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Why do people share stuff?

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1 December 2010

How to get people to share media

How to get people to share media

…and can I get them to share stuff? Say as part of a marketing campaign? Come on let’s cash in on this sharing fad!

Many of the brightest marketeers’ projects have floundered upon the apparently gargantuan task of getting people to share stuff under the banner of a brand. This sharing is supposedly a new trend that the marketing industry must leverage.

Just ask Saatchi & Saatchi and their disastrous 11 million pound Kingsmill Confessions campaign how difficult it can be to make people share stuff.

Let’s recap. The agency wanted people to share their confessions about Kingsmill bread. A bread. Not special bread baked by your local french baker mind. Mass factory produced bread.

I agree with Crackunit who opinionated at the time:

Here’s another ad that makes me feel like renouncing everything I believed in. It makes me want to tell everyone that integrated campaigns are a product of a sick and twisted satanic messenger.

I’m just bursting with a whole bunch of confessions about bread. What on earth are they expecting? If you’re dying to let your sandwich secrets out, head to kingsmillconfessions.com.

Eventually they received less than 200 confessions, most of which don’t ring true. Like the one in the video above.

Did I mention it was bread? As discussed last week – when conducting social media for FMCG brands a more creative approach is often required.

But this post is specifically to help you, campaign planner, understand why people share stuff, so you don’t make the same mistake as the Saatchis of this world.

The why of sharing

Funnily enough, although millions of people are sharing YouTube videos, Flickr pictures, blogging and Tweeting, not many people have managed to explain the sharing phenomena.

One of the most eloquent hype-free writers about social media is not a marketing person, but the academic Clay Shirky.

Shirky makes a number of salient points, but the first to note is that social media is not a fad. He points out that social technologies actually push the buttons of some deep-rooted human traits that were always there, and have now been empowered. We made much the same point in a blog post a while ago.

Shirky reckons there are both personal and social reasons why people do stuff even if they don’t get paid.

  • Private motivations – the imperative or need we have to feel autonomous and competent. The model train hobbyist acts on these needs. But it is personal. He does not need others to see his hobby, but it makes him feel like an autonomous and skilled human being. (Both these can probably be accentuated when you know you can show off your hobbyist skills – in fact Ebay was started by hobbyists.)
  • Social motivations – the need to belong to a group is another motivator, as well as the need to share. In other words by doing stuff we can publicly show we are part of a particular group. And we have a need to publicly share as well – (these two things, belonging and sharing are probably linked.)

OK, that’s great, BUT does Shirky tell us why we like to share? That is what we want to really get to grips with.

Henry Jenkins and Spreadable Media

Enter stage left Henry Jenkins, another academic who’s been writing for years about the relationship between traditional and user made content. In a recent article published by Nieman lab he explains a bit more of the thesis of his soon to be published book Spreadable Media.

Spreadability is partially about technical affordances. YouTube videos spread well because they allow users to embed them on their blogs and Facebook profiles. At the same time, the embedded video’s interface makes it easy for us to follow it back to its original context on YouTube.

OK – that’s an argument for good design – integrating things like embed codes, Retweet and Like buttons and other tools that make sharing easy – but is it as simple as that? Nope.

Many talk as if things just happened to “go viral” when they have no way to explain how or why the content has grabbed the public imagination. Other framings of “viral media” strip away the agency of the very communities whose circulation of the content they want to explain.

Or to put this more plainly – the term “viral” implies that media can spread without decisions on the part of those who share it.

The gift economy – we share because we value our friends

But, says Jenkins, people do make choices about what to share:

Our work starts from the idea that people are making conscious decisions to aid the circulation of certain content because they see it as a meaningful contribution to their ongoing conversations, a gift which they can share with people they care about.

As they send round this content -

  • They first are playing key roles in appraising its value (Curating);
  • They also help to frame the content, helping it to fit better into the ongoing social interactions (Context);
  • They may also build upon, appropriate, transform, and remix the content further extending its shelf life and enabling its broader circulation.

Spreadable media moves in between commercial and non-commercial worlds says Jenkins:

For the producer, the content may be a commodity or a promotion; for the consumer, it is a resource or a gift. The producer is appraising the transaction based on its economic value. While the consumer makes a decision about whether the price is too high for the value of the content, they are also making decisions based on the social or sentimental value of the content.

When they pass that content along to their friends, they do so because they value their friends far more than because they want to promote the economic interests of producers.

Now, take a deep breath. Think about it. Let it sink in.

The take away from all this

What does this mean for brands that want people to share stuff? Here are our rules of thumb – after reading Shirky & Jenkins of what you need to keep in mind.

1. Be remarkable
If it’s entertaining it will travel. If the content does not get people to say wow – forget it.

See this for example.

Note how little branding of VW is visible. the brand got out of the way of the amazing content. Overzealous branding on good content is likely to diminish the spreadability of your content. You don’t want to sell stuff to your friends, remember?

2. Be useful in a personal or wider sense
If it’s not wow, but it is useful to a person, their community or society at large, it is spreadable.

The UK insurance giant Aviva actually got it right, sort of. They ran a campaign Tell us your story.

Aviva tell us your story

Aviva tell us your story

…giving consumers the opportunity to recognise and reward people who have made a positive impact on their lives or in their community over the past year. Customers can tell their stories on a dedicated website, or to nominate their local heroes.

It is offering weekly prizes of £1000 will be granted as a result of votes made my visitors to the site on the local hero that captures their heart. One overall winner will be chosen by a celebrity judging panel for a prize worth £10,000.

You can see the difference between Aviva and Kingsmills campaign. Both are – to be frank – quite boring brands. But Aviva’s campaign was not about the insurance product. It was about acknowledging people who have made a positive difference.

Aviva went on to say about the campaign:

“We have put people at the heart of this campaign to demonstrate that the customer is at the heart of everything we do at Aviva”.

Err… great, but why did they take the website down after the campaign ended?

I would have loved to show it to you, but that’s the not real reason I’m peeved. It detracts from a good campaign. Social goods remain social goods for people after the brand has moved on. Lives go on. Deleting these stories is akin to anti-social behavior. It turns a social campaign back into an ordinary transient ad campaign.

3. Play on people’s egos
It is part of marketing to an audience with an audience as we call it.

There are many good examples of this of which the Old Spice Campaign is the most famous. Next week I’ll write about Marketing to an Audience with an Audience.

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  • Posted by Chris Turitzin
    January 2, 2011 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    It’d hard to find people in the world asking the ‘whys’ of social media and virality.

    Thanks for the article.

  • Posted by Li-Or
    June 22, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    An interesting insight into why people spread the word on things and how to make yourself more .. er spreadable :D Thanks for posting!

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