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Lessons From a Shareaholic

  |  March 22, 2011   |  Comments

Three factors to understand what motivates people to share on social media and how to unlock their influence for your brand.

My name is Brandon and I am a shareaholic.

Don't worry. It's a completely manageable condition and I'm not alone. In fact, many people have made it a lifestyle choice to share on a daily (or hourly) basis. Recognition is the first step to a healthy life as a shareaholic. Understanding the cause is the next step, and it's at this stage where marketers can learn an important lesson in leveraging the power of shareaholics.

Think of the last time you shared something online with your friends. It probably wasn't too long ago. Whether it was an update on what you're eating, a link to an interesting article, or a video of a great speech - you did it for a reason.

Now ask yourself, "Why?"

Did it benefit your friends and followers? Did it make you feel connected? Did it make you look smarter?

Your motivation for sharing may be selfish or giving, obvious or subconscious. It drives you to take part in spreading a message as trivial as an Angry Birds birthday cake or as meaningful as gathering donations for a ceramics class in need of clay. Whatever the motivation may be, your influential voice has a price of involvement each time you broadcast to your intimate circle of friends.

So I've prepared a three-step plan for us to understand the motivations of shareaholics, learn how to unlock their influence for business, and refine our focus when designing social media ideas:

Step 1: Know the price of involvement

To understand this we need to dig a bit deeper into the human psychology of involvement. There are many different models floating around about why people get involved in sharing social ideas. To save time in explaining them all, they're commonly rooted in fulfilling needs of belonging, self-competence, and providing benefit or purpose.

Yet, marketers conveniently ignore these motivations in hopes that their inherently unsocial ideas will win involvement across social media. This is a critical mistake.

When designing social media communications, we must genuinely believe that our stories will be shared on the basis of belonging, self-competence, or meaningful purpose. Getting this right is the difference between ideas made to spread and ideas made to fizzle.

This explains why product discounts have a limited shelf life in sharing cycles. Funny videos have to be so hilarious that people feel inclined to spread the benefit of laughter to others. Useful knowledge consistently spreads well due to the feeling of competence. And breakthroughs in technology or human causes gather momentum because of a greater purpose and belonging.

Step 2: Find your non-commercial audience trigger

Fact: Emotionally-driven causes get more involvement than monetary motivations.

Marketers trying to sell products in social media are fighting an uphill battle. People are quick to ignore or even criticize commercial causes trying to exploit social media for a profitable gain.

But it's not impossible for business-driven marketers to find a common point of passion that will motivate their consumers to get involved in social media. They just need to find their non-commercial trigger.

We must remember that every business has a product, and hopefully that product has a benefit that's worth its price. When you take money off the table and focus purely on the benefits, you can arrive at a connection point removed of commercial cynicism.

For example, IBM recently created Watson, a computer designed to outcompete humans on the American quiz show, Jeopardy. Was IBM trying to sell more computers here? Not directly. This resonated with consumers because Watson gave us a taste of the bigger possibilities in artificial intelligence computing. Watson is a great example of an idea hitting the sweet spot between brand benefit and consumer passion. It was an idea made to share.


As a result, the buzz around Watson manifested in the form of influential tweets, millions of video views, and over 25,000 Facebook fans and followers.

Step 3: Praise the share metric

The act of someone taking your idea and sharing it is the Holy Grail of social media marketing. You could argue that a 'share' is more valuable than a banner click, time spent on your website, or even a direct purchase. The act of sharing demonstrates more than just added awareness of your message - it indicates understanding, advocacy, and perception change through the voice of human media. All of these outcomes plant seeds towards better business in the future.

The next time you're planning a social media idea, elevate the value of the share to the very top of your social media objectives. Inquire deeply into the reasons why a consumer might share your idea and make sure you fuel the desire of belonging, competency, or providing benefit or purpose.

Spend more time on motivations for sharing and less time on tools for sharing. If you've crafted your idea correctly, consumers will find a way to spread it. If they're shareaholics like me, they'll use a variety of social technologies to share as they see fit – whether it's via a tweet, status update, or blog post.

So if this column has earned a share from you, I'll take it as indication of appreciation. And if I didn't earn your share, I know I'll have to work smarter to win your share next time.


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Brandon Cheung

As regional digital strategy director at Tribal DDB Asia Pacific, Brandon is an integral part of the development and execution of Radar, Tribal DDB's regional social media offering. He also provides digital leadership for the agency's clients. Brandon was previously (group) strategic planning director at Isobar and Carat Hong Kong, where he led digital and social media development for a range of clients, such as Chivas Regal, Swire Properties, Tiffany & Co., Nokia, and Adidas. He also developed Astro, a proprietary social media customer relationship management (CRM) system. Brandon has eight years of experience in digital marketing strategy, having worked in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong. He loves the Internet and thinks we don't say it enough. Show him some love on Twitter: @brcheung.

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