Why Some Content Spreads Like Wildfire and Others Just Extinguish The Flame

Recently, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, Tipping Point. The pop sociologist analyzes and explains how trends are sparked. From the initial Hush Puppies fad to the spread of STDs to the unprecedented popularity of Sesame Street – Gladwell explains how seemingly small factors cause trends to balloon.

My inner geek loved this book; I couldn’t put it down. As an inbound marketer, I found myself instinctively comparing these examples to how remarkable content spreads online. The principles Gladwell outlines relate all too closely to how people share content online.

Gladwell identifies that ideas spread in one of three ways. He defines these three rules as the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context.

The Law of the Few

People share content online; I can only come up with a few good reasons:

  1. It’s something the sharer cares about.
  2. It’s content that makes the sharer look good for sharing it.

And, when someone influential gets ahold of your content and they love it, they share it.

Gladwell’s “Law of the Few” is the idea that if a thought leader in your space stumbles upon a killer infographic, a beautifully designed ebook or an inherently helpful guide, they’ll share it too.

The Stickiness Factor

Some ideas keep coming back again and again. Think about Facebook – I’ve already logged in three times today and it’s not even noon.

In the case of Facebook, it’s “sticky” because it’s social. The Stickiness Factor refers to how effectively an idea or product stays in the mind of the potential viewer or consumer.

Remarkable content keeps people coming back again and again. It’s top of mind and it’s integrated into the life of the consumer because it helps them solve a problem or be entertained.

The Power of Context

Yesterday I googled instructions to build a picnic table. I opened more than ten links from several mom and pop hardware shops, a couple DIY websites and Home Depot. Each set of instructions was simple enough, but I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to vet all the options. In the end, I chose Home Depot’s instructions because I trusted it more than any of the others.

In reality, each one could very well have provided me with instructions for building a functional picnic table, but Home Depot had the context of language a picnic-table-building-newbie like myself could understand, a website that was easy to navigate and – most importantly – Home Depot was a business I had previously shopped with and trusted. This decision-making process was the Power of Context at work.

The Power of Context says that decisions are sensitive to conditions or circumstances of the times or places in which they occur. For me, it was a lack of time and the knowledge that I trusted one source over the other.

All of these rules for how ideas spread relate to creating remarkable content. You know that content is king, but also remember that remarkable content is easily shared by influencers, stays top-of-mind over time and uses the power of context to convey its relevance.

Today, a free chapter of Inbound Marketing, a freshly released book from HubSpot founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, is available for download. This chapter focuses on content creation and why remarkable content attracts traffic online. It’s available for download below.

Free Chapter of Inbound Marketing: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers

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