If it doesn’t Spread, it’s Dead

1105-881531299_d59fbd0887_m.jpgWant to learn why if you content doesn’t spread it’s dead, and how to make it spread? Read on.

You’ve heard me bang on before about spreadability vs reach. I arrogantly thought that I had come up with the concept, but I found out in the middle of last year that Henry Jenkins and Sam Ford had been using the phrase far longer than I had.

One of the things that Henry wrote about in 2009 that I was re-reading recently was the notion that If it Doesn’t Spread, it’s Dead. I’d advise you take 10 minutes today to read the article. Sam on the other hand has been writing about the difference between sticky media and spreadable media. You can see some of his slides on the subject in this presentation.

Spread me or I’ll die

Certainly Henry and Sam’s thinking is high level but what they are both saying when it comes down to the basics is that if whatever you produce isn’t spreadable, it is dead. You might succeed in getting something to stick with one person, but if they don’t spread it… well.. it’s dead.

I can see a few levels of spreadability here, crossing both offline and online:

  1. An item needs to compel people to spread it in the first place (as Scott Stratten says, people spread awesome)
  2. An item should be simple, because complexity is hard to explain and spread
  3. An item should provide the words for mouth if it expects word of mouth – in other words, give us the words to use when we spread your product
  4. An item should have built-in one-click ways to spread it

So if we took a typical peice of digital content:

  1. It should be awesome. This spans from a Facebook photo that you are tagged in (awesome because it’s personal) to a video that makes you laugh (awesome because it’s very funny) to a blog post that speaks right into a situation you are in (awesome because it’s relevant)
  2. Simplicity for online content mostly means short and simple. But when people get offline, it seems our attention span increases, which is why we shower The King’s Speech and Black Swan with Oscars (both films, interestingly, with a simple premise)
  3. A photo by nature will warrant a description, but a video or blog post should have a title and a description that people repeat
  4. In built spreading means a blog post has a retweet or Facebook like. Facebook’s eco system enables one click posting of any media item to one’s newsfeed, Disqus auto posts comments to feeds, etc. (Unfortunately, Twitter still requires two clicks to share which I think is just plain idiotic)

I would say that each level trumps the level below – so whilst many people adorn their sites with share buttons, you can still see that they’ve only had 5 retweets of a particular blog post. Clearly the content wasn’t  compelling, and thus despite having those share buttons, it didn’t spread and now it’s dead.

Of course, I have hundreds of these blog posts, particularly the last 6 months, that just haven’t been shared because the content was not compelling enough.

Seth Godin in Purple Cow praises Hotmail’s use of the inbuilt email signature that was at the bottom of every Hotmail email account inviting others to sign up. They certainly hit level 4 and got millions upon millions of signups because of it. But this was only because the content itself – the email – was compelling and personal in the first place. I can imagine far fewer email accounts would’ve been created of the back of a SPAM email message – which is what people perceive Hotmail to have become.

Be Compelling

Thus your ultimate goal has creators of any media is to make it compelling – compelling because it’s personal, relevant, entertaining, inspiring, and so on. If you do, people will spread it. And if you add ways to make it spreadable, people will spread it more.

Your Leading Thoughts

Your thoughts as a leader are valuable and the driving force of this blog.

  1. Are you hitting those 4 levels with the media content that you are creating?
  2. If we took “compelling”, what are the different parts of that, i.e. personal, relevant, entertaining, etc?

Archived Comments

  • Thanks for the Monday morning brain wake-up Scott.

    Compelling is because the content interests me. It is on a subject matter that I feel I can contribute to or offer supporting evidence, comment or experience.

    Compelling is because the content provokes me. I do not agree with a point that has been made and am looking to challenge what has been raised by a peer.

    Compelling is because the content is just so good, it ticks all the boxes in terms of what appeals to me and forces me to share it with others because it needs to be seen.

    Metaphorically speaking, if the piece of content in question is a jigsaw piece and it fits in with my existing pieces, attitudes, opinions and knowledge base then it helps create the bigger picture. If it is another awkward piece that doesn’t quite fit, it is a challenge to accommodate it but not altogether impossible to get involved with and to share, it just means there is an implicit resistance or friction to sharing.

  • / Scott Gould

    I like the jigsaw metaphor here – certainly the power of context here is a strong driver. Not everyone will react to a peice of media in the same way depending on their context.

