In the world of Web analytics there are a few tried-and-trusted stalwarts that have been around since the early days of the Internet revolution and remain with us today. If you’re a content creator, unique visitors/visits and page views are essential – with a healthy dose of page views per visit, time spent on site and a few other data points to add to the mix. If you’re an advertiser or direct marketer then impressions, clicks and conversions are key. But as the social space continues to evolve and mature, another metric – sharing – could emerge as the most important of them all.
One of the greatest benefits of operating in the digital space is that everything is measurable. That’s great news for advertisers, marketers and (although some might disagree with me ) content creators who can glean real-time, high quality performance insight in a way that simply isn’t possible in other traditional media channels.
But as anybody who’s worked with Web metrics will tell you, it’s still far from perfect. While Web metrics are great at reporting on end-results – or actions (e.g. 25,000 people definitively clicked on this link) – they’re not so great at illustrating the motivations behind these actions. This disconnect can sometimes be a problem.
For example, if a brand told you that on Friday it had received 10 million organic click-throughs to its “GOP: Republican Presidential Candidate Debate Review” article you’d assume on face value that’s a great result. But if you later learned that the article was being promoted on the site with a huge graphic that screamed “Free iPad To First 100 Users! Lady Gaga Naked! Cat Drives Mini Cooper Wrong Way Down Highway! Perry and Romney Face Off” then suddenly your perspective might change.
People click on links for a variety of reasons. Sometimes because they’re being misled (either deliberately or accidentally) with regard to the content that link points to. Other times because they accidentally click on something. And so on. The act of clicking is a good measure of an activity, but doesn’t reveal the sentiment behind it.
There’s been a fairly long-rumbling battle over the value of a click and advertisers are now beginning to appreciate that – when it comes to measuring the success or failure of a digital campaign – the CTR shouldn’t be the primary measure. But if that’s the case, then what should be?
Enter the “share”.
As I’ve written before, there isn’t anything particularly revolutionary about the concept of sharing. Word-of-mouth personal recommendations have existed since the beginning of time and social media platforms are able to facilitate this behavior by making it incredibly easy to share things with others. But sharing is important because – by its very nature – it suggests a level of engagement and commitment is present in the person sharing the content.
By sharing something I am – by default – endorsing it. That endorsement comes in numerous shapes and sizes, but nevertheless it is an endorsement that this particular link includes something that you REALLY need to see. It could be something funny, sad, outrageous, time-saving, useful……but ultimately it’s something that I deem important enough for you to know about.
Brands are going to want to know more about sharing for several reasons. Firstly, while all clicks are created equal all shares – as I previously noted - are not. You want to know who’s doing the sharing and pay special attention to these people, because they could turn out to be your strongest brand advocates.
Secondly – and this is perhaps the most exciting – the compound effect when it comes to generating traffic through sharing is huge. In some of our research we’ve seen instances where for every one user that shares a link, 5 new unique users are driven back to a site. Sometimes its hard for people to imagine how certain YouTube clips can generate hundreds of million of views in a short space of time. It almost seems impossible for organic growth of this magnitude to take place. But the multiplier effect of sharing can be incredibly powerful. And that’s a metric that any brand should be tracking because understanding not only how much traffic sharing drives to your site, but also how valuable your **sharers** are compared to your competition is worth knowing.
Social Media – like SEO – often has a reputation problem. There are too many self-appointed “gurus” out there who, to some at least, operate in a world of smoke and mirrors in which tangible results are hard to pin-down. But the power of sharing is not only real, but is something that is measurable in concrete terms. Word-of-mouth recommendations are essentially free advertising so for any brand looking to not just grow an audience, but grow a high quality audience it’s something that should be a central focus.