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The Content Sharing Matrix

In the past I’ve written about Viral Content and explained there is no formula and shared tools that attempt to quantify trending videos in real time. Nevertheless, the idea of “Viral Content” is still very intriguing. More recent viral successes have raised the bar especially in the music industry with Gangnam Style and Harlem Shake, while others have taken advantage of public trust. When looking at most shared and least shared content, specifically videos, an interesting trend appears.

The more opportunities a brand gives the consumer to control the message, the more shareable that content becomes.

The primary action that makes content viral is the consumer sharing the content – rather than seeking it out. The more opportunities a brand gives the consumer to control the message, the more shareable that content becomes. Transversely, the branded content that is shared the most has less message clarity. Controlling a clear message in branded content often results in that content being stagnant.


Above is the Content Sharing Matrix, which describes the aforementioned trends.

The Quadrants

The first quadrant (upper left) is Consumer Content, which contains content created by consumers to be viewed by consumers. EA Sports successfully runs campaigns in this quadrant by enabling video game bloggers to pretest games and create video reviews. EA Sports had no control over this content and leaves the earnest review up to the video bloggers. While these videos don’t particularly get shared via a global audience, they do get viewed by a specific community – the community of gamers that EA wants. In this quadrant a brand can feed the wants and fuel the purchase intent of its target consumers.

The second quadrant (lower left) is Viral Content. Here fall videos like Double Rainbow and the Harlem Shake. These are wide spread pieces of content created by consumers. In the case of Harlem Shake, like in Quadrant 1, the brand has little control over the content and the messaging is very unclear. It is a risky quadrant to put your brand, nevertheless, the Harlem Shake viral phenomenon generated a 1.21 billion views on YouTube for artist Baauer and the #1 spot on iTunes in America and #2 in UK and Australia.

The third quadrant is Branded Content and is the safest quadrant for brands. Here lie the many commercials that brands air on television or how-to videos, which are then placed on their YouTube channels. The brand has full control over this content, alas it is not often a recipe for viral content. Only the most fanatical fans will watch your commercials. The lowest part of this quadrant is where videos like Coca-Cola’s Happiness Machine and Nike’s Find Your Greatness videos would appear, which enjoyed some sharing and wider viewership.

The fourth quadrant is Viral Branded Content a.k.a. the “Dream Quadrant.” These pieces of content are shared globally, generating awareness for the brand. The messaging, for the most part, is controlled by the brand, but the call to action become less clear the farther down you go in the quadrant. In the case of Old Spices The Man Your Man Could Smell Like video or Terry Chest Drum, which enjoyed a tremendous amount of sharing, they did not necessarily have a clear CTA. It was not until the combination of other social media activities that the brand began seeing a spike in sales. BlendTec on the other hand lies in the middle of the quadrant and has clearer messaging which proves the products value. In the most recent videos, they have incorporated consumer suggestions, giving them more control in the content.

Somewhere in the Middle

Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign falls just right of the median between quadrants two and four. Dove amplified this message, but the notion of real beauty was created through insights of an existing movement and need among women. Dove successfully built the campaign to support the existing cause, while enabling women to carry the message farther. It is a beautiful campaign that enjoys a high viewership and awareness.

Breaking Trust

Just this week Jimmy Kimmel announced his show was behind the “Twerk Fail” viral video, which moves that video from the second to the fourth quadrant. Kimmel is an entertainer and the video did, in fact, entertain. Unfortunately, the tactic of fooling the public made some feel they were taken for granted. This tactic potentially “[breaches] public trust” and had it not been for Kimmel’s profession, it could have had serious backlash – another risk of the Dream Content quadrant.


Your brand is most certainly considering different content options. The examples chosen in this post were videos because videos have an easily measured metric (views), but the Content Sharing Matrix works for other pieces of content as well. Content on Pinterest, Facebook, and even Twitter follows this model. When considering your content strategy, consider which quadrant and which part of that quadrant would be an effective target for your brand. Aim for that target by fine tuning messaging, message context and distribution to get the most out of your content.

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