The Second Generation of Sharing

By Guest Comment

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Social sharing is in the midst of an evolution from first-generation, simple widget-based sharing to platforms of social optimization tools for publishers to drive growth and engagement, leveraging the very basic human desire to share.

From the early 2000s with the creation of the early social networks like Friendster and MySpace to later in the decade with the growth and dominance of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, we have had places to share things we discover on the Internet to both social and professional networks. This has resulted in explosive growth in social sharing and the consequent uses of the data generated.

Approximately 1.8 billion of the 2.5 billion global Internet users today use social networks, and 470 million of them share on Facebook alone (on the ShareThis network, Facebook accounts for 85 percent to 90 percent of our shares in any given month).

In the U.S., 44 percent of the Internet population shares, and a 2014 study by Fractl showed that there were 2.6 billion shares of the 1 million most popular articles in a six-month period. In the U.S. alone, there are as many shares of content as there are global Internet users. Sharing is now mainstream and happening at scale.

Sharing is a rare and very meaningful digital act. When sharing is compared to the other popular digital acts and measurements, you start to see its true value.

In a typical digital session work flow of an average person, several pages are browsed, creating many impressions and lots but fewer clicks into the content of a given page. People will then search for things via a search engine, which registers even stronger intent and explicit interest in a topic or content. Finally, if and when we decide to share something at the end of this work flow, it is only because what we are sharing is very meaningful to us in some way and we decide to take the time to share it with friend or colleagues–relative to other digital acts, sharing is rare and meaningful. That makes this data very valuable for publishers.

The early 2000s first generation of sharing was characterized by:

  • Simple social share widgets that showed up as icons on publishers’ articles and posts.
  • Novelty for early social media/network adopters to use.
  • Drove counts on publishers sites that indicated popularity of content.
  • Ignored dark social email-based copy/paste shares that tend to dominate sharing.

The second generation of social sharing that emerged in the past year is now characterized by:

  • Common practice across all Internet demographics indexed to growth and adoption of Facebook by mainstream population, a scaled, network effect.
  • Simple widgets evolve into platform of tools that enable publishers to both optimize content and audience growth.
  • Dark social brought into the light and now measurable with on-page-embedded JavaScript.
  • Sharing becomes a powerful audience growth vehicle on par with SEO/SEM/paid campaigns–it is the earned media vehicles driving publisher engaged audience growth–not just clicks, but truly interested new readers/consumers.

The desire to share is rooted deep within; it reflects passions, wants and lifestyles that are constantly fluctuating throughout the day, week and month. Exchanging information with and distributing compelling content to others is a form of expression that says a lot about an individual.

People are becoming creators of content, and information exchange has become a well-known currency that truly caters to the innermost being. It creates a level of engagement that quickly becomes personal, and it is only increasing as colleagues, friends and family are spreading the word about causes they care about, articles that spark curiosity, entertaining videos, family photos and more. On the ShareThis network, this happens more than 3 billion times each month.

It is time for comScore and/or Nielsen to start to measure cross-channel sharing across all publishers and sharing tool providers just like they measure searches, video views and other popular click-types.

We have found that using data science to identify these human sentiments leads to a better understanding of people, which can ultimately lead to a more personal and relevant digital experience. Discovering information that is important and wanting to share it with others comes naturally, which has in turn pivoted the Internet away from being simply a utility source and has instead turned it into a social sphere of engagement, personal expression, human connection and so much more.

Publishers are realizing this, as well, and using this data and consequent audience understanding to drive both content creation strategies and monetization of their content. ShareThis has been part of this evolution of consumer sharing and publisher tools since 2007, and it recently refreshed its brand and website to better represent this new generation of sharing.

Today’s data-driven marketing organizations have an insatiable appetite for more authentic data to help them understand their customers. Witness the recent acquisition of AddThis by Oracle‘s Marketing Cloud business unit.

The dynamic sharing data, when overlaid with customer-relationship-management systems and the like, provides a recent and better-defined view of their consumers’ true interests at any moment in time, leading to more personalized marketing and better-adapted customer-driven business decisions.

As the digital act of sharing bridges the divide between impersonal digital data and personal human expression, sharing data elevates the customer ID and digital data associated with consumers, resulting in a true understanding of complex people.

Ed Haslam is the chief marketing officer of consumer engagement and sharing tools provider ShareThis.

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Photo credit: GotCredit via VisualHunt / CC BY

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