The positive impact of social sharing

SUMMARY:

Social sharing of content is becoming an important feature in content distribution. Do you know the likely impact? Check our research.

Recent research from Parse.ly (PDF, registry paywall) about the impact of social sharing of content comes at an opportune moment. The last week, several of the diginomica team have been hip deep in our own analytics. We are discovering reader interest patterns, working towards delivering on the suggestions we received from our most valued readers and developing a nuanced content strategy going forward. Hint – there will be changes 😉

Anyhoo – in reviewing our analytics, we found common ground with Parse.ly’s findings along with some interesting trends. Check this graphic from Parse.ly’s research which shows how well a typical story tends to do in terms of page views:

content life expectancy

Life expectancy varies depending upon the medium but you get the drift. Now compare with this graphic:

content life expectancy with social sharing

Short tail

The difference in impact may seem small but in relative terms, represents an increase in life expectancy of 23%. That’s huge. We see similar patterns but they occur in different ways. We know for example that partners who have a strong social media outreach program do much better than those that do not. Those higher performers also sustain activity and engagement over a long period of time. There are differences in reach between content we generate and that developed in conjunction with partners but overall, the offsets appear to work themselves out.

We know for instance that in the current month to date, the combination of a solid case story developed by our team combined with a thought leading piece from a partner, coupled with judicious sharing across Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn helped that partner capture 35% of all partner related traffic. While the two activities were not related editorially, the ‘rolling’ impact was palpable. What’s more, we know that LinkedIn traffic accounted for a significant level of overall traffic.

While talking about LinkedIn, we have seen a definite impact from changes LinkedIn introduced in May that prevent us (and everyone else) from posting content via tools that use their APIs. In May we argued this would hurt your business and we were right.

The impact was immediate and has been sustained in the sense that traffic driven by LinkedIn fell 38%. We are able to counteract that impact but it has become a tedious process that cannot be automated. In short, LinkedIn gives us two choices:

  1. Ignore that traffic and consider it dead or…
  2. Expend on people who hand curate what appears on LinkedIn.

The former is not realistic, The second is a massive step backwards. For some content producers, it will force them into dumping larger amounts of content into LinkedIn but with little way to capture the value unless they’re prepared to pay for analysis services that relate to their own content. There’s a Faustian bargain for you!

Long tail

What about the long tail that you see in the illustrations above? We consider the long tail to be an exceptionally useful measure of the breadth – and occasionally depth – of appeal for certain content. One way we assess this is by reviewing how specific content has performed over time and correlate that to the topic area covered and how that is being perceived or discussed in the public domain.

A good example is SAP HANA. As the world’s largest application software provider, SAP is always a good content target for us. But not all topics are created equal. In its marketing, SAP has focused very heavily on HANA. You can see the adverts running everywhere in large international airports and regardless of what you think of them, there is some impact. HANA is always an integral part of executive discussions and when Hasso Plattner, co-founder SAP and its technical thought leader speak, people take notice.

We are fortunate to get access to Plattner from time to time and have excellent technical resources in the shape of Dick Hirsch, who can explain the meaning of HANA for those with a more geeky appetite. Some of the team have high level access to SAP executives and we maintain long lines of communication with the company’s ecosystem of partners and developers.

In short, we’re not struggling to understand what the HANA topic means, although that changes over time. The results are self evident. This piece where Plattner explains “Simple SAP” is our highest trafficked and shared piece from the last year. It is still read yet is over eight moths old. Why is that happening when the game has already moved on to deeper discussions around S/4 and even more recently, technical and performance enhancements?

That particular piece has now become part of the established narrative around SAP HANA as a broad topic and the fact it has been shared so widely, again LinkedIn was by far and away the most important influencing media platform, has given that story an ‘evergreen quality.’ That is just as important as the more popular pieces that do well, simply because of what they cover.

Tip time

This discussion has focused on the impact of social media as a mechanism for lifting content and lengthening its shelf life. Nothing I’ve said so far feeds into he more important conversation around ‘who’ is consuming content. That’s a much more nuanced conversation with which we go back and forth every other day.

  1. Social sharing is a form of gamification and one that delivers a significant bang for the buck. It is relatively cheap to implement yet can yield good rewards. We believe its overall impact is something around 18-20% in direct traffic referrals but that varies individually from almost nil to as much as 40%.
  2. The trick comes in understanding how individual content is performing, going to where it performs best and then using triggers to get people to see more of that content. Much of that can be planned or coordinated using solutions like CoSchedule, one of our favorites.
  3. Before closing I want to offer a tip. Find a service that can tell you how well your content is doing and which can suggest stories to push. This works for content that has done well and may still be relevant or current. We have done this a few times recently and it is surprising how well those stories end up performing. It’s something that makes sense at weekends when people are searching for content they need for the following week or which covers an interest area they’re researching for the long haul.

I hope that’s helpful…