Above are the slides for the presentation I gave at WOM UK last month. If you can’t see them, click here.

What I realised, though, is that in this presentation I didn’t go through some of the failures and the trial and error not only of what we’ve faced with Like Minds, but also with spreadability as a concept across other examples.

It’s common knowledge that whether we are talking reach or spreadability, customer service or marketing, company or charity, there is always an element of hit and miss, or of wastage.  Even when using targeted platforms like AdWords or Facebook Ads, which are very specific towards who you are marketing too, there will aways be a percentage of spill.

For Reach, this type of spill is a problem. It means that those who I am not targeting are getting my message at the expense of those I am targeting, which is especially a problem when we consider that reach through a broadcast channel is paid for according to how many you are purportedly reaching. This is akin to rice farmers, who have to very carefully plan where each each seed is planted, and carefully nurture it.

For Spreadability, this spill is actually the secret of it’s success. Spreadability is like scattering seed. For the British farmers around Exeter, they don’t plant each seed as much as they scatter it. By preparing the soil, there is more chance that each seed will take and bear fruit, but some seed just won’t. What this brings up for me are:

5 Fundamentals About Spreadability

1. There will be failure. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tweeted something with the #likeminds hashtag, expecting it to get taken up, only for it to fail. I’ve wrote blog posts I thought would capture the hearts of readers that get no comments. I have gone from having a massive event to running the followup which has been poorly attended. You have to factor in and expect a percentage of failure.

2. You need to prepare the soil. You have greater chance with your seed with good soil. You soil is your community, your network, your brand, your reputation, your customers, etc – and the more connected you are with them, the greater chance your spreadability seeds have. (But of course, still expect some to fail.)

3. There are always unknown variables. Like inclement weather and unforeseen circumstances, there are always variables that you don’t know. This isn’t necessarily bad – because an unknown variable can be what rockets you to success. If anyone has read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (affiliate link), you’ll understand that this is the law of context – which is made up of so many variables that can you never be 100% sure.

4. You don’t know what will succeed. The above three points should help us understand that we actually don’t know what will succeed, for sure. Now I know that, yes, we can be certain about somethings, but let me illustrate with the #likeminds hashtag example again. When I put something out on that hashtag, I never know if it’ll take. Sometimes the things I think are best, get no mentions, and sometimes the worst things do. Even worse is when other people seem to always have their stuff on the hashtag retweeted when mine arent’! Knowing this, I then follow this final fundamental:

5. You have to keep scattering. Spreadability is accumulative. As you build upon your network, your failures at the least add to the soil – teaching you lessons and at least keeping your network nurtured.

How Spreadability isn’t like Seeds

The big difference is that when I talk about Spreadability vs Reach and Social vs Broadcast, it is multi-way communication versus one-way communication – something that is made far clearer in the Social / Broadcast Matrix.

I guess you could find an extended metaphor to make this fit… but… I am…

Fundamentally Wrong?

In the spirit of spreadability, it’s likely that this won’t even spread as I’ve mentioned above! But that’s fine – I’ll keep on going :-)

If however, perchance that you do read this, then let me ask you, do you agree? Really – do you agree? Are we finding things are working like I’ve mentioned above, or am I stretching a metaphor? What’s your experience with Spreadability?


Archived Comments

  • juliewalraven

    Just what I needed to hear today, Scott. It seems that I have been doing as you have, providing content, connecting, being thoughtful, and it seems too quiet for me right now. The ebbs and flows of business are not new to me but since I started this year with a focus on only the resume writing / career marketing side of me, it’s a bit of a new world for me.

    As I have talked with other business leaders and especially those in my Christian Business Leaders group, this has been an agonizing year for most. One of the members who is in the HVAC business said even though his business is getting the lion’s share of the business, it is not enough to bring all his employees back. His business was voted small business of the year. The members that are financial advisors seem notably quieter. The building contractors that were always busy are thinking about getting out. Non-profits and churches are struggling. Using new media is still a struggle for these people but most of their businesses have been built on word of mouth from a more traditional sense.

    This is what this said to me… we are trying new strategies, new ways of doing business, but at a time when globally the economy has challenged almost everyone.

  • Robin Dickinson

    Hi Scott,

    The two main vectors facilitating spreadability are:

    1) volume-based:

    Large numbers of people;
    Shallow level of engagement;
    High churn rate;
    Low level of commitment to spread.

    Think wind scattering massive amounts pollen so that a relatively small amount is spread to target flowers. Vastly inefficient and unpredictable, but effective over a relatively short time horizon.

    2) value-based:

    Low numbers of people;
    Deep level of engagement;
    Low churn rate;
    High level of commitment to spread.

    Think bees delivering small amounts of pollen spread reliably and directly to target flowers. Very efficient after a relatively long establishment lag phase.

    Oversimplified to make the point.

