Spreadable Media

Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture

Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green

Spreadable Media at MiT8

Monday, May 20, 2013   7:42

Two sessions at MIT’s Media in Transition 8 conference at the beginning of May focused on the Spreadable Media project. First, Spreadable Media contributor Chris Weaver moderated a discussion with Spreadable Media co-author Sam Ford; fellow contributors  Whitney Phillips and Kevin Driscoll; and Harvard University’s Jonathan Zittrain and Microsoft NERD’s Kate Miltner, on “The Dark Side of Spreadability.” The discussion covered issues from disruption of people’s sense of privacy as content crosses from the private to the public domain. No video of the session exists, but thanks to Giovanni Boccia Artieri for a comprehensive Storify of the Twitter action from the session.

Meanwhile, Sam Ford also moderated a session, focused on “Transnational Dimensions of Spreadable Media,” with co-author Henry Jenkins and project contributors Nancy BaymEthan Zuckerman, and Aswin Punathambekar, discussing lessons from case studies ranging from Ghanan responses to “Gangnam Style” and participatory culture in digital India to emerging international business models for independent musical artists and the growing transmedia storytelling industry in Brazil. See a great recap from MIT Center for Civic Media’s Erhardt Graeff.

For a more comprehensive round-up of the conference, see these thoughts from Fiona McQuarrie.

Spreadable Media April Round-Up

Wednesday, May 1, 2013   10:42
  • VICE documentary Lil Bub & Friendz recently won Best Feature Film (online) at the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary features co-author Sam Ford, commenting on the popularity of cats online. See mentions of Sam’s role in the film at Indiewire and WSJ Speakeasy.
  • Co-author Henry Jenkins recently spoke with screenwriter, songwriter, and media thinker Terrence McNally on KPFK/WBAI’s Free Forum.
  • In his post a few weeks ago about co-author Sam Ford’s appearance on Marketing Profs’ Marketing Smarts podcast, Matthew Grant, the program’s host, asks, “Should Business Books Make You Think?” Grant distinguishes categories of business books: “how to,” “how to better do things,” and “reconceptualization,” for instance. But Spreadable Media is the type of business book that “makes you think.” Writes Grant, “Rather then tell you to do something, the book invites you to question what you are doing and, as a result of that questioning, consider what you might do instead. In other words, it doesn’t tell you to do, it asks you to think.”
  • Henry was also recently a guest on J.C. Hutchins’ Storyforward podcast, talking about, among other subjects, Spreadable Media.
  • Marta Boni provides a thorough review of Spreadable Media in French at Culture Visuelle.
  • Rachel Hoover writes, in a review of Spreadable Media for Library Journal, that the book is “a timely and accurate account of the current state of media in our networked culture.”
  • Co-authors Henry Jenkins and Sam Ford were recently guests on Lisa Loving’s Wednesday Talk Radio at KBOO in Portland, Oregon, to talk about various implications of Spreadable Media for community activism and citizens in general.
  • Henry also recently published a piece at Transmedia Coalition, entitled “Six Reasons Why Transmedia Producers Should Read Spreadable Media.
  • Sheron Neves recommends the book to Portuguese-language readers, at Meditations in an Emergency. The press is hard at work on a translated version!
  • Ethnography Matters connected Spreadable Media with An Xiao Mina’s presentation at the Microsoft Social Computing Symposium about what Ugandans choose to pass along via online communication.
  • Brian Lemond of Brooklyn United listed the Spreadable Media session at this year’s South by Southwest as one of the top five SXSW highlights. Elsewhere, Jon Woods at GroundFloorMedia also lists the authors’ SXSW session as a conference highlight, in response to a recent Fast Company piece from co-author Sam Ford.
  • Among the top recommendations from this year’s South by Southwest conference from the American Library Association’s dh+lib blog was Spreadable Media co-authors Henry Jenkins’ and Sam Ford’s Ideadrop House session for librarians.
  • Also, librarian Marc Compton wrapped up his series analyzing the implications of Spreadable Media for librarians at the end of March. See Part 6 and Part 7.
  • Gardner Campbell writes in a recent EDUCAUSE interview about the implications of “bring your own device” trends in higher education on the concept of “spreadable learning,” evoking Spreadable Media.
  • Spreadable Media has also been the subject of some discussions about the ebook market. NYU Press’ business manager, Tom Helleberg, joins Len Edgerly at The Kindle Chronicles, and the conversation turns both to concepts from Spreadable Media, as well as the press’ approach to the actual book itself. Also, a German podcast discusses the pricing of ebooks in the U.S. versus Germany, using Spreadable Media as an example.
  • Greg Greenberger at BoomGen Studios calls Spreadable Media “a fascinating exploration of how media today is becoming a two-way street.”
  • Melanie Peck at The Viral Ad Network calls Spreadable Media “a little gem…about the nature of audience engagement.”
  • At Western Kentucky University, co-author Sam Ford’s undergraduate class has been blogging about issues related to the book throughout the semester. Also, Ford gave a talk at WKU a few weeks back about the book, as part of the Thoughts on Pop series hosted by WKU’s Popular Culture Studies program.
  • Rodrigo Castaqeda and M. Pierre Berger have posted their reviews of Spreadable Media on Amazon.
  • See other reactions to/mentions of Spreadable Media across the blogosphere at the MIT Center for Civic Media, the USC Rossier School of EducationUSC #FRICTIONSteamFeedTapioca.tvTelevisualRed GypsyLutheran ConfessionsCommunication for Effectiveness in Spanish, the “A Southern Heart” blog (Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4), Hannah Wilson’s The New Me(dia) and Samantha Weisman’s A New Perspective on New Media at Cornell University, Nathan Schulman at Reinhardt University, The Digital OysterCultural CuriosMediální proroci in Czech, Changing the World One Blog at a TimeEntertainment Media, and Sarah’s Thoughts (Part 1Part 2, and Part 3). Also, see this response to Whitney Phillips’ essay for Spreadable Media and this response to William Uricchio’s essay for the project.

