Why Content Spreads: An idea-centric model

Social is how content flows

That sentence has been running around in my head ever since I first read it. The context is that brands view social as the “panacea” (Yakob’s word) in terms of an in-bound marketing model. A flawed model argues Yakob.

To me, social is all about exchanges. Mostly content, but I like using ideas. Content implies a static vehicle comprised of bits of data. I believe that we are often motivated to exchange content for reasons that are related to a larger, overarching idea.

For example, product meaning is socially constructed in our economy; the meaning of content is socially constructed through exchanges.

I wrote a blog focused on developing a better understanding of social and the impact ideas, not branded content, have on social exchanges. The thesis was simple: Ideas are what connect people. Content is the conduit that spreads ideas and moves messages through a network.

Why Does Content Spread?

This is an important question, because our attention is limited and we are no longer passive in our consumption of media. If brands want to build content meant for remixing and spreading, understanding why consumers engage in this behavior is awfully important. Research is beginning to show the lack of attention brand-centric content encourages. HERE and HERE

As Juliet Chen wrote: “The brand’s role is no longer just to broadcast, but to listen, participate and inspire action.”

People consume content because it engages them in some way. Idea-centric content is content that taps into the social and cultural nuances of everyday life. It is engaging content that ultimately gets exchanged.

Chen’s statement follows the foundations of Lewis Hydes’s gift economy proposition. In the gift economy, content must engage and serve the interest of both consumers and producers. The power of idea-centric content is that ideas can be expanded, leveraged, showcased, as well as, inspiring, defining or motivating.

On social, brand-centric content that focuses on pure value proposition, remains static. As Hyde posited, social is about value. Valuable content is dynamic.

To understand social you must first understand the value derived in social exchanges. In one way, ideas have the ability to be flexible. Consumers can interact with an idea for multiple reasons. For example, an idea may signal a certain identity. The social exchange helps to present a specific identity.

Value in Identity

Ideas can reference identity. Thus, idea-centric content can be used to signal identity through social exchanges. Not only can the sharing of content signal an identity, but also social exchanges provide knowledge of how to properly execute certain behaviors and consumption-related cues (Crossfit + Paleo). We exercise identity through convergent and divergent behavior.

Idea-centric content taps into ideas that help consumers project social and cultural capital. Therein lies the value for the consumer. Ideas can be rallying points – around a cause or group – for people. We share to enhance our standing within a certain group- to achieve a desired impression. We also share to deepen our connections with others. We do this to achieve a shared experience or establish stronger social bonds.

Be More Human


Early this year Reebok launched its “Be More Human” campaign. The global campaign hopes to reverse the brands loss of market share. “Be More Human” is a campaign that seeks to align itself with the “tough” fitness trend. This is a great example of content built on an idea.“Be More Human” denounces the sterile, florescence-infused messaging toward the chain-enthusiast crowd, and creates a reference point for those seeking to identify with very specific identity.



Not only is this a statement that can take on multiple meanings, but it can be remixed and embedded into consumers’ lives. The content itself can be recreated, too. If you dig a bit deeper, Rebook also created a platform where people can measure how human they are. Users receive a score and a profile, all of which can be used to signal a specific identity.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 3.30.18 PM

It is always interesting to see if (or how) user-generated content mirrors the brands’. If being more human means exhibiting grit (Reebok’s word), then the content should focus on the everyday grit of exercise.

Not only can people use the #bemorehuman campaign to signal a specific identity, they can take Reebok’s content as examples of how to exhibit it. Some examples above.


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