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March 31, 2010

Why Sharing Matters

TheShare.001

Sharing is no longer just about good manners.  It has assumed a front row seat in the discussion about powerful leverage points at the intersection of content and influence. If you are a media company or consumer brand (and the difference between these two is shrinking in many respects), understanding how people engage with and share content is a critical skill.

And you won’t be alone. 2010 may well be the year that brands and media companies spend as much time (if not more) looking at social sharing optimization as they do at search. The sheer volume of content (both good and bad) being added to the Web is outpacing people’s ability to find what’s interesting and relevant to them. This has been leading to a decline in the overall perceived value of content, along with companies’ and individuals’ abilities to make a living from creating and distributing it, as well as brands promoting around it.

"Abundance breaks more things than scarcity does."

- Clay Shirky at SXSW 2010

But if you can build a system than increases the likelihood of providing the right content (informational or entertainment), at the right time, to the right people, there is the opportunity to reestablish value.  Generating appropriate sharing is an essential element in this “value re-establishment chain.” Sharing lifts content above the general noise level of the Web by the fact that it is deemed important by the users (both initiator and recipient of the share).

"With all the noise online. your social circle becomes a de facto filter, surfacing useful information because they know exactly what's interesting to you and what isn't.  That piece is so important - it's the essence of  influence."

- ShareThis Blog Oct 22

Sharing Stats

  • 84% of “connected consumers” share links and bookmarks – Razorfish Digital Brand Experience Report 2009
  • 50% more page views per unique via share-originated links that search
  • For many sites, sharing is now accounting for as much as one-third of the amount of traffic driven by search –ShareThis Blog, Dec 2009

"Publishers, meanwhile, are devising ways to persuade readers to share more, in much the same way they use "search engine optimization" strategies so search engines will rank them higher in search results.  A personal recommendation, they say, can be just as powerful as a referral from Google."

- NY Times, Sept 2009

Publishers and the Design Dynamics of Sharing

If sharing is becoming that powerful a source of engaged traffic, then publishers and creators need to know how and why people share in order to develop and deliver viable strategies for maximizing share-generated traffic, ad revenue and engagement. 

"If you ask a site manager, they'll know how much traffic they get from search.  But when you ask about traffic from sharing activity, they can't tell you."

- Tim Schigel, CEO, ShareThis 

So how publishers incorporate sharing capabilities is becoming increasingly important, not only because of its impact on traffic, but that it also shows that they understand the interests of their audience and want to make it easy for them to share things of interest to their communities.

ShareThis has some interesting information on how different types of media companies have addressed sharing from both technology placement and design perspectives in a post called “The Art of the Share.”   They look at the question of where to place sharing widgets (beginning or end of post) and what share platforms to breakout specifically from the widget, and how this should differ depending on the audience and media type (eg entertainment v technology site).

In the near future, sharing data may influence how publishers look at content development, and how quickly they can respond to sharing trends with more new content. Sharing patterns may also let them know that they are not covering certain areas of content in ways the audience wants.  

The Editorial Anatomy of Sharing

In addition to having the right tools to share and the appropriate design integration of that technology into the site, the content itself needs to be highly sharable from an editorial perspective.

Dan Zarrella conducted some recent research into sharing and his data contains some interesting insights into what, how and why people share content online.  The complete details and TOC can be found at his site here.

Some highlights from his sample of “why people share” provide useful food for thought as to how publishers and creators might think about the editorial nature of their content.

  • 18.6% audience relevance
  • 8.8% increase their own reputation
  • 8.6% further a specific cause or message
  • 7.4% utility and usefulness; conversation starter
  • 5.5% feedback; wanting others’ opinions
  • 5.2% meet new people

Another study from the University of Pennsylvania examines the character of the most emailed articles (email is certainly one form of sharing).  From that study:

“Perhaps most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe … They used two criteria for an awe-inspiring story: Its scale is large, and it requires “mental accommodation” by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.”

