Customer Reviews: Zarrella's Hierarchy of Contagiousness: The Science, Design, and Engineering of Contagious Ideas
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on August 23, 2011
OK, as a social media maven for... well, since the word was invented, I figured Dan's read would be perfect yawn material for curing my fractured sleep cycle.

Not so. In fact, I should have known better. Anything stamped "Domino Project" is almost a sure bet. This is no exception.

Here's the intro paragraph to help align your brain to the following content:
"If you've read about social media or been to any marketing conferences, you've probably heard tons of advice like "love your customers," "engage in the conversation," "be yourself," and "make friends." I call this "unicorns-and-rainbows advice." Sure, it sounds good and it probably makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. But it's not actually based on anything more substantial than "truthiness" and guesswork."

But wait, it gets better.

In addressing the Spread of Ideas (or Viralness, the favorite meme of social media marketers everywhere), Dan developed a simple hierarchy, similar to Maslow:

1- "The person must be exposed to your content. This means that the person has to be following you on Twitter, be a fan of your page on Facebook, subscribe to your email list, and so on.
2- The person must become aware of your specific piece of content (the idea you want to spread). He has to read your tweet or open your email message.
3- The person must be motivated by something (generally in the content itself) in order to want to share the idea with his contacts.

Now, at this point you're going "Isn't this Seth Godin's Idea Virus all over again?"

Well yes. And no. Because quite a few years have elapsed. What worked then (Seth giving away a PDF to drive book sales at, uh, Borders...;-) could be construed as noise now. Unless you've been busy building an audience and a platform - which is the REAL focus of the book.

Oh, and metrics. METRICS. Measuring social media results is something Dan doesn't take lightly. And neither should you.

There are graphs. There are charts. And there are meaningful baselines to work from. The pie is not in the sky. It's on your (social media marketing) plate. Get your slice.

Here's one of Dan's finishing thoughts:
"Now you know better. You know how to see through the unicorns-and-rainbows myths. Don't listen to the snake-oil salesmen when they deceive you with their prescriptions for exotic tonics. You have science now. Marketing shouldn't be based on luck. You can produce results from social media that are reliable and repeatable. You have control.

For social media experts, there will be some "duh" level content. But even so, it's sprinkled liberally with plenty of new "a-HA!" insights to make even those boring old standards take on new color.

I'm giving it 5-Stars. Not because it's Seth's label. (Though I long to be on Domino... someday... someday...).
Because it's relevant. Fast-acting (read it before your next marketing meeting - and rock the house). Fun. And makes sense.

BTW: Hubspot is also a cool company. Dharmesh Shah and Mike Volpe are awesome folks in the industry, who don't compromise. And have set new standards (if you haven't used their Website Grader, do it today. It's free, and will get you started on the road to REAL online optimization - we're just pissed they give it away - we wanted to sell a similar service for $$$).

Other people in this genre' worth watching include David Meerman Scott (one of my very favorites). Start here: The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly - all of his works are excellent. You can also get a taste on his blog,

Chris Brogan is legend: The Zen of Social Media Marketing: An Easier Way to Build Credibility, Generate Buzz, and Increase Revenue

Ann Handley rocks - Total Stat Queen: Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (New Rules Social Media Series)

To craft your own social media goodness, here's the writing tool of champions (includes social media keyword search results and other fun tools): Novel Writing Software - ThoughtOffice Muse Creative Writing Software Suite Mac OSX - Windows XP-7

If you don't know Guy Kawasaki, you're clinically dead. Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions

And nothing is sweeter than making your social media efforts into your passionate living. Nobody says it better than Hugh MacLeod: Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination

That's a rap, folks. Get social. Measure results. Build your platform. Engage. And have a blast on the way.
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on June 5, 2012
I figured it was only $6 for 80 pages (actually, turns out was only 64 pages in my ebook. When you paid $6, that's disappointment #1 - and this is hardly a "book," it's a single, booklet, white paper, whatever.) I'd not write this review if I only paid a dollar. It's a pretty net-negative review after buying and reading this last night and is simply my honest opinion/experience. I think the author is capable of adding a lot more value because of his reputation and other good contributions online.

