Peacocking, social baggage and digital discovery
Publishers continue to tinker with their social media tactics to improve discovery of their digital content. One important “discovery”: People don’t want to share everything they read with their entire social graph.
It’s a lesson publishers have learned since Facebook’s introduction last fall of new features that automated much of the social sharing process. The new “social reader” apps created by publishers such as the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Yahoo and The Daily included default settings to post every activity – reading an article, watching a video – to the user’s timeline.
The torrent of shared links that followed was overwhelming. “If everything our friends is reading and viewing is pushed into our social stream, we’re quickly going to be inundated with information,” Amit Kapur, CEO of Gravity, said at an industry conference last week. Gravity has developed what it calls an “interest graph” – a personalization engine that includes not just a user’s social graph, but also his implicit and explicit activities across the Web.
Some publishers have responded by tweaking their social reader apps to make it easier for readers to limit (or remove after the fact) what they share on their timelines. Here are two examples, from the Washington Post and Yahoo, respectively:
Reading is not recommending
Automated sharing highlights an important difference between reading an article and recommending it. In effect, in an effort to drive discovery and referral traffic, publishers have been trying to jump-start virality of articles that may not deserve the promotion.
It’s safe to say that everyone reads articles or watches videos that we have no desire to share – let alone recommend – to others. Reading surreptitiously about real-life zombies is one thing; recommending the gruesome article to my friends is quite another.
(The converse to this “social baggage” – the stuff you don't want people to know you're reading – is what Kapur calls “peacocking”: the desire to share links that create a positive perception of you across your social graph. This phenomenon contributes at least in part to the renewed interest in “highbrow” long-form journalism. “People like sharing things that reflect well on them, and there’s a prestige attached to the long-form hashtag,” BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith told Adweek. “It’s a little bit like boasting to your friends, ‘Hey look, I read this!’”)
The automated push to “share anything” may explain why social media still lags traditional methods for recommending content – according to one survey, at least. GigaOm Pro found that recommendations from friends are the dominant discovery tool for entertainment-related content, followed by traditional advertising and search engines. The majority of those recommendations, the survey found, are on a one-to-one basis: talking to someone in person, on the phone, or through email.
VP of Research David Card said GigaOm Pro also, however, is seeing the emergence of the “social explorer” – someone who uses social networks to find and share content. Social explorers make up 17% of the consumers surveyed and skew younger (40% are 18-34) and slightly female. Media companies need to identify and cultivate these explorers who show an interest in their content, Card said at a paidContent conference last week.
There’s no trick to turning these explorers into advocates for your content. “The key is to understand the human mind and people’s relationships and make things that people think are worthy of sharing with their friends,” Jonah Peretti, founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, said at the conference.
Here’s Card’s presentation: