For those brands that want to live and breath in the stream that is the internet, traditional media just doesn’t flow organically through this system. Wouldn’t it be nice if content just organically found your audience and you didn’t need to pay a cent for reach?
We’ve all seen this happen in the age of the internet. The power of a meme to go viral is unparalleled to anything you can pay for… but how can we harness it?
In reading other articles on why things don’t share i’ve seen advice ranging from; it needs to entertain! to it needs to provide self fulfilment… whatever that means.
It was difficult to find helpful advice in this area.
The answer to this problem should be obvious… because we share all the time.
The clearest answer to this problem of virality, it seems is to think about media in two distinct ways. Consumable media and shareable media. Consumable media is that media in which you can lose yourself in, be transported to other worlds for long periods of time and truly feel like you’ve been walking with dinosaurs or that you were right there with Frodo inside Mount Doom!
When content creators think about consumable media, we consider it a very personal inward experience. For most audiences [unless you’re a movie critic] it’s difficult to articulate that experience into words:
How was the movie?
It was… pretty good.
AND THAT’S IT!
All of that complexity doesn’t translate into conversation.
The artist vision is brought to you in its full form, and you either get the content or you do not. This is usually aimed at the most general audience possible, and it’s why traditional media conjured up terms like “minimum viable relatability”. This is why four transformer movies have been made and why they will keep getting made into the foreseeable future. Minimum viable relatability is also why ‘Friends’ and a bunch of other sitcoms get made. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it will never be shareable media.
The plastic bag scene from American Beauty is never going to be a viral hit.
It’s not shareable. It doesn’t have what we would call ‘social value’ outside of specifically referencing this scene.
However, throw a random assortment of bad quality cat videos together and BOOM! instant viral success.
At the time of writing this, the cat compilation is at well over 90 million views
The big questions are:
What is it about the cat video’s or the plethora of meme’s out there that makes them shareable?
What is the mechanic that makes some content more sharable than others?
The good news! There is a framework that makes sense of this viral mess. This is best expressed through the post-structuralists of the 1950’s. In particular, Duchamp sums up these ideas in his essay ‘the creative act’.
“The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and this adds his contribution to the creative act.”
The creative act
To simplify the relationship between shareable and consumable,
We would describe Post-structural media as something simple, not complex, however it also has strong social value to individuals. The complexity in post-structural media comes from the relationships between the consumers of the media. The consumers share the content because it has strong social value to them, or to someone they know. The content means something different to each individual in each social transaction. That is your post-structuralist audience.
The cat video’s share statements are likely to sound something like…
“Only cat owners will understand this”
“You like cats, here is a cat video I found for you”
“This cat video made me lol, I hope that it makes you lol too”
The cat videos have social value.
Post-structuralism works because of the appropriation of language. The media can speak better than you can.
We send faceplam.jpeg, because this expresses our contempt or shame better than words can.
We show Orson Wells clapping because this .gif can articulate appreciation and delight better than our words can.
We use media as a proxy for communication, and that makes it shareable.
Getting this far is really only half the puzzle. The next question you need to ask is how can our brand use social values?
No one knows your business like you, and social media gives you the opportunity to test your basic assumptions about the social values your consumers hold.
So if no one is sharing your content, get back to the drawing board and consider some new social values.