There is a fascinating phenomenon online which is to do with how people interact with content (the roles they assume). It is not unique to online but is relevant when looking at how you want to disseminate content and knowing who and where to target to have biggest effect. To summarise this lets use Facebook as an example. Generally speaking within Facebook you get 3 types of users:
This type of user tends to watch their Facebook wall and browse the content others have posted but will not actively respond to it. For example, someone might post a link to an interesting article and this user will go and read the article and read the comments but will not click the ‘like’ link or comment themselves. They are what I would describe as ‘passive’ users of the site.
The next step up from a Watcher is a Follower. This type of user will also watch and read content as it arrives but will also ‘like’ and ‘share’ the content again. A typical interaction would be that a friend posts a humorous photograph so they will ‘like’ it and then ‘share’ it on their own wall. These users are responsible for dissemination of content at rapid speed and are the users that enable ‘viral’ spread. I would describe these users as ‘passive-active’ users.
The next step up from Followers are Contributors. These are people who get involved with the content and conversations that are going on and respond. A typical interaction in this case would be that a friend posts a comment on their wall and a Contributor will respond, offering their own opinion. This type of user is someone who will willingly offer opinions on subjects they care (and sometimes don’t care) about. It is unusual to have a Contributor that isn’t also a Follower or Creator. A rare example of someone who is just a Contributor though are those described as “trolls”; users who look for things to comment on in order to provoke responses and arguments. I would describe these users as ‘active’ users.
Finally there are Creators. These are users who actively post new content on Facebook that they have created themselves. Often this will be in the form of statuses but can be more such as videos, photos and the like. There tend to be fewer creators than there are other types of user. I describe these users as ‘active-integrated’.
This idea of segregating people into user types is not a new idea. Similar studies have been done in the past such as this study in America. Every way of segregating tends to follow the same theme but why is it important? Well the key thing is to know how these roles work if you want to release your own content into the ‘social media wild’ because if you target the right roles then you will have more success.
An additional factor is the idea of influential users within these roles. A famous person, such as Stephen Fry, who is an active-integrated user will have a huge amount of followers, a large amount of whom will be in the role of ‘Follower’. So if you are able to get him to post about your content, or even contribute to it, then his followers will share this because they are his followers. This is viral in action.
So when planning a marketing campaign for a release, a key action is to identify key influential people who will talk about or repost your content. Ideally you want these influential people to review it in their own words, in the guise of a ‘Creator’. If it is in their own words then their followers will then share this even more willingly and so your content goes viral. The diamond in the rough is to have an influential ‘Creator’ post about your content who has a large amount of influential ‘Contributors’ following them. This results in rapid viral spread as it filters out across the net.
On the flip side, if you don’t actively target people then a lot of your content will fall upon the watchers of the world and just fizzle out. It is entirely possible for content to go viral naturally but if you don’t plan and target then this is much more by luck than judgement. Of course, the most important thing in the end is that your content is interesting, otherwise it will fall flat anyway.