Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Online Content Sharing - The New WOM

The company responsible for the ubiquitous ShareThis icon (see the bottom of this post) has just released a study called “The Ins and Outs of Online Sharing.” The study, conducted by Forrester, provides some fascinating insights into content sharing on the web. Let me give you some of the study highlights.

Who Shares?

A majority of Internet users do share. Interestingly, more adults share email. Not surprisingly, youth (13 to 17) do more sharing of other media types. Are you using videos, wikis (that one surprises me; are there wikis that reach young people, or is it just Wikipedia?), and walls/discussion boards to reach young people?

What Do They Share?

Just read down the list. They share a lot of things! And the only content area where there’s a large difference between adults and young people is the entertainment category. That’s not surprising; how similar adults and youth are in the sharing of other types of content is. Are you providing the kinds of content that your audience most desires?

How Do They Share? Adults mostly use email. Young people share through IM, mobile, and their social networks. That’s hardly a revelation. But marketers need to think about their audience and how they want to share information. Are you making it easy for your audience to share content?

Why Do They Share?
Read this one carefully—people share because they want to help others. (I’ve seen/heard that before, especially in discussions of travel sites where you can share experiences.) It’s an overriding motivation, and it doesn’t differ much between adults and youth. Users also share because they’ve found shared information useful, to share information about product quality, and just simply to show their enthusiasm. Wow—the top 4 reasons are positive. Dissatisfaction is number 5 and the incidence is much lower. Are you making it easy for customers to share their experiences with your product?

Is It Easy to Share? The good news is that it’s generally pretty easy. The number is well under 50% for most types of sharing. Youth experience more problems. That’s not surprising; they are sharing various types of media and that makes them more likely to run into problems. Are you removing obstacles that inhibit your audience from sharing?

The study also identified an intriguing segment—the Power Sharers. Power sharers use technology other than email to share content at least once a week. They also:

• Share with more people, regardless of the channel they are using
• Share different types of content more frequently
• Share for additional reasons. They are more likely to be motivated by community and by what the report characterizes as “self-expression.”
• Face more obstacles to sharing, especially lack of relevant contact information.

Pure and simple, these are opinion leaders. They’ve always existed and they’ve always been powerful. The Internet lets them exercise their particular expertise and passions in ways never before possible. It gives them the potential to reach more people than ever before.

Are you trying to identify opinion leaders and harness their enthusiasm in the service of your community?

Take another look at the Pickens Plan. I got an email from two individuals as soon as I joined; one was the regional coordinator. He’s being very quiet about how this now-sizeable community is being run, but I assume these people are volunteers. If I’m right, it’s an impressive harnessing of the enthusiasm and outreach of opinion leaders.

The report is lengthy and well interpreted. You can request a copy from Jeremy Bock at ShareThis.

These data remind me that Web 2.0 isn’t about technology. While Web 1.0 was about communication, Web 2.0 is coalescing around the concept of community. This study goes one step further in suggesting that we have to build those communities around (multi-media) content that is relevant to people’s lives (B2C) or work (B2B) and make it easy for people to interact around that content. People are voting with their Send, Forward, and ShareThis commands.

Are you letting them vote for your brand?

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