March 21, 2023 / Thought Leadership

Why Social Media Marketers Should Be Creating “Spreadable” Moments Instead of Viral Ones

Alyssa Stevens, Director of PR and Social Media
Paul M. Capobianco, Cultural Anthropologist 

We hear a lot about creating content with the goal of having it go “viral,” but in actuality, that shouldn’t be what we’re working to achieve. 

Yes, in today’s digital age, it’s more important than ever for brands to have a strong presence on social media, but it really comes down to creating content that moves the needle. Content should not only be engaging and entertaining, but also powerful enough to make people want to be part of it and share it

When content goes viral, it gets shared exponentially and reaches a massive audience in a short period of time. And while viral content can be highly effective in terms of brand exposure, it’s almost impossible to predict what will go viral—and if it does, it can also be difficult for brands to control.

Instead, at Connelly Partners, we like to encourage our clients to strive for “spreadable” content. 

Spreadable content is shared by multiple users across different platforms and networks but it is remixed with their own personality or experience. It’s often shared because it resonates with a particular audience or because it sparks a conversation or debate. Spreadable content has the potential to reach a large audience, but it doesn’t necessarily have to go viral to be successful. The sheer idea of people wanting to be a part of the content speaks volumes to its effectiveness. 

As marketers, we’re always trying to conceptualize how to create a memorable and spreadable moment on social media for our clients. This often comes with evaluating the risk-reward factor. Risks, albeit calculated, can often make brands feel uncomfortable, especially when those risks are taken on platforms like TikTok, which can garner high impressions and engagements. But the reward? Well, the rewards can be immeasurable when a social campaign is well-received by the public—especially when an audience is inclined to share their own spin on it!

One of my favorite examples of spreadable content is the #ThousandDollarCrocs challenge on TikTok. In collaboration with the popular artist, Post Malone, the brand asked consumers what their own thousand-dollar Crocs would look like. In turn, they received a plethora of people bedazzling their Crocs with paint, stickers, and other personal touches. So many people posted their creations that the campaign ended up resulting in nearly three billion views—and when the $1,000 Post Malone x Crocs shoes launched, they sold out immediately! 

The book, Spreadable Media, by American scholar Henry Jenkins dives into this differentiation by challenging readers’ notions about what goes “viral” and examining the factors such as audience engagement or participation against the concepts of what “sticks” and what “spreads.”

If we go back to the actual definition of a “virus” and how that ties back to social content, it makes even more sense why this shouldn’t be what we’re trying to achieve. People aren’t just acting as passive host cells by copy and pasting viral content – they are taking part in it creatively. Spreadable content is truly a remix and when someone participates in the progression of it, it has something to do with who they are, which is much more profound. We’re able to glean what resonates with people and reverse-engineer those human reasons or guidelines to then create future social content that is spreadable.

So, why should brands be open to taking risks in order to create a spreadable moment on social media? When brands relinquish some control over the creative process and allow their audience to “co-create,” the audience sees the investment on the brand side around this real and relatable content. It welcomes people into the brand’s community and invites them to contribute, thereby lifting the barrier between the brand and consumer. Authenticity is inherently spreadable, and as humans, we want to be part of something authentic.

Marketers and brands can learn far more from spreadable content than viral content because each person that participates in the content tells you something about themselves, as opposed to leaving it ambiguous through a simple “Share” button. When we encourage this shift in thinking among our clients, we’re unlocking fresh ways to express authenticity and brand values. 

At the end of the day, content is the biggest driver of your social media presence, and if you can create content that people want to actively participate in, your potential for success skyrockets. 

How does your social media measure up?