On Twitter, a well-known chef recommends a restaurant in your town. You trust the chef. You trust his advice. What’s more, he gave you a local recommendation. As a result, your esteem of the chef increases. You begin following him. You retweet his review. Others may as well. You may not remember the restaurant he recommended, but you do value the chef’s opinion, and it was just strengthened thanks to his latest review.
This phenomenon of brand value coming back to the recommender is a behavior we see time and again, according to James Buckhouse, head of corporate marketing for Twitter.
Every connection in the Twitter message chain — following, @replying and retweeting — is a reputation statement, explained Randy Farmer, co-author of Building Web Reputation Systems.
In the statement “Chef X recommends Restaurant Y,” the primary effect is the value of the chef recommending a restaurant. The transitive effect is the restaurant being recommended. “Sometimes we don’t get to the transitive effect,” Farmer said.
Are we consciously aware of it? Are we sharing just to boost our own brand?
Can You Build a Brand Just By Sharing Links?
AddToAny, a social media sharing tool, ran a study this year on the social and personal brand effects of just sharing links.
The study showed that for the average sharer, they won’t receive any significant recognition just sending out blind links, but “established influencers can sometimes ‘get away’ with blindly sharing headlines,” said AddToAny’s founder, Pat Diven II.
A blind share, according to Diven, is a link accompanied with a headline and no commentary. Since we can’t determine if they were blindly sent or not, we’ll refer to them as “plain” links. When established influencers share plain links, they receive on average a 400% higher clickthrough rate than a plain link from an average user. If that influencer provides thoughtful commentary, that clickthrough rate jumps to 500%, or a 20% increase from those links without commentary.
In general, it’s difficult to tell if a person sharing a plain link actually read the content. But, in some cases, Diven could see that a few established influencers spent little to no time consuming the content they were sharing.
That doesn’t mean the influencer would never consume the content, Diven said. They sometimes send out links and hope for responses.
“To those influencers, thoughtful responses to a thoughtless share are indicators that the content is worthy of further consumption,” Diven continued.
AddToAny’s data goes on to show that after receiving thoughtful responses, the influencers returned to the shared content and spent more time with it.
“People can increase their brand value solely through sharing,” said Joe Fernandez, CEO of Klout, an online influencer rating service focused predominantly on Twitter.
Twitalyzer, another influence measuring service has noticed the same effect with their Twitter-based “impact” scores. “What we’ve discovered is people may retweet content just to increase their own scores,” said Eric Peterson, the service’s CEO.
According to Twitalyzer’s data, the top 500 link sharers have a 21% higher “impact” score than a random sample of 500 users. Twitalyzer’s “impact” is a function of Twitter followers, retweets, @replies, and post frequency.
Plain link sharing, or as Diven calls it, “blind sharing,” doesn’t work in all cases.
“For those who lack influence, blind sharing is particularly ineffective — rarely producing engagement — much like shouting into a vacuum,” said Diven.
In the case of Kawasaki’s link-tweeting activity, he’s been dubbed a top “curator” by Klout with a score of 82. Klout defines a “curator” as someone who is a mega sharer. Curators add no particular editorial on the content they share, said Fernandez. They just share.
In AddToAny’s study, the clickthrough data shows that a plain link share from influencers is transferring some value to the sites they’re recommending. But is this always the case? It would make sense to assume that consumption of content would be a positive multiple of all the social sharing. What can we deduce when we have evidence of consumption of content being a fraction of the people who are sharing?
When Sharing Exceeds Consumption
In all my interviews, everyone admitted at some level to sharing content without actually consuming it. They would send out a consumption-free share for the following reasons:
- They trust the source of the content.
- They like the title of the content.
- They want to help a friend promote something.
In the last scenario, one developer I spoke to admitted he got hundreds of friends to pre-agree he could retweet his content via their Twitter accounts. Whenever he publishes an article, he hits a button and hundreds of automated retweets are sent through his friends’ pre-approved accounts.
No one admitted to sharing just to build their own brand. It would be a rather brash statement to say so. Although there seems to be a fluid unconscious-to-conscious behavioral process that sharing someone else’s content will improve one’s brand.
