Why do humans share things? We share photos online from vacation, funny jokes we hear on TV, or maybe fresh music from a hot new artist. We are constantly sharing things about ourselves with friends, family, colleagues, even sometimes strangers – but what are the motivations in sharing our personal interests and associations?

Sharing our experiences, opinions, likes, dislikes, and more, all contribute to how our identity is perceived by others. Consumers are motivated to share things about themselves that benefit their social image. The value of maintaining a certain social image is called social currency – which is an active facilitator in making a product or idea contagious, according to Jonah Berger.

Jonah Berger, Wharton Business School graduate, explores the topic of virality in his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On. He examines what influences cause certain messages or ideas to be talked about more than others, leading with the impact of social currency.

Social currency is a common concept that refers to the positive influence of particular products, services, or interests in social circles and communities. Just as money is used as a form of currency to buy things, social currency is used to achieve status or recognition among communities by peers, varying from family and friends to teammates and colleagues, and others.

What this means for companies and brands is that there is no value in a product if people aren’t willing to talk about it. What makes something go viral? Word-of-mouth via peers. This social transmission, or customer to consumer communication, has the ability to add an impactful amount of value to a product or service.

“Contagious ideas are like forest fires. They can’t happen without hundreds, if not thousands, of regular Joes and Janes passing the product or message along,” Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

Social currency goes hand in hand with word-of-mouth. According to a study by Ogilvy, 74% of consumers classify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decisions. The extent to which a consumer is willing to give a testimony or talk about a brand is a powerful thing. These individuals are disciples for the brand – advocating, engaging, sharing and communicating at the customer level. One of the most powerful effects of word-of-mouth communication is that it can be both targeted and naturally occurring interactions about your product or service. This type of sharing helps companies to showcase their brand identity and have closer interaction with current and prospective customers.

Berger’s three guiding pillars for building strong social currency are:


Share the extraordinary or entertaining factors of the product that motivate consumers to literally “remark” about. It’s a matter of finding the right message, or angle, that makes a consumer feel excitement and personal gain about sharing with their social group.


These are the elements of a game, app, or program. It could be rules, feedback, or a point system – really any competitive stimulation that incites relative comparison among social groups. Innately, humans are prone to care about status displays and hierarchy. When people share what they’ve achieved, they naturally have to mention the brand or association. When said-achievements are publicized, word-of-mouth continues to grow.


There is value in exclusivity. When customers are associated with something unique, it contributes to their status, making it something more likely to be shared. People generally like to feel in-the-know and connected to something exclusive. By making something difficult to obtain, products as perceived as more desirable and with that you have higher demand.

Social currency plays a leading role in consumer relations. Companies who are aware of the power of social currency can positively strategize how to grow business and improve their interactions and impressions with customers. The theme of social currency is that our choices and associations indicate our identity. Consumers make buying decisions based on trust from word-of-mouth and based on how they can find a strong sense of identity and expression through the brand.

As Berger said, contagious products cannot happen without a network of loyal consumers passing along the idea. Once word-of-mouth has reached a certain level, growth inevitably begins to compound. It’s important to focus on why your product should be passed along and why certain characteristics should be highlighted over others.

Will you apply any of Berger’s social currency principles to your next big idea?