News Round-Up: MarketingProfs and Librarians Talk Spreadability

Friday, March 22, 2013   7:32
  • This week, Spreadable Media co-author Sam Ford was the guest on MarketingProfs’ Marketing Smarts podcast. Host Matthew Grant says the book’s arguments “can make us think differently about marketing as a practice,” with notions he calls “refreshing.”
  • Elsewhere, librarian Marc Crompton has been actively writing about the book’s implications for librarians. See Part 4 and Part 5 of his installments on reactions to the book, as well as his post on this library course blog.

Media Round-Up: New Talks & Pieces from Authors

Monday, March 18, 2013   12:34
  • In a guest piece for the Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy blog, Spreadable Media co-author Sam Ford examines “What Soap Operas Teach Us about Online Business Models,” looking at the distinction between models of “stickiness” and models of “spreadability.”
  • In his latest Fast Company piece, co-author Sam Ford questions, “Does Your Company Listen to Social Media–or Simply Hear It?” (Also, see follow-up pieces on this subject from Mason Walker at Portland Business Journal and from the 2020 Workplace blog.
  • Spreadable Media authors Sam Ford and Henry Jenkins recently discussed the book with David Schwartz on the New Books in Journalism podcast.
  • O’Reilly Media has released the video of co-author Henry Jenkins’ recent panel with Cory Doctorow and Brian David Johnson at the Tools of Change for Publishing conference. Also, see this piece from InfoTrends’ Jim Hamilton on the panel.

Spreadable Media at SXSW

Friday, March 15, 2013   6:33

Spreadable Media co-authors Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green were in Austin for SXSW last week. The authors had about 900 people on-hand for their talk. Sorry to those who weren’t able to get a signed copy of the book after the bookstore sold out! See below for a few pictures from SXSW (as well as our book display from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference earlier in the week), as well as a range of related links about Henry, Sam, and Joshua’s talk in Austin.

For those who weren’t able to attend at SXSW, an audio podcast of their session is now live (which i-docs has listed as one of the “awesome,” “don’t miss out” sessions from this year’s conference, and which Hugh Garry recommended by stating that the book “is as an important read today as Convergence Culture was when written”).

In other SXSW news, check out all three authors talking with genConnect about the book from SXSW’s media room. Also, Henry did a five-part series with ad agency Leo Burnett about the session. (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.)

Elsewhere, Henry and Sam talked with the Electronic Resources & Library’s #IdeaDrop project at SXSW about the implications Spreadable Media has on librarians in particular. (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.) For those particularly interested in the implications the book has on librarians, also see Marc Crompton’s ongoing series about the book. (See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

You can also see blogs on the SXSW talk from Scoop.it’s Clair Byrd, Sarah Skerik with PR Newswire’s Beyond PR blog, the International Packaging Association, Jinah Kim and Danny Muller at Moxie Interactive, Scott Woodhouse at Agency News, Jon Woods at GroundFloor Media,and Dave Jones of the Viral Ad Network.

