Post image for Here’s what’s wrong with social media: Sharing without consumption

Here’s what’s wrong with social media: Sharing without consumption

on November 15, 2010

I just came across a disturbing realization about social media behavior.

People like to share content without actually consuming it.

I knew people did this, but I didn’t realize how drastic the problem was.

Here’s my evidence.

I posted a video on YouTube earlier this week where I asked a bunch of people “How do you get everyone to watch your video?” I got a lot of useful, useless, and fun answers to the question, and my editor compiled it into a snappy 90-second video. I think it’s a fun video, and I thought others were in agreement when after posting it to Socialmedia.biz it got 52 shares via Twitter, and other social outlets (e.g., Facebook).

As you see 41 Tweets and 11 shares for a total of 52 shares, measurable by this post (no shares were automated).

Problem is far less people watched the video than actually shared it.

Look, here’s the YouTube page showing that only 48 people watched the video (dated November 13th).

In actuality, that viewing number should be more like 43 given that my editor and I watched the video a number of times ourselves. In addition, like with most videos and content online, I have to assume that there were some people who watched the video without sharing and other shares that weren’t even measured here. With that assumption, I expect only a fraction of the 52 sharers actually watched the video.

52 shares but only 48 views? What gives?

People do like to share content for the sake of sharing, but others share because the act of measurable sharing increases their social media cache. The more content I share the more valuable I am to my Twitter followers. I get retweets, I’m more visible, and as a result I get more followers. Unfortunately, this sharing has come off as some means to “game” the social media system so much so that actual consumption of the content has become irrelevant.

I consider “sharing without consumption” an empty social media gesture. I always appreciate the share, but I’d appreciate it more if you’d actually consume the content rather than see my content as a means to boost your own stature in the social media sphere.

I’ve seen this “share without consumption” phenomenon happen many times before. For example, I’ll post a 1,500 word article up on Mashable and within seconds it will be retweeted. There’s no conceivable way that retweeter actually read what I wrote. The retweet was done solely as a social boosting exercise. I wouldn’t be upset if it actually had a positive effect, but now with this video’s pathetic numbers (really watch it, you’ll like it) I see that people’s social media sharing is so vacuous and empty.

Tim Ferriss noted this phenomenon in his article, “Blogging by Numbers: How to Create Headlines that Get Retweeted.” The article is about creating retweetable headlines, which I agree is the main attractor for a piece of content. But I’ve often seen great headlines with horrible content, and I don’t retweet them. Ferriss notes that people will retweet your content solely based on the headline. After he posts an article he’ll see hundreds of retweets in less time it takes to actually read the article.

Do you share content without consuming it? Has our social media system simply created ways for people to build their social stature solely through a system of retweets? Can you trust a person who retweets without context or a review of the retweeted content?

Stock photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

  1. My daily media consumption habits for 2010
  2. Build Your Industry Voice with Social Media
  3. Tracking the Israel Gaza Conflict via social media
  4. Using social media to experience the Obama inauguration before, during, and after
  5. Looking for social media rule breakers
  • Pingback: How do you get everyone to watch your video?

  • http://understanding.uservoice.com Evan Hamilton

    Great to see some actual numbers around this phenomenon. It’s sad but true, and I think if we all think about it we’ve probably done it at least once (oh, ______ wrote something. He writes good stuff, I’ll retweet).
    I certainly don’t have the solution, but a few things come to mind:

    1. Target better
    We’re all blasting into Twitter as if it is our target audience. It’s not. There are target audiences within Twitter, but blasting out to everyone is like sticking a billboard on the interstate. Sure, there are some folks out there who will be into it but you’re paying for a bunch of folks who aren’t. We need to get involved in the actual conversations and groups that matter to us and find ways to (legitimately, not spammily) insert our content there.

    2. Encourage people to interact
    This one is hard to do without it seeming like something you threw on the end of the post, but if you really find a way to involve people you can turn a post that people normally might glance at and discard into a real discussion (Jonathan Fields did a great job with this the other day: http://www.jonathanfields.com/blog/naked-truth-autoresponders/).