Quickly tiresome is combative language describing all the bad guys out there. A little goes a long way, and I appreciate that yes, there are too many of them. But the negativity is so pervasive it feels immature - after several times of these descriptions and many more to come, it becomes the feeling you get when somebody insecure it putting down others so male themselves seem smarter. Ugh.

Many of the paragraphs simply didn't flow together; like a collection of thoughts strung together to sound really intelligent but actually isn't anything more than veneer.

Yet as I read the book I maintained hope of a silver lining because after all, it's the "science", design and engineering (power word, show me more) of contagious ideas. All the right words, bravo. I see the book focuses on 3 sections: Exposure, Attention, and Motivation and am excited about some solid, sink my teeth in strategies that I can follow. Nothing of the sort was in this book.

Why are there no solid, sink-your-teeth in strategies and what is there instead? The book was simply a collection of "scientific" "studies" that mostly the author conducted, loosely grouped into a few categories. I know science. The "science" in this book is simply unprofessional, flimsy and undocumented and frankly unworthy of my time (large data sets do not mean the research is superb), despite the author's emphasis of the scientific method. If I can't trust the methodology it all becomes a blur of page after page after page of charts with explanations and antedotes that I shrug at - maybe it's true, maybe it's useful, perhaps not. Starting with criticisms of charlatans, and then providing nothing academic of his own, I found it all ironic.

The final let-down was at the end: "Measure your ROI" - naturally I think "great, show me HOW to measure ROI." Nope. This section is only telling me to DO measure my ROI. Well, duh. Hi freshman year of business college. In about a page of blathering about how you really should do it, the only thing that comes close to telling me HOW to do this is "Getting simple referral reports from a free analytics provider is a great first step". That's it. Wow. And then the next section whisks away to "Once you're actually measuring how much money social media activity is making you..."

Helpful items were some of the "studies" that were relevant to me such as retweetable words, best times of day to email and so on, assuming they are correct.

I don't mean to be overly harsh. I am confident the author knows a great deal about the subject more than me, and that I would learn a lot on his blog (in fact, I think the author could have fleshed out a full, useful book from this but simply wanted to make a quick buck - it's a bit shameful according to my worldview and I think it cheapens a person's brand.) This book simply wasn't it, and I am sad that I wasted my money on it. It did not live up to its title one bit.
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VINE VOICEon August 23, 2011
Social Media Science sounds like a fairy tale, but Dan Zarella proves otherwise in his new book on contagious ideas. He focuses on social media because they are a "petri dish" for ideas, but the principles that he is able to extract from social media metrics can be applied to all of your ideas. This short book will tell you the best ways to spread your ideas and make them more contagious.

The author starts off by building his framework on three points. For your ideas to be more contagious, you must:

1. Increase the number of people exposed to your content.

2. Create more attention-grabbing content.

3. Include powerful calls to action.

Following this, the author provides relevant data to prove his claims. This information is invaluable, and very helpful to anyone who uses social media at all. For instance:

Do you know if it helps or hurts to call yourself a guru (or author, speaker, founder)?

Do larger groups or more active small groups spread ideas faster?

Are negative or positive ideas more contagious?

Should you talk about yourself?

How often should you share content?

What is the best day and time to attract "retweeters"?

What is the best time to blog for your click rate? For comments?

All of the answers to these questions, and many more, are in this book. Each section is short and to the point, no more than four paragraphs and a visual graph of the data that backs it up. This is a book that will pay for itself easily, and the information contained in it is valuable to every business, author, and marketer. Highly Recommended.
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on August 23, 2011
I read this last night and it's excellent. Full of insightful data that will help you understand and manage your social media activity more effectively.

