Contagious Content

“Have you ever thought about yawning, for instance? Yawning is a surprisingly powerful act. Just because you read the word “yawning” in the previous two sentences - and the two additional “yawns” in this sentence - a good number of you will probably yawn within the next few minutes. Even as I’m writing this, I’ve yawned twice. If you’re reading this in a public place, and you’ve just yawned, chances are that a good proportion of everyone who saw you yawn is now yawning too, and a good proportion of the people watching the people who watched you yawn are now yawning as well – yawning is incredibly contagious

Simply by writing the word, I can plant a feeling in your mind.”

Malcolm Gladwell author of the Tipping Point.


pronunciation: [kuh  n-tey-juh  s]

Definition –


3. tending to spread from person to person: contagious laughter. contagious  (kənˈteɪdʒəs) ; causing or likely to cause the same reaction or emotion in several people; catching; infectious: her laughter was contagious.

I recently started reading the Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell (for the second time might I add – highly recommend) Gladwell talks about the ‘concept of contagiousness’ and those magic moments when something reaches its 'tipping point' and spreads to epidemic proportion.

the Tipping Point encourages the reader to start looking at life with a slightly different perspective - and unwittingly, that’s what you start to do.

Reading the Tipping Point a second time around, I started to wonder whether the suggestive arguments and intriguing ideas that Gladwell presents about epidemics could be applied to modern marketing methods. How the pattern between cause and effect is not always proportionate – and why this is something we should consider. 

It only takes a minor change to alter the very core of something - little changes have big effects.

The marketers, advertisers, strategists and content creators of today are continuously looking to create something that strikes a chord – a ‘tipping point’ that makes people stand to attention. We want to generate content that demands a reaction and encourages engagement. Our end goal is to turn over consistent levels of high engagement that in turn contributes to our bottom line – selling our vision/service/product.

Take the concept of contagiousness – something that spreads because it is infectious, you immediately conjure up an image of a snotty nose, a box full of tissues and endless cold remedies – but I can’t ‘infect’ you by simply talking about having a cold. The notion of something being infectious can be extended to our thoughts, emotions and feelings about anyone or anything.

Let’s talk about virality.

The term ‘virality’ was coined in more recent years to describe the rapid circulation of an image/video/piece of content from one Internet user to another – it’s a ‘contagious concept’. It's also a marketers dream.

One thing you need to consider should this be your vision, is – 'shareable content' or for namesake, contagious content.

Why should people engage with your content? What is the secret? The first thing you must accept is - there’s no perfect formula to this. I’ve worked on a number of brand’s communities, from a variety of sectors and it isn’t easy to engage an audience day after day. Do you flick through your newsfeed and engage with everything you see? No, nobody does.

I think our vision increasingly has to be to sit in the user’s seat, imagine the kind of content they navigate daily. Say for example you worked for a brand selling a new cosmetics product and you’d happily use the product you’re selling in a personal capacity, ask yourself this about the content you’re posting - “Would I share that? Would I like that? Would I take the time to engage in this or would I bypass it?” Be honest with yourself, you might have spent a long time creating the perfect graphic and working on killer copy - but if you honestly wouldn’t engage with it yourself, why post it?

What would make YOU engage?

Let’s flip the argument – take the same cosmetics brand, but personally the product just isn’t for you. What don’t you like about the product? Maybe you’re a guy and so you wouldn’t use it by default – what do you think your Mum would like? Or maybe your girlfriend or a female colleague – what are other brands saying? Identify gaps and opportunities in your content by researching your competitors most engaging content, how does your product fit within these parameters?

What little changes would entice you to engage?

Maybe you’ve exhausted your ideas and feel nothing is working, your content is contained to your feed and nobody else’s - it’s not contagious. Have you considered other possible factors that are contributing to this?

Gladwell talks about the syphilis epidemic in Baltimore in the mid 1990’s in the following extract from the Tipping Point:

“3. Every time someone in Baltimore comes to a public clinic for treatment of syphilis or gonorrhea, John Zenilman plugs his or her address into his computer, so that the case shows up as a little black star on a map of the city. It's rather like a medical version of the maps police departments put up on their walls, with pins marking where crimes have occurred. On Zenilman's map the neighborhoods of East and West Baltimore, on either side of the downtown core, tend to be thick with black stars. From those two spots, the cases radiate outward along the two central roadways that happen to cut through both neighborhoods. In the summer, when the incidence of sexually transmitted disease is highest, the clusters of black stars on the roads leading out of East and West Baltimore become thick with cases. The disease is on the move. But in the winter months, the map changes. When the weather turns cold, and the people of East and West Baltimore are much more likely to stay at home, away from the bars and clubs and street corners where sexual transactions are made, the stars in each neighborhood fade away.

The seasonal effect on the number of cases is so strong that it is not hard to imagine that a long, hard winter in Baltimore could be enough to slow or lessen substantially — at least for the season — the growth of the syphilis epidemic.”

Interesting stuff right?

Consider this ‘seasonal effect’ in your marketing strategies. Are you trying to sell a tanning product in the middle of Winter? Talk about Summer holidays – tap into your fans psyche, I’d guess a large percentage of them are fed up of the cold weather and are thinking about their July holiday in December - if not booking it. They’ll catch the Summer bug you’re selling.

Take into account how your fans are feeling at certain times of the day/month/year and why. Jump on current trends - #OwnTheMoment ;)

Life is essentially a catalogue of infinite moments, some that are planned and some that are spontaneous. These moments offer you, as a marketer, the chance to mean something to your audience. Be recognized for considering your fans, earn brand loyalty through meaningful conversation.

Plant a seed, cultivate your own ‘epidemic’. Understand the world around you, listen to your audience, try something new – “little things can make a big difference”.




By Sadie Olivia Wandrum