Once we understand more about why people share from an editorial perspective and have the tools to help them appropriately share and receive shares, how do we look at the editorial process to “give back” and reward “topic specific influential sharers?" This provides the potential of creating a "virtuous loop of personalized content" that fits the editorial criteria of "sharable." Might we begin to use sharing data to design customized programming experiences that could include:

  • Recommended content provided to senders and receivers of shares via a syndication of realtime topic matching (you shared this, you might also like this)
  • Special content for "topic specific" influential sharers pulled from a brand's archives or created as "behind the scenes" sneaks

    In these models, people are treated as unique individuals vs members of a broader group.  This type of customized programming can be monetized at the individual level, yet still maintain individual privacy.

    New Technologies to Facilitate Sharing

    As sharing becomes more than just a simple utility and moves toward being a core social action for Web users, existing social media companies are revamping their offerings and new ones are appearing, offering their sharing solutions to publishers and creators.  

    “The easier you make it for others to share your content with their social networks, the more you capitalize on the Internet Press — the ability to have your content taken from your central hub and then re-published on others’ hubs and among their networks…People trust their social networks much more than advertising or what a company itself says.”

    Pete Codella in Fast Company

    Three Examples

    (1) The Revamp: Digg 

    This Spring, Digg began revamping its strategy toward "social curation of all the world's content and the conversation around it ... shifting toward a personalization model, where the homepage will be based on ... a user's interests, location, who they follow not only on Digg but services like Twitter and Facebook ... and leaderboards for the infinite topic and vertical pages that will emerge, letting Digg users become trusted sources in a given niche."


    (2) The Evolution: ShareThis Stream  

    The ShareThis Stream is a real-time view of sharing across the Web, enabling users to see what content their friends have been sharing, and the comments, tweets, etc related to that content.


    (3) The New Kid: Stickybits  

    Stickybits brings the physical and digital worlds together via barcode stickers and a SmartPhone app that unlocks access to audio, video, photo, and text messages associated with an object when its code is scanned. Individuals can tag physical objects with media (text, photos, video) by applying custom stickers or correlating existing product barcodes with content. They can also receive additional notification and media from others who scan the object and attach their content to the same barcode.

    However interesting these initiatives are, the conversation needs to move from the “means of sharing” to “meaning enabled by sharing.”  Having technology in place is one piece of the equation; delivering a real user benefit and engaging experience is the other (and more meaningful) part.  While you can have searchable real-time feeds and any number of ways to rate and comment on content, it remains a solution just for geeks if it is not matched with consideration for how people want to more broadly use and interact with content.

    Too Much Information?

    As the world of digital media continues to grow at a dizzying pace, without personally relevant methods of discovery and recommendation such as sharing, users will continue to be overwhelmed and miss relevant content, or simply give up looking for anything new out of sheer frustration. 

    I'd prefer to avoid that world described in the song by The Police called "Too Much Information."

    Too much information running through my brain
    Too much information driving me insane
    Too much information running through my brain
    Too much information driving me insane

    Overkill
    Overview
    Over my dead body
    Over me
    Over you
    Over everybody     


    So can the economics of digital publishing be changed by creating a market for revealing and promoting personally relevant influence (via sharing) across the Web? I say "yes." And that’s why sharing matters. Favicon

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    I think the following quote is also relevant to your post...

    “The Internet is the most disruptive technology in history, even more than something like electricity, because it replaces scarcity with abundance, so that any business built on scarcity is completely upturned as it arrives there… You have to plan your corporate strategy around what the internet does.”
    -Google Chairman & CEO Eric Schmidt

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    Liz Gebhardt


    • © Amanda Jones
      Digital and traditional (live & broadcast) media/ marketing strategist and producer living at the intersection of Web meets (live) World. More than two decades of experience in building media and technology businesses, content programming and distribution, brand stories and integrated communications campaigns.

      Believes that strategy is all talk unless it can be executed in a way that delivers on both the creative and business promises. Embraces the role of navigator of the uncharted path vs. passenger along the known road.