    As you know, I’m building a value-based vector structure of spreadability. This involves me spending many hours getting to deeply understand and deliver value to the core few people who can spread key messages out to their sphere of influence.

    This value-based approach relies on having a strong “no” i.e. being very clear about who your core vector group is and having the discipline to say “no” to those who aren’t best fit.

    Much to discuss.

    Best, Robin :)

  • sytaylor

    There is a definite element of risk to any venture, and #likeminds has been a tremendous success, but we’re still waiting for that cross over. The ground up movements are getting bigger, and more real, while the corporate broadcasts are dressing up as being a movement.

    The presentation tells a great story about a successful event. Perhaps to follow it up, we need to know what happened from the links that were created, keep that spread momentum going?

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Julie – glad I could provide a word in season!

    It certainly is tough, and the counsel to “keep on keeping on” is worn out, but true.

    During this tough time, what have been the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt?

  • / Scott Gould

    Robin, as always, thanks for the insights.

    I would look at this like this – from the volume based, the wide scattering – you see who picks up the message and who doesn’t. You can then build value with those.

    For years I tried to hand pick people to engage with, but have found that as I scatter the seed more, I find that the ones who “get it” aren’t necessarily the ones I would’ve hand picked…

    Do you agree this is a way to start?


  • / Scott Gould

    Thanks for the comment and good point! There are so many stories and I’m aware that I’m not keeping track of them.

    The time has come for me to have some deeper discussions with people!

  • Robin Dickinson

    A value-approach needs to be much more rigorous. The criteria for ‘best fit’ must be based on spreadability factors including, but not limited to:

    * degree of influence in their field of influence;
    * potential for growth;
    * willingness to grow;
    * ability to transfer key messages without distortion;
    * long-term reliability;
    * degree of buy-in to your key principles/values.

    The fact that some spread the message and some don’t is really back to the volume model. Value is much more interested in *how” the message is spread.

    Many people *can* spread your message, but you want to attract and retain the people who are ‘best fit’ to your charter – the ‘best-fit’ vectors. This is the key. There have been many who have spread my messages, but who have not been best fit.

    Best, Robin :)

  • juliewalraven

    Well, Scott, I know I am not done learning. I think trying to “keep keeping on” is critical. I naturally share people l like with others but I don’t know if the word of mouth that fit the back fence days is working as well as it once did.

    I continue to try to fit learning into my day in addition to other things I do. Seeking the best knowledge in the industry to pass on to my clients. Lately, I have also been networking for my clients. Introducing them to potential hiring managers in the local market.

    I know that I already share resources with others for providers who are national and some even global. I think the world is smaller and word of mouth which was primarily local before, is now a much bigger picture. My WordPress expert is in Philadelphia and I met her on her blog. I am not sure how many people feel confident getting to know people online though.

  • / Scott Gould

    I’m also thinking about leadership here. Let’s say I’m building a team. I have an open invite for people to ‘get involved’, but it those who respond by DOING that I then build a deeper value based relationship with.

    For instance, out of all the people I tweeted saying “lets talk”, you and I did. I would never have hand picked you, bc I didn’t know you.

    Do you know what I mean?

  • Robin Dickinson

    Right. The difference is this…

    Even if I respond and you now know about me, a value-based model would still ask “even though he responded to the call, is Robin the best fit for the task of spreading the message?”.

    A volume model says “yes” to everyone who responds.

    A value model say “yes” only to those who fit spreadability criteria.

    Many will respond – few can deliver.

    Robin :)

  • / Scott Gould

    OK – so what I do is I only value a response when it is ACTION – as in, they show they deliver by delivering.

    So that would be value based?

  • Robin Dickinson

    Or more specifically, when it is an action by someone who fits your spreadability criteria.

    Getting very specific:

    Person 1: has 5000 followers on Twitter and is also following 5000 people. Their area of influence is unrelated to yours. They blog about unrelated topics. They have plateaued in their career, are interested in you and what you do, but not passionate. They follow rather than lead and don’t generate fresh ideas.

    Person 2: has 1000 followers and is following 50. Their area of expertise is complementary to yours. They not only blog about related topics, but they blog about you and your value. They are hungry for growth and energetically seeking to collaborate with you. They are an energetic leader, full of ideas.

    Let’s say they both respond to your call for action.

    In a value-based model, all things being equal, Person 1 is far more valuable – especially if they attract and nurture “like minds”. Now you have something incredibly valuable – an unstoppable force of spreadability. Deep and focused. Sustainable. Able to carve through the sea of sameness.

  • sytaylor

    I love the idea that fresh thinking, even young twitter users can be considered value because their unique perspective can be disruptive and useful… but should we avoid focussing on them due to their limited reach? Twitter is a pretty steep learning curve for most, especially those trying to make waves.

    Is there not something to be said for being the person who connects these two value groups?

  • / Scott Gould

    Twitter here is just an example. I’d like us to move this into leadership situations in work, or for me, church.