None of this “sharing without consumption” behavior surprised me, but I thought these users were in the minority, and that it would never be pronounced enough t
o be noticeable. That was until I saw one of my own posted videos receive more shares than views. It was a low discrepancy, 52 shares and 48 views, and I didn’t see any bot-like behavior. Still, it was clear to me that sharers were more interested in being seen as someone sharing my video, entitled “How do you get everyone to watch your video,” rather than actually watching it.
My situation is not an anomaly. SocMetrics, an influencer identification service, was able to uncover 100 more similar cases of shares exceeding views. Similarly, most of these shares didn’t show any bot-like behavior, although there were a handful of standouts that did.
Here are five with the greatest discrepancy (more shares than views).
Shares / Likes
|Straight 2 Work||
|Vulcha Smooth – GET OFF||
|Vulcha Smooth – Hustle Hard (Freestyle)||
|CLUB NOOK VID AD||
|Marcus Baker Introduction and Gift||
Shares and views measured as of March 31, 2011
Indeed, even this article, by virtue of the Mashable brand, will likely fall victim to shares without consumption. I’ve watched hundreds of shares appear within minutes of my previous Mashable posts — far less time than it takes to read the article.
But given Mashable’s stature, views will inevitably exceed shares. For others that don’t have Mashable’s strong brand, it’s possible your clever title may only benefit the person sharing, and not transfer to your content.
Is it too easy to share?
“We’ve created a situation where sharing of information is rapidly becoming devalued because it’s so easy to click the retweet button,” said Twitalyzer’s Peterson.
Farmer agrees and argues that we’ve made reviewing and sharing far too easy and frictionless. In the earliest states of any reputation system Farmer understands that developers want to make it as easy as possible for people to participate, share, rate, and review. You desperately need users. Any type of roadblock seems antithetical to building success.
“Long-term, the success of your reputation system will depend on quality, honest and unbiased opinions,” Farmer said, “Don’t ask your users to provide opinions on things they haven’t experienced.”
This seems rational, although many successful rating services allow you to review things you haven’t experienced. No one on Yelp is checking to see if you’ve actually patronized a restaurant. Anyone can leave a review on Amazon, and YouTube lets you “Like” a video without even hitting the play button. All of these low-barrier sharing and rating systems have succeeded grandly, although the quality of their reviews are highly debatable.
Increase Your Brand by Being More Critical of Other Brands
AddToAny’s research shows that adding commentary to a link increases personal brand, as measured by clickthroughs. What happens when that commentary is more selective and critical?
Holaba is a brand recommendation service based in China. People sign up for the service, create an account, rate and sometimes write reviews of brands. With 150,000 subscribers and 5,000 brands to rate and review, Holaba users develop their own personal brand by giving their opinions about other brands.
According to Holaba, the top 500 users, as determined by number of followers, are the most critical and selective about giving love/hate reviews in both quantity and severity, as compared to a randomly chosen group of 500 average users.
Top users write 139 more reviews than average users. On a scale from 1 to 10, the average users rate 56% of the brands a 9 or 10, while the top users only rate 19% of the brands a 9 or 10. In addition, the average user rates fewer brands negatively (only 16% rate 0 to 6) vs. the top users (30% rate 0 to 6).
“Only praise might give the potential followers the impression that this person is just like an ad,” said Jan Van der Bergh, Holaba’s founder. “Adding critical/negative notes seems to help to be considered as a trustworthy recommender.”
The Brand Rich Continue to Get Richer Off of Others
From all these results, one assumption that can be made is that if you already have a brand (e.g., you’re a well known chef) you can continue to build your brand solely by making recommendations. The ease of being able to share content with your entire audience affords you the luxury of sharing without consuming.
When we see evidence of limited time on site before sharing, or when sharing exceeds consumption, we can make a strong assumption that people have limited the only interaction with the content to be the act of sharing. This could be an unconscious or conscious attempt to build one’s own brand.
So what? Does it matter if someone shares without consuming? Your message is getting out there.
The danger of sharing without consuming is that those following the sharers can continue the cycle, with more people sharing without consuming. When this continues, the meat of the dialogue soon becomes the act of the share, rather than the conversation that can come from viewing and interpreting the recommendation.
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