I share, therefore I am: what content marketers need to know about the culture of sharing
To me, there’s a fundamental difference between academic and commercial environments. In a commercial environment you could lose clients or your job if work fails to deliver results.
Conversely, in academia you’re encouraged and rewarded for exploratory thinking. Whilst this type of thought has obvious merits, it typically has a minimal focus on commercial viability. So, really everything our agency does from a marketing perspective comes back to generating a return on investment (ROI). Our campaigns have to do more than just work, they must work well most of the time. Consistency of effectiveness is paramount.
I believe content marketing is an investment in brand equity. By this, I define brand equity as the commercial value that results from consumer perception of the brand name of a particular product or service. It’s more than just the value put on the product or service itself.
Therefore, content should be creating value for people. It shouldn’t be about the constant landfill of vacant data-dribble that SEO and content marketers pitch and deliver through their clients. Good content should deliver value for people, build a brand’s ability to rank (brand equity) and generate organic traffic, holistically.
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It’s only by taking this approach that we can fully future-proof digital content. After all, Google is making AI systems and autonomous vehicles, so to think we can simply pay bloggers to write about clients and expect results has been an industry oversight for too long. This is why we need to understand why people share. It’s through this very action that Google can detect and attribute value back to your brand, thereby improving your brand’s ability to rank as a whole.
Treat the cause not the symptom
In a brilliant book by Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Berger talks about social currency (people talk about what makes them look good). I think it’s more than people talking about what makes them look good; I believe psychologically, social currency and many other facets of sharing are at their core, about personal perception.
This means that people put things online they want others to believe about them - from brand to individuals, it’s about how they want to be perceived. Perception can be shaped because the internet has given rise to the practice of self-filtering and visual refinement. This is purely ego driven. We rationalise information we believe into perfectly crafted responses that aren’t possible in real-life conversations.
I think this idea of ‘perception crafting’ stems from Western societies being rooted in the pursuit of gain. We’ve been conditioned through our education and societal systems to believe that ‘competition’ is fundamental and ‘gain’ is its primary goal. In fact, we commonly revere and celebrate this idea. Through the concept of competition, we find ourselves wrestling with the idea of being knowledgeable or popular and romanticising our thoughts on a given topic so we hero ourselves in our own internal narrative. Think back to the last thing you put online, the last brand you visited or YouTube comment you read – it’s about how you, the brand or someone else wanted to be perceived.
‘Perception crafting’ should be fundamental in creating marketing results for clients, because it’s the basis of why people share. To perceive something, you must first have a basic understanding of it from which to grow your perception. From there you must decide to either approve or disapprove of it. If the urge of approval or disapproval is strong enough, you will in some way react, with some of those reactions manifesting themselves online. If enough people react to something, we call it ‘viral’ but at its core, it’s a snowball of perceptual reactions.
Create functional value
So how can we use this insight to engage with people to create the reaction of sharing?
For content to have value, we must first consider its meaning and why it’s interesting to someone or a group of people. This is because for someone to share content, they must understand and care about it enough to either agree or disagree with it.
The Interest And Meaning (IAM) model of reaction I developed, which compares interest v meaning, can be used to understand content that has a high potential of reaction and thus increased probability of sharing.
Through the IAM model, proposed or produced content can be aligned with target audiences to gather insight into their anticipated or actual reactions. The function of the model is to enable effective insight and adjustment to move results from low and medium meaning and interest to high; thereby, making content that people are more likely to share.
The aim then becomes simple. Create content that is interestingly meaningful or meaningfully interesting, thus creating value for the target audience and building brand equity for effective ROI.
Ryan Foley is head of campaigns at Roast
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