In November of 2011, we conducted a research study to better understand the modern social consumer, which we called the “Science of Sharing.” In essence, we wanted to use data to reveal exactly how social channels influence the way consumers discover, research, and share brand experiences online. Yet, as illuminating as this study was, a part of us kept wondering –how much will this all change in five years?
In conjunction with Social Media Week, we are excited to release the findings of our follow-up study: The Future of Sharing.
And we’ll be discussing these findings at Social Media Week SF, NY and London with brands that include: Buddy Media, Buzzfeed, Facebook, Haymarket Media, Microsoft, Nokia, OPOWER, Reuters and Spotify.
This study essentially aimed to take a deep dive into four broad categories:
- Where are consumers sharing and why
- What types of content are shared most
- How are consumer’s lifestyles and surrounding environments impacting sharing and their interactions with brands
- Why are consumers sharing certain content; ie. what are the current/future trends in what makes content share-worthy
Quite frankly, this discussion couldn’t be timelier. With the introduction of Facebook OpenGraph, brands like Spotify, Ticketmaster, AirBnB – and soon to be plenty more – are ushering in a new era of sharing, dubbed “frictionless.”
And, this shift has proven to be quite polarizing already. Molly Wood of CNET wrote simply about how Facebook is ruining sharing, while Mike Isaac of Wired shares a different view (no pun intended), offering that “It’s a telling sign of the age we’re in. With the early aughts, search and discovery meant algorithms, Page rank, Google. But Facebook — and sites like it — have ushered in a new era of discovery: The social era. Instead of a search bar, there are friends’ ticker feeds. Instead of Page ranks, there is the priority of an action in Timeline.”
These competing views formed the basis of our study. Are we approaching a huge sharing backlash? Or, are we at the tip of the iceberg in how brands can leverage new forms of sharing to integrate their products or services into the thread of consumers’ daily lives? A middle ground also exists – that the trends in sharing are both positive and dangerous, with the greater importance on making sharing more intelligent.
The criteria for the study was as follows:
- 2059 consumers worldwide were surveyed (1059 US, 1000 UK)
- All had to be active Facebook, Twitter or Google+ users
- Ages 16-40, with 68% of respondents between 19-34
- 98% were active Facebook users, with 60% logging in several times a day
(We also gathered insights from a variety of industry thought leaders, which you can read here)
The results that emerged shed interesting light on what the future holds for consumer behavior online. And, not surprisingly, they present both challenges and opportunities for brands:
- A “sharing burnout effect” does exist with sharing behavior peaking for users between 3-12 months, while social network usage (amount of times logged in per week), grows continually on a per-user basis from 3 months – 2+ years.
- As part of sharing burnout, 61% of people report feeling “annoyed” by applications that automatically post content, and the longer people have Facebook accounts the more likely that they are to be annoyed by applications that post automatically to their profiles.
- Despite consumer frustration, 67% of people have done at least one of the following things:
- allowed an application to post automatically to their profile
- listened to a song that was automatically shared (spotify, etc)
- read an automatically shared article (online reader)
- Overall, only 40% of people have created subgroups to selectively share posts, but 62% said that that the idea appeals to them.
- There is a significant relationship between number of friends and preference for using the filtering feature (filtering how you share content by groups of friends). People with higher number of Facebook friends are more likely to use, or want to use, the filtering feature than people with lower number of Facebook friends. 70% of people who have at least 250 friends use, or want to use, the filtering feature compared to 57% of people who have less than 250 friends. This implies that as people build out their social networks, the networks essentially need to be more complex (with more disparate groups), instead of just amassing a high volume of people that you share of your content with.
- 23% of people say that they are overwhelmed with the amount of posts shared with them in social networks. Those who are overwhelmed tend to be older and have fewer friends in their social networks. Power users, despite being subject to more content, are less likely to be overwhelmed. 34% of people who log-into Facebook a few times per week or less are overwhelmed by the amount of sharing content compared to 21% of people who log into Facebook at least once per day.
- 60% of people say that they’d willing to post about products/services on Facebook if they were offered a deal or discount.
- “Informing friends” was the most-cited reason for sharing content, as 64% of people report that it’s important to them to inform friends when sharing content.
- Personal milestones will be the biggest category of content people share with 43 percent of people saying they will share a personal milestone, while 30 percent will share planning a trip, 28 percent will share purchasing a ticket to an event, 27 percent will share a donation to a charity or getting a deal from a deal site and 23 percent would share a purchase from an online retailer such as Amazon.
Looking at these results, a few insights can be extracted that offer a view of what the “future of sharing” looks like:
- The rate of shared content online will eventually plateau. A sharing burnout currently exists, with the individual rate of sharing peaking between 3-12 months of setting up a new social account, despite usage (rate an individual logs in) steadily increasing over time. In short, users become more passive the longer they are on a social network, which means brands will need to find a way to keep their fan base active and engaged over time.
- Frictionless sharing is here to stay, but it will need to get much, much better. The majority of people are currently experimenting with these apps, but there is a growing backlash. If done right, ultimately just about everything we do in a day will have the capacity to be shared online, but with accuracy and without needing to actively think about it.
- Segmenting your social networks into disparate friend groups to selectively share content (ie. the Google+ model) is likely to catch on – but needs to be simple to manage for users
- Tried and true marketing tactics will continue to fuel the sharing evolution – discounts & free giveaways will spur users to share brand content, particularly as it relates to location based services.
- Sharing will expand to include transactions as well as life events and personal achievements to define a new action-oriented sharing culture. The most common type of content that people currently share are status updates about life achievements (89% of people posted this type of content at least a few times per month). But, looking ahead, respondents indicated that reaching a personal milestone was the most likely sharing activity they would do in the future if the sharing was made easier (ie. via frictionless sharing).
- The personal motivations for sharing content will remain the same. The top 3 motivations for sharing content are to inform your friends, express a point of view and humor. You could argue these have always been the three biggest sharing drivers.
But, it is not to say that these are etched in stone, nor does it mean that other meaningful changes don’t lie ahead for sharing online. Let us know your thoughts on the Future of Sharing.