Start spreadin’ the news

The Internet has redefined the way people produce and distribute information. Now it’s up to organizations to figure out how to generate interest and revenue in the new environment.

In the new ecosystem top-down distribution doesn’t work. Spreading information does. That’s how online social networks operate and why advertisers are clamoring to reach the influencers who dominate those networks. But the network is only half the issue. The other half is content. Here an organization’s goal should be to create information that others want to spread. Think humorous YouTube videos.

Tin can phoneThis is all by way of Henry Jenkins, the founder and former co-director of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT and author of Convergence Culture. In his new book, Spreadable Media, Jenkins takes the idea of media convergence a step further by discussing how and why the digital generation distributes information. And in that explanation is a clue for corporations, journalists and other news generators about how to join the conversation.

So how do organizations survive in the digital ecosystem? His mantra on information is simple: If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.

Take the case of bloggers, people Jenkins calls “grassroots intermediaries” who help spread news by way of their online social connections. They don’t treat their information as proprietary. The best news sources and brands create content and then “actively encourage readers to spread their materials, often directly courting them as participants in the process of distribution.”

To make this distribution process work a source must ensure the content is relevant to the audience. “People are making conscious decisions to aid the circulation of certain content because they see it as a meaningful contribution to their ongoing conversations,” he says. That requires sources to reframe their view of content and distribution. “For the producer, the content may be a commodity or a promotion; for the consumer, it is a resource or a gift.”

You can read the full interview with Jenkins by Nikki Usher at the Nieman Journalism Lab of Harvard University.