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Building brand awareness through content creation and community engagement.

October 20th, 2011

Sharing is About Affiliation

There’s always (and by always I mean consistently for the last five or six years) a lot of talk about making content engaging and easy for people to share online. That’s the way people spread word of mouth recommendations on status networks and elsewhere so the race is always on to encourage readers of corporate blogs, Tumblrs, Facebook pages and other outlets to share what they’re reading, looking at or watching with their own networks, thereby increasing the reach of that message.

Often this race includes making sure the blog (or whatever) as a whole as well as each individual post or update has ample prompts for someone to easily share it with their friends and connections. There are also strategies that impact the content itself such as asking open ended questions, calling for people to weigh in with their opinions and so on, which are all good. Taken together this ideas go a long way to getting people to engage with a post that’s been written, a video that’s been produced or whatever else it is we might be talking about when we use the word “content.”

But the real key to someone not only providing feedback on that material but then taking the next step and actively sharing it with their networks is that they want to use that action to bolster their own reputation and persona.

There’s a lot of talk – particularly around major Facebook announcements and similar moments – about how sharing material and actions online is the equivalent of creating a scrapbook of what clubs we enjoyed, what music we were listening to and what activities we were engaging in at a particular time in our lives. But we’re unlikely to check in to the fast food chain we’re driving through because if not then the passing out is going to start. We’re unlikely to share the fact that we’re unironically cranking up a 90’s boy band’s entire (read: three records before they broke up) catalog. And we’re unlikely to share that we’re hitting a particular store at the mall for the third time in as many months because they have another new t-shirt design celebrating our (secretly) favorite movie about vampires and the Pacific Northwest girls who love them.

At least we’re unlikely to do all that if it doesn’t fit with the reputation we’re trying to curate online.

The same goes for online content. While someone may love that announcement that was just published about X new service or product that excitement does not automatically mean that person will share that news with their online networks. It has to not only be interesting and engaging but also hit the bullseye – which is different for everyone – of being something that they want to become part of their online reputation.

What that means in practical terms is this:

  1. Allow people to share anywhere. Throw as many sharing buttons out there as are feasible within the boundaries of technical feasibility and aesthetic common sense. Sharing buttons shouldn’t make a site more ugly design-wise but they should also be plentiful enough so that someone can choose which network of theirs to use. Many people have clear and definite lines on what they do on Facebook, what they do on Tumblr and so on so cater to the fact that usage differs.
  2. Because usage differs so does measurement. Success cannot be judged on Facebook alone. So if you find that certain material is finding more success on another network be sure you’re accurately measuring *that* and not holding everything up to a universal standard that can’t be met. Doing so means you could make a decision that seems right from a limited point of view but which cuts off what resonated with a sizable chunk of the audience.
  3. Plan accordingly. Work to produce content that is going to be not only engaging but is going to rise to the level of something that people want to associate themselves with, something that they wish they had written or otherwise produced themselves and so are eager to share under their own name. This though is dependent on the first two already being done.

People want to associate themselves with the brands they love. The entire souvenir magnet industry is based on that precept. But just like with those magnets they’re only going to do so if they had a good time and want those who see that affiliation to think more of them because of it. That’s a tricky and moving target but the reward is that more people become distribution networks that are worth quite a bit for a company’s own reputation.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

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