    Then we can get out of the limited mindset we have on Twitter

  • sytaylor

    In the work setting, I went from a position of being a basic grunt, working in the operational division (albeit as a Project Manager), to a position where I’m setting the Global mobile strategy. I was in a position of very low value, and low volume… but there is a funny story behind how the ideas themselves shone through.

    Our company does a “Lunch and Learn” thing with it’s execs. They come around, and for the most part preach the corporate word + their own twist. Then one day the Group Exec of Business Expansion turns up with the words “Hi, yes I have a slide deck behind me, but this is two way, so challenge me and ask questions. If I disagree I’ll tell you, and if I agree, you’ll be hearing from me”.

    He was looking for value, and to be challenged. I respected it, but didn’t have a clue what to do with it, being a lowly grunt told off by operational managers for challenging too much. So a week or so later I fire off an email “How come our company hasn’t even thought about facebook integration”, a reply came back within the hour “we have, they don’t want to hear what we have to say, appreciate the challenge”.

    That tiny response sparked a chain of events that lead me to a year later, getting a position working from the same director.

    So both high volume contacts, and high value ideas have their place… but crucially WE need to link them both together, because we are a link in their chain. A vital perspective.

  • Luke James

    You commented:

    ‘For years I tried to hand pick people to engage with, but have found that as I scatter the seed more, I find that the ones who “get it” aren’t necessarily the ones I would’ve hand picked…’

    This is fascinating Scott and so true to life. It’s hard not to think in cliches e.g. you never know what’s around the corner’ etc. but it’s so apt. I empathise, I really do. Recently, for me, for example, it’s been a struggle to find the right people – the people, as you say, who ‘get it’ and then, there’ll be an email, phone-call, DM or something, out of the blue and a feeling of endorsement/validation but most importantly, a huge sigh of relief that one’s not completely mad!

    You probably know my feelings insomuch that I’m not in any one camp as far as broadcast or SM is concerned. I think they live side-by-side – Ying/Yang and all that. Balance and best fit to one’s business.

    Anyway, I know I can rabbit on too much when leaving comments but get carried away!

    Fab discussion and very cool slide show. Cheers, Luke :)

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Luke – thanks for the discussion as always!

    Glad to hear that you understand where I’m at with people who “get it”. I think Robin offers excellent advice on this subject!

    I would be keen to know how you are practically navigating this challenging time, and what innovative solutions you are coming up with? For example, our church REALLY needs some people to do our media work (volunteers – we can’t pay), and we don’t have anyone coming to the fore – so I’m bringing in foreign exchange students who can do it, and in return, we help them with their language and experience.

    What’s your take on this?

    (P.S Broadcast and Social are not mutually exclusive. See the Social / Broadcast Matrix: /the-social-broadcast-matrix/)

  • Dave Lutz

    Scott, great post. I was wondering if and when you were going to reference a parable on this one ;-) . The one big difference about the seeds your spreading here is that…they have long tails. Sometimes we’re all going to put out big ideas, concepts and thoughts that are top of mind for us, but the rest of the world might not be ready for them yet. By reframing and taking different angles at different times, we eventually find a way to make the message hit home for others and get the dialogue cooking.

  • / Scott Gould

    First of all Dave, lovely to have you come by. You and Jeff have been a constant source of inspiration and encouragement – so thank you!

    How did you get my subtle allusion? :-) We actually were discussing this at a leadership meeting this morning, and I then put it down – which is pretty forward thinking for Church!

    You make a very good point – these do have long tails. And the ability to continually reexamine the core idea, like different facets on a diamond, means that if one blog post doesn’t get the idea exposure, another one with a slightly different angle might.

    The best people I know who do this is are actually you and Jeff. Midcourse Corrections, for example, is like continually looking at the same narrative but from a different characters perspective. Some of those posts get lots of exposure, others’s don’t – but because each post is within the same narrative, the idea spreads regardless.

    Would you agree?

  • Luke James

    Just crunched over the Social/Broadcast post – yes, I get it. Well-put. Been thinking a lot about this recently but from a commercial point of view i.e. print copy/photography etc. But that’s another discussion.

    As far as the challenges go with getting the right people – it’s really the old Field of Dreams mantra ‘build it and they will come’. It’s a big ask of oneself at times to have the faith that one is doing the right thing. However, validation, especially from external sources, pays dividends and fuels the spirit.

    I’ll wing over a few suggestions re. the dilemma you have with the media work you need. Let’s see if we can help in some way. The scenario you’ve described is quite similar to our own in many areas e.g. we love being able to see people grow and develop by gaining experience working in areas they’d not normally have (or at least would find it tough to learn the skills).

    The cooperative, mutual benefits are something we strongly believe in and are the bedrock of how we operate. It’s a question of being in for the long-haul and understanding that everything takes time to root.

    Cheers, Luke