ideas Spread is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 21.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course. The course was more on Marketing than I had anticipated. Still it was very interesting.
Date published: 2018-10-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Marketing and Proselytizing Ideas Fun to watch and learn many tricks of the trade from an engaging presentation. Most of the examples are about pushing products, so it would be a good fit for anyone in advertising. I wanted to know how to change my world through presenting new ideas at work. I was able to translate about 50% of the information but changing people's minds with new ideas is more difficult than promoting a product or convincing someone to read a stage play.
Date published: 2018-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Insights This short course has some great insights on how ideas spread. It focuses on marketing, but the psychology behind it is sound and insightful.
Date published: 2018-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very engaging! I finished viewing this course not too long ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Professor many example stories and very interesting ones at that. I have incorporated some of his ideas and concepts in my business and have found it to be helpful and successful. I plan on watching it again. Thank you.
Date published: 2017-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible insights from an incredible professor I purchased the audio version of this course, and I look forward to listening to this lecture during my commute. The instructor is clear and succinct at delivering the information in a progressing way that builds upon each previous lecture. Even the delivery of the information is highly entertaining as everything from his tone to fluctuations in his voice keep me engaged with what is being taught. He adds relatable cenarios that help deliver the messages, and he makes it fun to learn. If my college professors had taught this way, I would have retained a lot more of the information and would have been more excited about going to class. The subject is helpful in my daily life, network marketing to promote my business, and even in my money management habits. This course applies to so many areas of life.
Date published: 2016-10-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from One of the most boring courses I could not finish this series as it was so long winded and boring. It took a long time for him to get to the point and there were not many points.
Date published: 2016-10-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Collection of Common Ideas Well folks, you heard it hear first. Or maybe not. I'm reluctant to lower the rating the rating of a course because I've heard it all before. Why? Because you may be new to the subject and this will be where you hear this material for the first time. I read a lot of marketing and social media books so I've come across all of this material in my reading. In spite of the lack of break-through material, the course could save you the trouble of reading 20 or so business books. One observation on this topic amuses me. Though there are numerous books on the subject of what makes something go 'viral', no one can reliably predict what will capture the collective attention span. Looking in the rear-view mirror we can see why something caught on, but no one can look at a movie, book, product or story and predict success or failure. At least not yet. If you are looking for the holy grail of marketing formulae, you won't find it here or anywhere. Still, the course will entertain you if you are new to the subject. If you read a lot of 'hot' business books, you will find that you've come across this material before. The presentation is excellent.
Date published: 2016-04-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lightweight, but engagingly presented The professor presents the material very effectively. In fact, I am happy I bought the video version even though it is unnecessary, because it was so enjoyable to watch the facial expressions and gestures. The production values of the set and illustrations are similarly high. But looking back on it, I don't feel I learned very much. The course is made up of a well chosen series of short and catchy examples. I was rarely surprised though. I have no background in marketing whatsoever, but most of it I had heard before. The main exception was lecture 11 on social influencers, which took a provocative position that made me pay attention and think. This course was like one of those lightweight business books you buy to read on the airplane. It didn't have the challenge and insight I expect from The Great Courses, For the first time in 20 years, I think I am going to ask for a refund,
Date published: 2015-12-04
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