The value of a share on the web (aka the sharing economy) is something that has interested me since my early experiences on the Internet and recently I have started thinking about it again while considering the development of another website that I’ve been working on. More specifically I have been thinking about how may shares of a particular link represents a meaningful amount. If I put up a blog post with sharing links is 50 good enough? How about 100? These questions are in aid of determining how well I have done to promote the content on my site.
Speaking of sharing during my early experiences on the web, I highly recommend that you read Andrew Raskin’s E-Diaries that he published on Inc.com circa 2000-2001. Andrew wrote a series of articles that chronicle his quest to build a company around the sharing economy. The company was called Gazooba (later changed to Qbiquity) and the basic premise involved offering rewards for people who shared a website. The company failed but there are some very interesting insights on company building to be had. More relevant to this post is the fact that value of a share may never be substantial enough to build a company on.
Regardless of whether or not someone else can build a company on sharing, most people who run websites surely would prefer that their content is spread via voluntary user sharing rather than traditional advertising or even affiliate links, which can have a negative impact on the bottom line while producing uncertain results. Gazooba’s approach falls somewhere into the middle of advertising and affiliate, as I believe they were offering something akin to airline reward points that could be converted into merchandise at a later time. Is this an effective way to enhance (or even an advisable) way to enhance the sharing of web content?
I think there is a problem with quid pro quo tactics related to content sharing in that once the person or group that is on the receiving end of the share knows that there has been some exchange of value between the content creator and the sharer receiver’s feelings (their value) about what has been shared change. It’s the difference between someone feeling that an item of content has been sent to them for their own benefit and content being sent for the benefit of the sender. So while you certainly can increase the number of shares via quid pro quo you can enhance the value of each share (as perceived by the receiver) by using other tactics.
So assuming that quid pro quo tactics are not a good idea, particularly for those on a limited budget, what other options are there to incent or encourage sharing of your content? Here are a few very basic thoughts on that.
- Make the content so compelling that people can’t not share it. This is much easier said than done, but from time to time we do see content that goes viral because it represents something so original, so interesting that people can’t help but share it. You may not strive for this with all of your posts, but how about trying your best to do this for at least one post a week?
- Ask and (perhaps) ye shall receive. I have thought about adding a signature to posts that says something like, “If you enjoyed this content, please share it!” Such an approach costs you nothing and at least plants the seed for a person who might otherwise just smile at what you’ve written and click on to the next thing. While this approach won’t set your posts on fire it certainly can’t hurt.
- Place sharing links in the midst of the content. This is an interesting idea but also one that could be very annoying if not done correctly. On many sites you see sharing links (widgets, etc.) at either the top or the bottom of the page. The ones at the top don’t make sense because people need to read what you’ve written and when they’re finished they will be at the bottom But perhaps people might share once they’ve read a bit and know that they enjoy it One (relatively) unobtrusive idea that comes to mind is a sharing box that scrolls along with the content. In fact, there is a WordPress plugin that does just that.
- All of the above. Why not? The cost of all of the above is zero and each one of them retains the integrity of voluntary, non-compensated sharing.
None of these ideas are worth a hoot if you don’t actually have the sharing links available on your site. WordPress.com makes it easy to integrate sharing into your blog and you can set that up by going to settings > sharing in the dashboard. There’s the plugin I mentioned above for those of you hosting your own WordPress installs. There are also more universal tools that you can use like ShareThis and AddThis to ensure that you have easy sharing available on your site.
As a final thought I’ll say that I think it’s also important to consider the sharing links that you present to your audience because as tastes change so do the places where you’ll want to encourage people to share your content. A few years back sharing to places like Digg and StumpleUpon was all the rage. I cringe when I see these sharing links (or widgets) prominently displayed on sites today. My sense is that right now Google+, Facebook and Twitter represent the big three of content sharing with LinkedIn also important if content is business focused. So I think an approach that presents limited options and focuses on the services that are relevant now makes good sense.
Oh, and one more thing. If you enjoyed the content of this post, please do consider sharing it.