We’ve got used to the idea that “liking” something online is a catch-all action that covers an awful lot of things. For instance, it might mean:
- This is funny
- I like this.
- I adore this.
- I will read this later.
- I want to be supportive.
- I want this person to like my stuff.
- I’m glad this exists but can’t think of anything to say about it
And so on. Likes are an example of an online mechanism where a very simple, easy, binary decision process creates an awful lot of difficulty when you’re trying to work out what the decision actually means (if anything) – mostly because all contextual information has been stripped out. But luckily that isn’t the user’s problem – most Facebookers aren’t kept up at night by questions such as “What is a like actually worth?”
But if Likes are ambiguous, Shares are a bit more straightforward – right? Somebody enjoys some content and likes it enough to share it.
Here’s the thing, though. Consuming content and sharing that content are two separate actions. It’s entirely possible for someone to share something without having actually listened to it, watched it, or read it. But do people actually do this, and why?
BrainJuicer have just run a study on the KONY 2012 viral sensation – the half-hour video about child soldiers in Africa which smashed all records for branded or charitable content online. The results aren’t fully analysed yet but it does look as if a small but significant proportion of people who shared it did so without watching the full video. Social momentum is such a powerful force that being seen to share or retweet something can easily precede actually paying attention to it.
The possible gap between caring and sharing can easily strike a raw nerve with marketers. Here’s a screenshot that was doing the rounds on Tumblr yesterday:
It looks like AdWeek is directly asking people to share content before they’ve actually read it. As the Tumblr blogger said, “Why would I want to share something I can’t read? Gross.”
It turns out that AdWeek’s dangerous innovation was – apparently – the result of a bug in the new Google Consumer Surveys feature: users were meant to have the option of answering a survey instead. But the brief flare of anger shows how credible this idea is. After all, it’s not really any different from the “Pay With A Tweet” method – which won a Cannes Lions award last year. If you have to Tweet about content in order to download it, you’re by definition sharing that content without consuming it.
So this won awards, while AdWeek’s accidental invention of the “sharewall” – doing essentially the same thing – prompted a quick apology. On the one hand this shows how important a catchy, friendly concept (“Pay with a Tweet!”) is when you’re trying to get people to do something. On the other it shows how volatile the “attention economy” is, and how weak the link between liking something and sharing something might be.