Instead of the usual 'rainbows and unicorns' myths and untruths that lots of 'social media experts' talk about, Dan Zarrella (Hubspot) has condensed his many years of expertise and data analysis into this highly readable and conversational book which will make you think differently about all you've done (and been told) before.

Includes data on the best days and times to Tweet or update your Blog / Facebook status, why people share things (and what makes them shareable), the most common trigger words that can help build up your 'Followers' / 'Fans' or encourage people to share and Retweet your content. Essential reading.
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on August 23, 2011
Zarrella begins his book with the big idea that "Ideas Don't Spread Just Because They're Good." What Zarrella has done is to try and provide a theory for how ideas are propagated, a theory which, it turns out, is very useful for anyone who wants his ideas to be shared in the new world of social media. While there are many (too many) works out there on how to take advantage of the social media to get people to read your content, Zarrella's is relatively unique because it rests upon solid science, rather than anecdote or myth. In spite of the scientific framework, "Zarrella's Hierarchy of Contagiousness" is an eminently readable book!

As an author and book reviewer who is trying to provide good quality content to as many people as possible, "Zarrella's Hierarchy of Contagiousness" is a very helpful work. I look forward to continuing to refer to it as a way to help me better connect with potential readers. Having said this, I would have appreciated more content: the book is only about 80 pages long. For example, the explanation of each principle is very brief, and more application and convincing explanation would have been helpful to me.

Though short, this is a powerful book with powerful ideas. Remember these 3 words in this order, for they represent the key to producing contagious content, and they form the basis for the structure of Zarrella's book: "Exposure, Attention, Motivation." A person must first be exposed to the content you're trying to share (for example, by following you on Twitter). Then the person must become aware of your content by actually reading it (say on Twitter). Finally, the person must be motivated by something (usually your content itself) to want to share it with others.

At each stage, you can do something to change the numbers in your favor. You can get more people to follow you on Twitter or receive your e-mails. You can create attention-grabbing content. Or you can include powerful calls to action.

Zarrella offers a few ways to gain more exposure. He begins by showing that the "big seed" theory is superior to the "little seed" theory often espoused. What this means is that it's better to expose your content to a lot of people at the beginning, rather than waiting for the statistically improbably viral tweet that starts small and then miraculously goes viral. Also, you should not be afraid to identify yourself authoritatively with words such as "guru" "expert" or "official". Zarrella offers several other useful strategies for gaining more exposure.

He then provides ways to gain more attention from readers. These include personalizing your messages (or at least appearing to!), priming the reader for the content they'll be exposed to, and some very useful information about the best times for tweeting, posting to Facebook, and blogging. Still under the category, Zarrella provides proof for the reasons why people share content. This is a very valuable section filled with tips and a lot of relevant research. In fact, this whole section was very useful, but again, I would have liked a more in-depth discussion and a little more "how to".

Finally, Zarrella concludes by using the scientific method as a framework for understanding how to create contagious ideas. This was an excellent way to end the book, but once again it left me wanting to read more.
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on April 30, 2013
I got this book when it was available for free, and at that price it was a "great buy". I'm also a bit of a geek regarding the science and psychology of things so from that standpoint it was a pretty good book as well.

HOWEVER, the book lacked any real actionable advice which is why I gave it only 3 stars. If Dan would have shown a little more how to actually accomplish some of the things he talked about this would easily be one of the best books on the topic I ever read. Instead it often stopped at explaining the "why" and never really got into the "how".
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on November 3, 2011
There is no fluff to be had here. Social media books can sometimes be a mixed bag of hard facts and, as Dan Zarrella points out, rainbows and unicorns advice. Sadly, most lean towards the latter telling the reader that by being yourself and providing useful content, readers and followers will come. That might work well in the long run, but it will most likely require quite a bit of luck along with it.

