Content and Sharing, Part 1

By John Eberhard

As part of my recent R&D project on search engine optimization, I read an excellent book entitled “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer.

One of the things I learned from this book was that, as I had long suspected, that it is not enough to simply write good content and put it up on your website. Despite what Google has been telling us for 4+ years, just writing content and putting it up on your site, by itself will do nothing. You will not get tons of links coming to your site from other sites.

Instead, once you write some new content, your job is just beginning. It is your job at that point to get people to share and link to your content. I learned from Schaefer that there are specific reasons people will share content:

“People share content for hundreds of reasons, but there is a uniform process behind it inexorably linked to self-image, caring for others, and even compassion for an author or brand… While most marketers have understandably had their heads down producing content and building their audience, it’s time to look up again and see that we need to build a third competency – an ignition plan.”

“Research firm eMarketer reports that 83 percent of brand marketers view social sharing as the primary benefit of social sharing because 70 percent of consumers say they are more likely to make a purchase based on a friend’s social media updates.”

So we can see that getting people to share your content, on social media, is a vital part of content dissemination today. But what exactly makes people share content?

“Understanding why people choose to share content sheds light on how you can adjust your strategy and carve out a competitive edge by embedding shareability into everything you create. Think about content you recently shared. Why did you do it? Do any of these reasons ring true?”

  • “It made you look cooler, smarter, funnier, or more relevant – providing you with a personal psychological benefit.
  • “The content struck some strong emotional chord. It made you laugh, cry, or otherwise feel something so profound it deserved to be shared with others.
  • “It’s practical or timely. Sharing the content will help and inform your friends.
  • “You found a new idea and can’t wait to be the first to share it.
  • “You feel deeply connected to the author and you want to support them.
  • “It represents an achievement. Maybe you or your company were mentioned in the content and it makes you feel good to show this representation of your status.

“An average Twitter user retweets only one in 318 content links they receive. Facebook reports that just one-half of one percent of those who see a Facebook post share it. These sobering numbers suggest that actively finding and nurturing that miniscule number of the most active users is critical to spreading your information on the web.”

The New York Times sponsored research that determined there are five powerful reasons people overcome apathy and share content:

  • “To be useful. The number one reason people share content is to bring valuable and entertaining content to others. More than 90 percent of study participants said they carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to recipient.
  • “To define ourselves to others. Nearly 70 percent of participants said they share content to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about. One respondent said ‘I try to share information that reinforce the image I’d like to present – thoughtful, reasoned, kind, interested, and passionate about certain things.’
  • “To grow and nourish relationships. About 80 percent of participants share information online because it lets them stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with. A little over 70 percent share content to help connect them to new people who share common interests.
  • “Self-fulfillment. About 70 percent of participants share content because it allows them to feel more involved in the world. The act of getting positive feedback on shares makes people feel valued.
  • “To get the word out about causes and brands. More than 80 percent of participants said they share content to rally others around a cause, company, or idea they believe in.”

I felt like this results of this New York Times study was a total revelation. Because I could see myself in that list, and those were totally the reasons I personally decide to share things on social media. No doubt you can look at that list and see some or all of the reasons you decide to share something on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media sites.

So how do we use this? We use this when we are deciding what content we are going to create. We try to create content that people will want to share with others, because it satisfies one of the reasons above. And we may find that the type of content we create will change, as we learn to create content that will be shared. Because likes and comments are great, but sharing is the Holy Grail in social media.

In Part 2, I will discuss the general saturation level of content on the Internet today and how to do best deal with that.