    3. Stop measuring retweets
    I’m a little nervous suggesting this one because retweets make me feel good about myself, but if they’re as invalid as you suggest, maybe we shouldn’t measure them. Maybe only tweets adding to the conversation or comments on the post should be part of our metrics (official or emotional).

    Hm. Lots to think about. Great post, David.

  • http://twitter.com/sharonvak Sharon Vaknin

    I've been waiting for such an experiment for quite some time, so this is great to see.

    However, I do feel that a difference of four shares isn't enough to prove this–and I have a really strong feeling that the difference is greater, especially with blog posts and news articles.

    Once in a while I'll retweet something that's clearly newsworthy from a reliable source, and use the tweet as a bookmark to read the article later.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    Tweet as a bookmark? Interesting tactic. Kind of like how people send emails to themselves on Gmail and use that as a “to do” list. If that's the way you like to bookmark, I HIGHLY recommend you switch over to using Delicious. Because I use it for that reason and it's far easier to search.

    But, to your other point, this is a far more drastic than you realize. It's not a situation of a disparity of four, but rather a situation of probably half if not more. Many people view content and don't share it. We're not calculating those people. We're also not calculating the people that shared that aren't being measured by these two services (ShareThis and Tweetmeme) on the socialmedia.biz blog post. Also you didn't calculate the probably five views that me and my editor viewed.

    I don't think you'll ever see a drastic case where there's an overwhelming number of shares and very few views. But this just demonstrates that it does happen and it could be as many as half if not more DON'T consume the content they're sharing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=727446492 Howard Cooperstein

    My team creates the sharing/rating/FB like and commenting features on MSN.com. I'm certain this happens but it seems to me that how you share it implies your level of engagement with the content.

    If you share content you haven't read/viewed at all by retweeting, FB Liking, digging, etc., those are generally “pass it on” or “I vote for this” style sharing signal in the social universe. It nearly communicates both “I agree with the premise of this article” and, to your point, “I want you to think I'm the kind of person who would read this content.” I think this behavior in 2010 is very normal, common, beneficial with a minor risk of passing on evil crap under your name. FB Like in particular is so lightweight it's almost designed to encourage sharing without consumption behavior.

    If you post on your FB Wall or Twitter or Email with any kind of a comment about the content and you haven't consumed it or at least seriously skimmed it… it's beyond an empty gesture – you are taking a light first step into ethically questionable territory. But it's a long way from there to, say, padding your resume or plagiarism.

    As for the measurements proving this your numbers are indicative but not conclusive. Just not a large sample size. The instant retweeting of long content seems to be the most conclusive proof of that.

  • http://twitter.com/elginista Crysta Anderson

    I had suspected this but it's good to see some data behind it! On my company's blog, I've occasionally noticed cases where, in the first couple hours after something is published, we'll get more tweets than views. But within a 24 hour period, views catches up and always surpasses tweets.

    I know I use Twitter as a bookmark – I'll skim something and then tweet it so I have the sent tweet history to look at later, over lunch or after work when I have time to read in depth. But I would never tweet without at least a skim to make sure it's something I want to put my name behind.

    I hate RTs without any commentary, and was frustrated when Twitter launched this “feature” of retweeting verbatim without allowing for additional notes.

  • Evan_Hamilton

    Great to see some actual numbers around this phenomenon. It's sad but true, and I think if we all think about it we've probably done it at least once (oh, ______ wrote something. He writes good stuff, I'll retweet).
    I certainly don't have the solution, but a few things come to mind:

    1. Target better
    We're all blasting into Twitter as if it is our target audience. It's not. There are target audiences within Twitter, but blasting out to everyone is like sticking a billboard on the interstate. Sure, there are some folks out there who will be into it but you're paying for a bunch of folks who aren't. We need to get involved in the actual conversations and groups that matter to us and find ways to (legitimately, not spammily) insert our content there.

    2. Encourage people to interact
    This one is hard to do without it seeming like something you threw on the end of the post, but if you really find a way to involve people you can turn a post that people normally might glance at and discard into a real discussion (Jonathan Fields did a great job with this the other day: http://www.jonathanfields.com/blog/naked-truth-autoresponders/).