Part of operating a website is looking at the analytics, knowing which keywords are driving traffic to your site, what time of day is best to post new material, and providing what people are looking for. Studying those analytics can be the difference between a good website and a great one. Plenty has been written on optimizing websites, but what about social media? When is the best time to Tweet? What keywords get the most retweets? When should you post to Facebook? What post get "Liked" in Facebook? Do emails get opened more often during the week or on the weekend, how about in the morning or in the evening? Dan Zarrella decided to look at the analytics, test a number of theories, and answer these along with a host of other possible questions around social media, blogging, email marketing, and the creation of a contagious idea.

Lists, graphs, timelines, everything is laid out and straightforward in this short book that is chalk full of useful information.

Most times, content gets thrown out to the internet masses with hopes of getting noticed and, with a little bit of luck, going viral. Instead of working harder, Zarrella argues it's time to work smarter. Put yourself in the best position to succeed and the likelihood of success increases.
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on September 10, 2011
What is the book about?
Optimizing the way you use social media. It's packed with ideas, analysis, and thoughts for what works, what doesn't, and why you should do something about it.

What do I think about it?
I read this book on my Kindle App and was anticipating the flash to the next page to read on. I'd never heard of Zarrella (got a free download on the Kindle App) and I was certainly impressed with this book.

What got me pumped up?
The measurements of social media results were incredible. The entire book is packed with graphs, charts, and advice to run with.

What was deflating?
Nothing. But if you don't tweet or blog then this book would be a flat tire for you.

"So, would you recommend it?"
Yes! At this point, anything that is linked to The Domino Project is worth reading.
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on November 22, 2013
Dan Zarrella's an internet marketing Guru. He's researched internet marketing and social media, and has some ideas about what makes things go viral. Some of them are encapsulated in this book.

The book is very small and very short. Much of it was previously posted on Dan's web site. However a small book-shaped package is a convenient format. Dan says the bunnies on the front represent rapidly-reproducing ideas.

Dan uses memetics, cites Richard Dawkins and says:

"Our world is made of memes. If you've ever seen the matrix movies, You'll remember their world was composed entirely of computer code. Everything people interacted with was built from computerized instructions. Similarly, our world is made of contagious ideas. Everything made by huamns - from the chair you're sitting on, to the book you're reading - exists only because someone had the idea to invent it and that idea caught on, spreading from person to person."

It's a memorable image: our world is indeed made of memes.

The book is full of social media marketing tips of the type Dan posts on his blog. It's full of graphs and charts telling you what and when to tweet for the best results.

There was one bit of the book which I really didn't like - where Dan defined a measure of the rate of increase of memetic infections per generation, claimed that trying for an explosive epidemic was unrealistic and then recommended using big seeds.

Dan doesn't seem to think small seeds are effective. It is true that you should spend some of your marketing budget on seeding your idea. However making your idea spreadable is really very important. Dan says that when you do get a viral idea, it's just a fluke, and you shouldn't build your marketing strategy on luck. But relying on big seeds is not really correct advice in general. Pop songs may not reach every single member of the population before dying away, but they do reach many millions and that's good enough for their composers.

Some do have to rely on big seeds, since they have content that requires it - but most should try and use highly-contagious memes in their marketing, for best effect.

Dan advocates a science of marketing. However, few marketers do very much science, since they often don't want to publish their raw data, and they often don't trust what other marketers say. It's probably more realistic to advise marketers to cherry pick the best bits from the scientific method - such as iterating the process of performing experiments, measuring their outcomes and making changes. Maybe it's best to regard marketing as a technology - rather than a science.

The book is pretty neat. It is short, readable and fun. Most readers will probably be hungry for more details, but at least this is a start.
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on February 26, 2013
The book provides some useful information but I don't think it's geared toward a social media marketing newbie. I would have liked the author to employ some relevant examples to illustrate his points. He seemed to flit from one anecdote to another without ever really putting much meat on the bones of his commentary.

All in all, for the $6 investment, I can't say I was disappointed but I wouldn't say I was overly impressed either.
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