Also, see Storify collections from the SXSW session from Gayané AdourianHugh Garry, Krisleigh Hoermann, Patricia Marinho, and Michiel Rovers, and notes on the session here, here, and here.

Spreadable Media launch party at NYU Press!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013   9:23

On February 13th, NYU Press held a launch party for Spreadable Media. Check out the photos below featuring authors Joshua Green, Sam Ford, and Henry Jenkins. Needless to say, we had a blast hosting them!

Media Round-Up: Reviews and an Interview with Henry Jenkins

Wednesday, March 13, 2013   9:17
  • Karen Fratti calls Spreadable Media “required reading for the digital newsroom” in her recent article.
  • Publishers Weekly reviews Spreadable Media.
  • Reviewers T. Sales and Robert Morris have posted thoughtful reviews of the book on Amazon.com. Morris’ review also appears at his blog.
  • Bloggers Brian Belen and Nicolle Lamerichs have also penned reviews of Spreadable Media.
  • Henry Jenkins speaks about youth civic engagement, Moby-Dick and prisoners, and fandoms in his conversation with the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub of the MacArthur Foundation.
  • Here’s a Tumblr recommendation for Spreadable Media in Greek from George Apostolopoulos.
  • A zebra and a giraffe walk into a bar…and talk Spreadable Media? Here’s a student video about the book.
  • Check out Helen Keegan’s podcast with Coventry University, referring to the book.

Spreadable Media: Talk at SXSW

Thursday, March 7, 2013   9:33

What is the cultural logic behind shared media?

Join the authors of Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture at SXSW on Friday, March 8th from 5:00PM – 6:00PM to leap into this ongoing discussion.

Featuring Sam Ford, Joshua Green, and the so-called “Godfather of Transmedia” (according to Juan Garcia) Henry Jenkins, this hotly-anticipated session highlighted by the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship at MIT will discuss core concepts from the book and continue the conversation about the new landscape of “shareable” media. Looking at the “why” of this trend rather than simply the “how,” this session will provide a valuable dialogue with experts in the field and help attendees envision their own online strategies in a whole new light.

In Marketing, People Are Not Numbers

Thursday, March 7, 2013   8:00

—Sam Ford

[Note: This article originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review on 2/13/2013. Read it here.]

For marketers, there was much to like about the broadcast era. It was easy to pretend things were simple, even when they weren’t: general aggregate numbers and basic demographic data served were “close enough” for understanding audiences.

Now, though, media content is controlled as much by the audience as by traditional distributors. We find ourselves in the age of what my coauthors and I call spreadable media. Sharing articles, video, and other content is an everyday part of life for a significant portion of the population. “Close enough” really doesn’t work all that well anymore.

Still, corporate logics have tried to preserve the old models and to fit new phenomena into familiar management patterns. Here are three fundamental ways companies are trying to resist the nature of today’s media environment.

1. Transforming People into Data. As companies became their own online publishers, they used the logic of “stickiness” to maintain an impressions-based model for understanding audiences, defining success by visits, clicks, likes, time spent per page, and so on, and turning audiences into quantitative data that can be easily collected and compared.

Similarly, as companies monitor what people say outside corporate-owned platforms, they often convert conversation into stats. In Spreadable Media, we call this “hearing,” because it focuses primarily on recording what has been said. Companies have invested deeply in making sure they have collected most or all mentions of the company and that they have easy ways to convert that to “sentiment” and “share of voice.”

But most companies put little emphasis on “listening,” an active process focused on the context of what the audience is saying. As “Big Data” becomes the predominant buzzword across marketing disciplines, companies risk paying even less attention to deeply understanding the full context of the communities they are trying to reach.

2. Maintaining a Distance. How we talk about content makes it the active ingredient and audience members the passive carriers. “Going viral” insinuates some scientific phenomenon through which audiences have no choice but to spread certain content. “Meme” adopts the language of gene replication to describe how material spreads. It’s implied that you don’t need to “know” the audience members themselves but rather just track the resulting pandemic.

Some marketers do see audiences as socially connected networks rather than aggregate data but still have the impulse to find some other shortcut to actual, meaningful participation in those communities. One of the most popular concepts in marketing today is “the influencer,” a model which presumes that any community includes a few people who, if they get on board with an idea, will bring everyone else along for the ride. Once again, the company doesn’t have to actually participate in relationships with most of their audience — just the shepherds who everyone else follows mindlessly.

