04/17/2012 02:05 EDT | Updated 06/17/2012 05:12 EDT

There's Nothing Free About Sharing Content

The bigger consulting firms are getting all hot and bothered by the notion of social business. But the social web turns out to be an engine of word of mouth marketing unlike one we have ever seen before (no big surprise there). It may not seem that obvious, but the more you share... the more you sell.

What makes media a social media?

There's a long-standing answer to this question. For some, it seems both obvious and clear as day. If you ask someone what social media is, they will inevitably say that it's all about the conversation. I'm no longer bullish on this notion of conversation within social media. At its core, what actually makes any piece of content (whether it's generated from an individual or a company) have any semblance of social-ness to it, is the ability for it to be as shareable and as findable as possible (if you do that and people like it, they will naturally talk about it).

Look no further than the meteoric rise of The Huffington Post as a prime example of this. The Huffington Post generated conversation (comments, engagement, links and the like) because, unlike traditional newspapers and magazines that were making time online, The Huffington Post "opened up the window" and let their content be cross-posted, it linked out (not to be confused with LinkedIn) and did everything it could to garner attention by leveraging the power of a sharing economy over one that was looking for a return on investment (or advertising).

Can you make money sharing?

On March 30th, 2012, Marketing Charts published a news item titled, "Social Shares Drive 1 in 4 Online Shoppers to Purchase." This is the kind of data that more businesses need to think about: "62 per cent of survey respondents said they had ever read a comment on their Facebook page from a friend talking about a product they purchased, while of those, three-quarters clicked on the product link in their friend's comment.

Once at the retailer's site, 53 per cent purchased the product they learned about through their friend's comment. Additionally, these eventual customers are happy to pass along the favor, as 81 per cent identify as sharers themselves." The social web turns out to be an engine of word of mouth marketing unlike one we have ever seen before (no big surprise there).

Scaling your social media efforts back is the best way to scale them for true growth.

When reading through the Marketing Charts news item, something become abundantly clear and amazingly simple: the best brands do two things extremely well:

  1. Deliver. The products and services deliver. They do what they say they are going to do. You would be surprised how non-obvious this notion is in our current world. We see constant streams of customer service issues for so many brands, that it's actually the brands who are doing the baseline of delivery that are capturing market share. If you're looking for some prime examples of this, head over to Trip Advisor and look for reviews of a hotel that you know. Don't choose an overly fancy one and don't choose a roach motel. Choose one that you know delivers a good night's stay and read through the varied reviews. More often than not, you'll see comments like: "I stayed here on business and the hotel was great because they delivered a clean room, decent service and a hot shower. I'll be back." Brands have under-performed for so long, that delivering the bare essentials is enough to garner a glowing review. It's somewhat tragic to see the number of hotels that can't actually deliver a clean room, decent service and a hot shower (what, exactly, are you paying for then?).
  2. Share. Brands are still afraid to share. They're afraid of the discourse (especially if it's in channels and platforms that they can't control). It's not only a silly way to think in this day and age, it's dangerous. Thanks to Amazon and other online retailers, consumers have a baseline expectation that they will be able to share, discuss and debate whatever it is that you do, say and sell. Enabling and empowering this type of sharing is baseline, so when brands are not allowing consumers to share, the default position is that they have something to hide.

A social business is a sharing business.

The bigger consulting firms are getting all hot and bothered by the notion of social business. We've gone from social media to social CRM and then straight to social business. Those working on the inside of an organization have a baseline expectation that everything that happens within the organization can be shared easily (through the magic of intranets, wikis and internal social media platforms), and consumers expect a more social experience from the brands that they do business with (seriously, no Facebook page?). What's actually happening is that businesses are running their social activities like advertising campaigns, so they're struggling to see their initiatives take hold.

Move from social media tactics to a philosophy of sharing.

When a corporate blog lacks attention or a corporate Twitter feed is not engaging for its followers, more often than not, it's because the corporation is not approaching these media with a sharing attitude. They're looking to shill, sell or convince others of something. Part of the challenge is that sharing takes time to validate.

That being said, this form of social proofing is critical in the long term. The Marketing Chart news item is quick to remind us that social proofing makes people more engaged with our brands: "Significant opportunities exist for retailers to drive higher engagement through social proofing, suggests the report. In fact, more than three in five respondents said that they are likely to stay and shop on a website if they are shown their friends' activities on the site. Additionally, 57 per cent are more likely to make a purchase there if they see a list showing their friends who have made a purchase on the website."

It may not seem that obvious, but the more you share... the more you sell.

Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image -- an award-winning digital marketing agency. His first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his highly-successful blog and podcast of the same name is a business and marketing bestseller. His next book, CTRL ALT DEL, will be published in Spring 2013.

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