In his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger introduces us to STEPPS – the six principles that make things go viral – namely social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value and stories. As I read it, I try to relate them to our practices in the academic library I’m working at and see how our marketing strategy can benefit from his principles. Among the six, I have found social currency, emotion and practical value most relatable to my own experience.

Social Currency

Berger contends that people “share things that make us look good” (2013, p. 207). Narcissistic as it may sound, we all know it reveals our inner world – at least partially – when we process information. One of the tips that resonates with me is to “make people feel like insiders” (Berger, 2013, p. 51). We’ve been interviewing candidates for our student worker position recently. During the interview, one thing caught our attention. Several candidates applied to this position because of a previous student we hired. It turned out that this student had shared his own working experience in the library and also disclosed some “inside stories” with his friends, which made them curious and interested in library work. We are all fascinated by the attention generated by a single student and now we are thinking of using that as an inspiration when marketing library services: let the message spread from insiders – our own student workers.


“When we care, we share” (Berger, 2013, p. 207). As an academic library, our purpose is to provide resources and support to faculty and students in their teaching and learning activities. Therefore, our daily interactions with users are mostly result-oriented: they need something, we find it for them. So, what role does “emotion” play in promoting our services and making people care what we do? It hadn’t occurred to me how emotion can be involved in our marketing strategy until a student approached to us two years ago and said she wanted to work for us. It all started with her first major assignment in the freshman year. The professor had asked them to register on a website and use an online tool to complete their work. Due to some miscommunication, this student, along with some of her classmates, had all come to the library for help. Unfortunately, our service staff were not informed by anyone and didn’t know anything about the tool at the time. However, we knew better than to turn these freshmen down and let them leave in disappointment. We called our IT department, consulted with Academic Affairs, and even Emailed their professor to inquire about this tool on their behalf. Our efforts were not in vain. We finally found a technologist in the Research and Instructional Services Team who could address their concern. Two days later, that student came to submit her resume and said she was deeply touched by what we did for her that she wanted to join us and do the same for others.

It was an emotional moment because nothing felt better than to be appreciated, valued and understood. We hired her in the end because we knew where she came from, and we were lucky to have the opportunity to nurture the tenderness and gratitude we both share in that encounter. It has encouraged us to truly care for our users by offering remarkable services through the unremarkable daily interactions.

Practical Value

As Berger mentions in the book, people are passionate about sharing things when they think the content is useful (2013). It’s without doubt that an academic library is of practical value to our faculty and students because that’s basically the reason why we exist. However, to distinguish our unique values from regular services, it’s imperative that we promote the things that are useful but usually unobvious to the users. To achieve this goal, we’ve adopted different approaches when marketing the library in our community. For example, we compiled a list of tips for our students regarding how to make the most use of library resources. We encourage students to borrow course reserve items before we close so that they can keep the books overnight; we promote our partnership with local public libraries so that students know they can utilize resources in those libraries as well; we also send series of posts on various topics of library services via social media platforms which introduce databases or tools targeting students of different majors. When students see the value in these tips and posts, they tend to tell their fellow students about them.

I believe the other three principles – triggers, public and stories – can also guide us in our future marketing strategy. How can we get our users to talk about the library by implementing “triggers” on campus? How do we make library services more visible to the community? How do we share our stories and even motivate users to share their library stories with the community? I’m looking forward to answering these questions as I delve deeper into this course.


Berger, J. (2013). Contagious: Why things catch on. Simon & Schuster.