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Internet Conference; How to Sell Sausages, Wuzhen Style

Alert: WeChat Merchants is taking over your Wechat Moments. If one day you catch your neighbour next door selling facial products, or even your mother-in-law selling homemade sausages on your Wechat Moments, don’t be surprised.

Today everyone is selling something, whether a product or an idea, and the Internet seems to be the perfect place for it in the future, as President Xi laid out his vision for Internet at China’s second International Internet conference in Wuzhen on Wednesday 16th December.

So how do you make your products or ideas catch on? Why do people talk about certain products and ideas more than others? Why are some stories and rumours more infectious? And what makes online content go viral? 

Over one hundred years ago the American author and humorist Mark Twain once observed, “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.” His statement holds even more true today; whether it be a conspiracy theory or the latest public-health scare, the Internet and social media cooperate seamlessly into the palms of people the world over.

Brothers Chip and Dan Heath, in their 2007 bestseller “Made to Stick”, argued that sticky ideas and products tend to be simple, unexpected and credible, with concrete details, an emotional undertow and a memorable story line.

Then, there are also the six secrets to virality, namely:

1. Social currency, defined as making people feel that they are cool insiders.

2. Triggers, defined as everyday reminders of an item or idea.

3. Emotional resonance, defined as making people want to share the experience with friends.

4. Observability, (or distinctiveness) defined as a highly visible item that advertises itself. Think the Nike Swoosh, or the bitten out apples on the back of computers. Steve Jobs debated at length over whether to place the firm’s logo on the front or back, eventually deciding that observability to the world was more important.

5. Usefulness, defined as the desire to to share practical or helpful information. See the public-health scare example above.

6. Storytelling, defined as embedding a product or an idea in a narrative that enhances its power.

If you are going to harness the six secrets to virality, there are reasons to believe not everyone will succeed. In Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book “How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”, he states that there are Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen. Paul Revere, the US silversmith, engraver and industrialist, he cites for example, was all three. Mr. Gladwell suggests, “Revere knew what the British were up to (Maven); he knew the right people to tell (Connector); and he knew how to tell them effectively (Salesman)”.

So while the high speed lanes of the Internet are debated amid the slow flowing of Wuzhen’s canals, and as press freedom advocacy groups call out for a boycott against this conference, keep a more worthwhile eye on your mother-in-law. She might have bitten a chunk out one of her home made sausages and stuck it on the back of your laptop.

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