If it doesn’t Spread, it’s Dead
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:
- An item needs to compel people to spread it in the first place (as Scott Stratten says, people spread awesome)
- An item should be simple, because complexity is hard to explain and spread
- 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
- An item should have built-in one-click ways to spread it
So if we took a typical peice of digital content:
- 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)
- 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)
- A photo by nature will warrant a description, but a video or blog post should have a title and a description that people repeat
- 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.
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.
- Are you hitting those 4 levels with the media content that you are creating?
- If we took “compelling”, what are the different parts of that, i.e. personal, relevant, entertaining, etc?