If It Doesn't Spread, It's Dead

In a Feb. 1st, 2013 post to Fast Company, Sam Ford provides filmmakers (and anyone else posting content online) with some valuable insights into creating content for online marketing.

For starters, Sam Ford says it's crucial that marketers create online content that is "spreadable."

What do marketers mean by spreadable?

"Spreadability focuses on how content moves through communities and exists at multiple points of contact, with an emphasis on a diversity of audience experiences. Publishers focused on spreadability seek to motivate sharing and encourage audiences to actively engage with content on their own terms."

In other words, spreadable content is a message that users want to share with their friends because it's useful or entertaining. And truly spreadable content is presented in ways that makes it exceedingly easy to share via social media.

If this sounds like old wine in a new bottle - you're right: Spreadable content is what many of us in film marketing used to call "viral content."

Why the new term?

Viruses don't require an intentional act by the user to spread. If you're marketing a film, it's crucial to focus on what makes a user click "share" or "like."

As Lewis Hyde has observed - "If I tell my Facebook friends about your brand, it's not because I like your brand, but rather because I like my friends. I want to share something with them, in exchange for their attention and affection. And I want to say something to them about what we have in common or how I'm different."

If all this seems like common sense, it is. But consider the strategic goals that many (most?) online marketers focus on - drawing as many eyeballs as possible to a website and keeping them there for as long as possible.

In the old "let's maximize the number of page views and how long the user stays on the page" model of online marketing, the goal is sometimes referred to as "stickiness," often measured by "impressions", "page views" and "time on the page": "With stickiness, success is determined by how many individuals come to a centralized location via a uniform experience and how long they spend there. Sound familiar? It should. It's an attempt to recreate the "impressions" model of traditional media industries."

And Sam Ford thinks stickiness is not nearly as important as spreadabilty in the new online marketing world.


Sam Ford has observed that many of the metrics that marketers use (to see if their campaign is succeeding) focus on stickiness. And these measures of stickiness can overlook the truly valuable (actionable) information about which messages are connecting with which cohort - and how the engagement of those niche audiences is actually leading to the spread of the messages through their social graphs.

"Despite gains made in being able to listen to how content travels online, the stickiness model still dominates. For media companies or e-commerce sites that build their business off visits to their site, the focus on stickiness makes some degree of sense. However, even if a stickiness mindset has its place, its dominance has been too strong and has distorted the nature of online communication to conform to what's easiest for the publisher to measure and what most resembles how distribution worked in a pre-digital era, rather than what audiences find most useful. It's especially unfortunate that marketers, non-profits, educational institutions, and others that aren't primarily trying to "monetize" a particular destination have nevertheless largely adopted stickiness as their core logic for success."

In Sam Fords's opinion, if it doesn't spread it's dead. That' why Sam Ford (with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green) is the co-author of Spreadable Media, a new book that focusses on optimal online content strategies.

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