3. Making Them Come to You. A core myth has traditionally governed marketing: that the industry is solely focused on the art of persuasion, on trying to align audiences with whatever the corporation wants them to do. Marketers still see their calling much the same as they did in the broadcast era: to pump out one-way messages and get audiences to buy whatever the company is selling (figuratively and literally).

The era of spreadability provides a transformational opportunity: for marketing and communications to act as the listening ear of the company, and to help better align the company to address the wants and needs of its various constituencies. Often, the information, service and expertise companies provide customers are as important as products and services themselves. Marketing and communications will best serve an organization when they put their primary emphasis on serving its audiences.

Sam Ford is Director of Digital Strategy at Peppercomm and co-author, with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green, of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. Sam can be found on Twitter @Sam_Ford.

Companies Have Split Personalities

Tuesday, March 5, 2013   8:15

—Sam Ford

[Note: This article originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review on 2/26/2013. Read it here.]

If companies are individuals, they often seem to have dissociative identity disorder. For many organizations, each division, function and channel has its own personality. And, frequently, there are no core corporate values consistently reflected from communications across the enterprise, so that various departments have no common ground from which to work.

For most large organizations, the core of their corporate infrastructure was developed during the broadcast era. At a time when most media formats were distinct and channels of communication to various specialized audiences more direct, the company saw value in managing relations with each of its stakeholders largely in isolation.

In effect, this means many entities treat government relations, investor relations, and human resources as distinct departments aimed at a specialty audience with little coordination.

Meanwhile, the different parts of the organization understands customer in disparate ways: the sales team, the “.com” team, the customer service team, the marketing team, and the corporate communications team are all communicating with the customer, but inconsistently. Not without good reason. Each of these departments is organized by the training and professional standards of their discipline. For instance, customer service professionals are often assessed based on metrics of efficiency: how quickly can they get off the phone with each customer, and how many calls can they take in an hour? The sales team might be measured by the exact opposite metrics: how deeply can they engage a customer? And marketing and communications may be measured by numbers of impressions: what scale of customers can they reach?

As my co-authors and I write in Spreadable Media, this means that customers’ relationships with the companies they do business with can be quite complicated. For instance, a cable provider might call a customer once a month to promote the “triple play” package. But, when that customer encounters a service disruption and calls in, it may take 15 minutes to get through to someone.

In actuality, the customer service and sales teams report into different members of the C-Suite, work on campuses in different states, and may be run by leaders who barely know one another. But, as a customer, we often buy into the idea that corporations are individuals, and we expect their brands to behave as human beings would.

Even within marketing and communications, these disconnects are significant. Corporate communications, the “digital team,” and the various marketing/advertising divisions sometimes find themselves pitted against one another, vying to “own” various channels of communication. These internal turf wars are often mistaken as corporate greed for power but, in actuality, may determine whose team might expand and who might eventually have to let people go.

In the face of such infrastructural challenges, trying to implement new, qualitative efforts to build deeper relationships with customers, to listen more thoroughly to various stakeholders, and to act as an ombudsman on the customer’s behalf to better align the organization in service of its audiences can be daunting, and the continued reliance on traditional metrics understandable.

The solution lies in finding common-sense ways to disconnect the flow of communications solely from operating via the org chart. The more horizontal connections an organization creates, the more collaboration that can be created outside these silos. For this to work enterprise-wide, senior leadership must facilitate an environment which makes internal collaboration safe.

But this isn’t something that just happens at the enterprise level. Teams within the organization can also make this kind of change a priority without waiting for a “cure-all” approach from the top. I’ve seen many instances where communications and customer service, or marketing and sales departments, have streamlined longstanding disconnects, due to the commitment of both teams at all levels to foster a more sustained and integrated working relationship.

No matter what state internal collaboration is in at your organization, though, the urgency of this issue is clear. Companies that are truly connecting all their communications internally stand a better chance of seeing potential crises, flagging potential opportunities, and moving swiftly as the world around them changes. And those that don’t will continue to turn a blind eye as their brand equity slowly erodes, one seemingly insignificant inconsistency at a time.

Sam Ford is Director of Digital Strategy at Peppercomm and co-author, with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green, of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. Sam can be found on Twitter @Sam_Ford.

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