Learning From Sharing
The essence of viral distribution is, of course, content sharing among friends and contacts. But much of our attention goes to the usual social media suspects, Facebook, Twitter and the like. But according to a clever little startup called Tynt, the under-appreciated and under-used real killer app of viral is the simple copy-and-paste action. "In all the content we track, 2% of all page loads result in someone copying some content from the article," says Derek Ball, CEO.
Tynt works with publishers like iVillage, Time Inc. and Hearst to monitor how their content is copied from pages and used --- whether to pass to others or to conduct further searches online. The volume of content copying and pasting that goes on person-to-person is staggering, and an important reminder about a fundamental reality of Internet history. The industry may build wonderful new sites and tools like Facebook and Twitter to channel and monetize (hopefully) the social impulses that drive the Web. But people still have their own ways of communicating with one another that run outside the channels even young bright entrepreneurs craft for us.
About 10% to 15% of copy/paste shares result in a return to the site, Ball finds. And the channel of choice is not those ubiquitous Facebook buttons, but the most basic and successful person-to-person platform the digital era has created. "Of the content shared and acted on, 70% of that goes through email," says Ball. Not only is email the most popular form of referring content to another person, but it is by far the most effective in generating click-back activity. People are three times more likely to click on a link someone emails to them than they are to click on a link they find elsewhere.
Tynt's technology works on a publisher's page to ensure that when users copy and paste a section of content, it adds to the clip a "Read More" label and the full URL link to the source material. The system can also see another commonly undervalued task, copying a phrase or name in an article and plopping it into a search box to find out more. Helping publishers understand the value and social velocity of their content through tracking copy and paste activities is the core of Tynt's business. "We help boost SEO and turn your readers into link generators for you," says Ball. The volume can be impressive. In a recent 40-day span at client SFGate.com, Tynt tracked over 540,000 copy actions that resulted in 80,000 new visitors to the site and 127,000 page views.
The deeper importance of the data, however, comes in informing publishers where the real value of their content is, providing the opportunity to supply more of what a reader wants. You can see which stories get the most lift from sharing, and perhaps infer more about the topic's importance to your readers than you might by mere page counts. By tracking copy and pastes into search boxes, publishers can see where they might provide links to more information. "Almost half of copies are search copies," says Ball. This is the source of audience leakage. When users feels a need for more information about a topic and paste it into a search box, then the publisher has effectively just turned over their customer to Google. Instead, the publisher can use that data to understand better what terms need to be better indexed and link into related articles or explanatory text.
Tynt gives its basic toolset away free, and tracks over 500,000 domains large and small using the technology. That adds up to billions of page loads a month where it can see sharing behaviors. "We think our best business model is the real-time servicing of the most engaging content, so we are exploring opportunities to surface content that is most engaging," Ball says. The data can be used by publishers to create heat maps of what aspects of a page are being shared most actively, and that can serve as a guide for tweeting out specific passages. Understanding the trending attached to a given story could give the publisher the opportunity to monetize the page with premium ad inventory.
The company also gets a rare view of aggregate behaviors and trends indicated by sharing information. Ultimately, it could build a business just from real-time trend tracking. For the time being, however, Ball says Tynt is looking towards e-commerce and product review sites to see how sharing data can add value in understanding the purchase funnel.