In terms of critical daily needs, social sharing may not rank as high on a millennials’ list as, say, eating or breathing, but it comes pretty close. From the moment millennials wake up, they are checking out and checking on the various dramas unfolding in their multi-platform social spheres. And when something strikes a chord — whether it’s their own content-worthy experience or someone else’s — it gets shared.
For millennials, social sharing is a universal and essential way to stay connected, informed and entertained. In its nascent days (you know, way back in the early 2000s), the currency of social sharing was based on more “analog” values. If something was shared, it was typically noteworthy, newsworthy or considered. And while those categories still apply today, they’re surrounded by content that’s less quantifiable. Sharing can happen in real-time (Periscope, Meerkat), for a limited time (Shapchat, Yik-Yak) or anytime (YouTube, Vimeo, Vine). There’s also curated content (Pinterest, Tumblr) to consider and, of course, the “old standards” (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).
Since social sharing emerged, brands have worked to use it to their advantage — with extremely limited success. Why? Because they make it about themselves and their own agendas. As a result, their attempts at engagement come off as glaringly inauthentic, a quality that millennials detest with universal and documented consistency. What brands are missing is the human element of the experience — standard offline social behaviors that transcend media and get to the heart of sharing itself. And while these behaviors manifest in a number of ways, two types repeatedly rise to the surface:
1. One-on-One or One-to-Few: These are personal shares — an inside joke, a key milestone, an outfit for a first date, a gift from a significant other, etc. This is real, unedited, high-stakes, private content that’s shared in real time with just one or a handful of friends. In this scenario, the sharer seeks a connection, acceptance and feedback. Outward appearances aren’t important; camaraderie and self-expression are.
2. Broadcast: Like the name indicates, these shares are all about showcasing oneself and — in essence — advertising one’s personal brand: a pic with a celebrity, video clips from a concert, selfies with friends, shots from the 50-yard line of the championship game, etc. This type of sharing has spawned a notable phenomenon: The “11th like.” On Instagram, if a shared image doesn’t elicit more than 11 likes (aka the threshold where likes on Instagram shift from usernames to a numerical value), some users will delete the post. It doesn’t provide the social capital they’re seeking and, as such, is deemed not worth sharing.
While leveraging these behaviors to support messaging efforts to foster better, more meaningful relationships with your audience is the end goal, it can be tricky. So instead of viewing social sharing as a way to gain something from your consumers, look at it as a way to give something to them — a seamless experience that adds value to their daily lives and naturally fits into their existing behaviors and routines. Urban Outfitters does a good job of this.
Shoppers at Urban Outfitters are gently encouraged to engage in different types of social sharing in the context of a shopping trip. For example, the clothing retailer displays branded hashtags on mirrors around the store: If a shopper is inclined to share a photo with his or her followers on Twitter or Instagram, that person has the opportunity to be featured in Urban Outfitter’s feed. Instead of introducing a new task, the brand simply gives a subtle prompt to be part of the user’s already existing social share, thereby organically leveraging his/her broadcasting behavior. Another great example: When in store, members of Urban Outfitters’ loyalty program (read: brand advocates) receive a push notification encouraging them to share outfits they try on in the fitting room to get real-time feedback from their friends. Here, the brand is able to unobtrusively take advantage of one-on-one/one-to-few behaviors while also adding value to the shopper’s experience.
As you can see, the best strategy for leveraging social sharing begins and ends where every brand effort should: With the consumer. Take a look at his or her one-to-one/one-to-few and broadcast social sharing behaviors. If the content you’re asking that person to share fits into her/her routine in a truly authentic way, great. If not, then take step back and start over.