    BUt certainly we can have guidelines for ticking as many boxes as possible – interest / relevance / personal / controversial

  • http://dr1665.com Brian Driggs

    I don’t think we’re hitting those 4 levels at Gearbox, but I don’t know if it’s a concern. Sure, it would be nice if the stories we share got shared themselves, bringing more people to the sites to participate, building a stronger, more active community of globally-minded gearheads, but our content will never die, as our “content” is real people. Each of them matters. The more of them we bring together, the more we matter.

    Most people seem interested in rapidly monetizing content; it’s all about gleaning value from the community for personal gain as quickly as possible – consumption-driven drive-thru content. We’re more interested in creation-driven, fundamental meaning. :)

  • http://dr1665.com Brian Driggs

    I don’t think we’re hitting those 4 levels at Gearbox, but I don’t know if it’s a concern. Sure, it would be nice if the stories we share got shared themselves, bringing more people to the sites to participate, building a stronger, more active community of globally-minded gearheads, but our content will never die, as our “content” is real people. Each of them matters. The more of them we bring together, the more we matter.

    Most people seem interested in rapidly monetizing content; it’s all about gleaning value from the community for personal gain as quickly as possible – consumption-driven drive-thru content. We’re more interested in creation-driven, fundamental meaning. :)

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey mate

    Well, this post is specific to content so I don’t know if you can pull the “out content are people” line!

    You do have to look and ask about the media.

  • http://dr1665.com Brian Driggs

    ;)

    Sticking to purely content from the most base, generic definition, truly valuable content spreads on its own. You can’t stop valuable content from spreading like windswept wildfire; just ask Mr. Mubarak.

    So I put it back to you, sir, if genuinely meaningful content spreads despite every effort to stop it, should we be focused on making less valuable, commoditized content easier to share, or should we be focused on building more value and meaning?

  • / Scott Gould

    Building more value, of course.

    But that doesn’t mean we don’t provide the ability for mediocre content to be shared.

    Remember – spreadability is like scattering seeds and you don’t know what will prosper whether this or that. The stuff I think is compelling often doesn’t get shared…

  • / Scott Gould

    Building more value, of course.

    But that doesn’t mean we don’t provide the ability for mediocre content to be shared.

    Remember – spreadability is like scattering seeds and you don’t know what will prosper whether this or that. The stuff I think is compelling often doesn’t get shared…

  • http://dr1665.com Brian Driggs

    I see your point, Scott. It’s like tyres.

    Speaking as a gearhead, without tyres, you’re not going anywhere. So we design high performance tyres capable of keeping machines on the track under any conditions – wet, dry, hot, cold, etc.. The more high performance the machine (valuable/meaningful) wearing the tyres, the better the performance.

    I hope my use of the Queen’s English in my spelling of tyres in some small way makes up for my numpty ways today! :P

  • / Scott Gould

    LOL – I didn’t know tyres could be spelt any other way!

  • Absolutely. There are two types of questions to ask here, Scott: #1.) what motivations do people have to spread content? and #2.) what makes it easy for content to spread. The first question is the more important one. It means listening to one’s audience. It means thinking about their wants and needs as the people who will decide whether content will spread, or not. On the flip side, it means thinking about surplus audiences you DON’T want to offend and thus have your content spread in anger. The second question is the more technical one but especially important if you have developed content that might appeal to an audience, that is attuned to what people are talking about, etc. #2 is the easier one to fix, of course, but the biggest problem I have with “going viral” is that it encourages people to think there’s something magic in the content rather than thinking about the audiences that ultimately decide if something is actually “spreadable” or not.

  • When looking at a brand’s website or social media site, its essential that their content be relevant and compelling to me. If it is, I’m more likely to share it with my friends, or re-post the information, or spread it by general word of mouth. Some of my favorite blogs and companies I have discovered solely because my friends have found it compelling and relevant enough to share with me. This supports the points you make here in the article.

  • / Scott Gould

    Totally – relevance is the point here, and often the writer doesn’t know what is relevant or not. I didn’t think this post would resonant much but some people have got a lot out of it. It goes to show that the writer didn’t know who the article would be relevant too.

    What do you think?

    Scott

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Sam

    THank you very much for this. I didn’t want to say much from your new manuscript as that’s not released and therefore can’t reference it properly!

    I like your point here about motivation and ease and separating the two. I’d find most people make things easy to spread but they don’t motivate us to spread. I wonder how else we motivate people to spread… :-)

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