Here’s a tiresome marketing phrase: “how many shares did it get?”
Shares, clicks, page views, likes – those damn metrics have become the yardstick for online marketing. But they’re bad yardsticks.
A growing body of evidence shows that these measures don’t accurately reflect how people consume content. Nor do they reflect what you really want consumers to do – fall deeply, madly and truly in love with your brand.
Take that most sought-after aim in social media marketing, the share. You’d think that if a piece of content was massively shared then it would also be massively consumed. Actually the opposite seems to be true. A study by web metrics firm Chartbeat looked at over two billion visits to a wide range of websites to see how users actually behaved online. They discovered that the more deeply a piece of content was consumed the less likely it was going to be shared. Look at the graph. Articles that had high read times had less shares. Content that had high shares had low read times.
Even more shockingly, a study by Columbia University and the French National Institute, reported that 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked.
What’s going on? Cats – that’s what.
Content that’s shared tends to be simple, unambiguous and at the extreme of the emotional spectrum. Think cats, fat people falling over, cringe-worthy wedding pics, political outrage, Americans shooting themselves and shockingly mistaken body art. “You won’t believe what happens next …” said the appropriately named outbrain.
Buzzfeed, the undisputed kings of shareable content, lay down the law for what works.
For content to be shareable it needs:
- To be short
- Have a strong human aspect
- Give people the chance to engage
- Not make them feel awkward about sharing
Social sharing is shallow, reactive, blurty. It’s no surprise that it stimulates production of dopamine in the same way as playing pokie machines, hearing the sound of our voice or having an orgasm. Social sharing is the equivalent of casual sex.
What’s this got to do with your marketing efforts? Two things.
First, if you think that high shares equates to high engagement, then think again. The same Chartbeat study found that 55 percent of those two billion visits spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page. Just think about that: more than half of the web traffic was ‘in and out’ before you could read the photo caption.
Second, you need a fresh set of performance measures. It could be as superficial as likes and shares. But it also might include ‘dwell time’, or inducing prospects to click ‘for more’, or to generate repeat traffic. The key is deciding what kind of reaction you’re trying to get, then building a content marketing effort that suits. Sharing is only one objective, and a poor one at that.
- Vincent Heeringa is co-founder of Narrative, a content marketing agency.