You’re goofing off at work, minding your own business, watching baby ducks master a treadmill or whatever the time-waster video of the moment is. Suddenly, in bursts a breathless email from an acquaintance with something he’s shamelessly shilling. “Please like and retweet and share this to your networks! Digg it and favorite it to your friends and followers, and vote it up and pin it and +1 it and comment!”
As tempting as it is, this special offer to be a part of your fabulous unpaid hype machine, I’m not interested. And neither is the rest of your suppressed recipients list. It may seem like no big deal to ask for a share, but I barely have time to share any of the things I do like, and I’ve got no time to pretend I like your stuff just because I like you.
This urge to commandeer my audience to push your content seems strange to me. It’s the digital equivalent of sitting in a wagon, asking everyone you can think of to give you just one push, so you can get to work. Get a car, dude. Commit to creating content that propels itself -- content so good people will want to share it.
It’s not that I don’t want to do you a favor, by the way—you’re just asking the question wrong. If you want me to share your marvelous Santa cats video, don’t ask me to share it—ask me to look at it. That’s what friends are for—even Facebook friends. If it’s good enough, I’ll happily share it. If it’s not, don’t be offended.
Creating genuinely shareable content is the prize, for brands as well as for people. At work, where my team creates content for sponsors, we imagine the world of content arranged in a three-tiered quality pyramid.
Lowest tier: CLIENT GOOD
The lowest tier is content that readers neither like nor share. It’s a microsite about laundry detergent, or a quiz asking about your favorite Life Savers flavor. It’s content, technically, and the client paid you, but you both know it sucks. Friendly hucksters have to bribe you to look at and share this “Client Good” content, so they can meet some unrealistic engagement metric.
Middle tier: CONSUMER GOOD
You liked it, but … you didn’t share it. Hm. Why not? Because it was nice, but not drop-what-I’m-doing nice. Because you don’t feel like picking five lucky recipients and composing an email. “Consumer Good” is the upper limit for brands who obsess about “brand values” and treat what target readers actually want as a distant afterthought.
Top tier: SHAREABLE GOOD
Finally, the holy grail: Content so good you like it and you share it … you really do drop what you’re doing and show it to your boss, your girlfriend, your six delinquent college buddies. It rocks, and you know it as soon as you see it.
So how do you get to Shareable Good? Yes, it has to be truly, ground-breakingly excellent. But in a world churning out tons and tons of content at the speed of light, excellence is table stakes. Your content also has to be genuinely new, and unique, and super relevant to whatever’s going on right now. People share because they see themselves as nodes in a massive digital collective, and are looking for opportunities to contribute to the national conversation—to see and be seen, social media style.
People like to personalize when they share, so their readers will know the share is heartfelt and not spam. And that personalization ties the sharer to the content—what you share says something about you. So make it easy to share by focusing on content that will add value to the profile of your target sharers. Will sharing your content elevate them in the minds of fans and followers? Will they seem smarter, or more in touch, or a better judge of what’s funny? If not—if there’s no obvious benefit to the sharer—you’re relying on charity and hope.
Even if it’s done right, there’s no guarantee your content will be shared, of course. A creative department can’t promise you a “viral video” any more than a priest can promise you a successful marriage. But maximizing your baseline shareability is a great start, and well within your control. Don’t ask for shares. Make content so good you don’t have to ask, and the sharing will take care of itself.