    3. Stop measuring retweets
    I'm a little nervous suggesting this one because retweets make me feel good about myself, but if they're as invalid as you suggest, maybe we shouldn't measure them. Maybe only tweets adding to the conversation or comments on the post should be part of our metrics (official or emotional).

    Hm. Lots to think about. Great post, David.

  • http://www.gadgetx.com AnthonyGadgetX

    This problem is sort of the reverse of what used to happen in the Warez dial-up BBS days. Some BBS's solved the problem by enforcing an upload to download ratio, sounds like social media could use a mechanism that somehow balances things out too.

  • http://www.gadgetx.com AnthonyGadgetX

    Good points Evan, maybe there could be something like a suggested tweet dropped into our timelines every once in awhile, something the system has decided we might want to consume.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    You're right this is far from being a large enough sample size, but the sheer fact that sharing numbers exceeded viewing numbers even by a small margin, just shows a failure in the social “hey check this out” system. The numbers of views should be a magnitude higher than shares if the whole concept of sharing was working the way it's supposed to. But now it appears that sharing holds little value if people are only agreeing with your headline and nothing else.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    The RT without commentary is sadly the way most people use Twitter. For example, go to a live event and see what people are tweeting. When they're watching a panel or a presentation they're just regurgitating what's being said by a presenter. It's the same thing as retweeting without commentary.

    BTW, I also recommend to you like I recommended to Sharon, start using Delicious for your bookmarking. It's far more valuable especially when you search old links you bookmarked.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    Forgot about the BBS days requiring you to share if you want to participate. But in actuality social media is an extension of that behavior. People are sharing without just taking.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    At Gnomedex Chris Pirillo echoed a suggestion about adding Star Tags at the end of tweets. A ten point rating scale where you add *0 to *9 to rate the content of what you're talking about. e.g. “Just had dinner at Giorgio's *7.” See more in my post about Gnomedex: http://www.sparkminute.com/2010/08/24/the-cool-and-not-so-cool-from-gnomedex/

  • http://www.gadgetx.com AnthonyGadgetX

    Yeah, you just need some way of connecting what you get out of the community by sharing with what you give by consuming. I'm sure a hard ratio of posts read or video's watched would work, Im sure there should be a way of signaling that you are fully engaged in the community.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=727446492 Howard Cooperstein

    Right, all this sharing is supposed to create multiple views per sharing. That's just weird if ultimately it's just circling around the social sphere as resharings without significant viewing.

    I think email is a better social channel for getting more engagement per “share” – people seem to check stuff out when you send it to them directly. So retro.

  • gretms

    It seems to me that criticizing the lack of “consumption” in re/tweets, as indicative somehow of the failure of social media in general, misses the mark. Sure, a re/tweet does not guarantee that your article has been read or your video viewed by the person sharing it. However, whether the motive is sheer vanity (“I tweet (lots) therefore I am!”) or a genuine interest in spreading excellent content, the sharer still serves an important purpose in broadcasting your work out to still more potential readers or viewers. If only 25,000 of the 50,000 who shared the link to your work actually engaged with it… well, you get my point.

  • Pingback: And the future of broadcast news is … | Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

  • Pingback: Streaming Media West 2010 video round up

  • http://www.miss-britt.com Miss Britt

    You know, I've often wonder how some people who are CONSTANTLY retweeting information have time to actually read all the content they must in order to pass on so many “gems”. This explains a lot.

    And I think it sucks.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    There's no way people have time to read the stuff they're sharing and retweeting. Unless they're retired. :)

  • guest

    Reminds me of that test teachers liked to give in middle school where it says “read all instructions before beginning this test” and if you read the instructions it tells you to put your pencil down. Most kids didn't read and just started answering the questions.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    Similarly, a guy I know didn't believe anyone read the software EULA (End User License Agreement) and to prove it he put a note at the end of the EULA that said if you got to this point, email me with your address and I'll send you a check for $1,000. He had that up there for a month before someone emailed him.

  • Roots

    as a consumer i often rewrite the headline when i share articles on my facebook page.

  • Susan Munson

    Wow, I know I am new to the “scene”, but I have only ever shared something after I've read it and thought it was useful for my audience. Of course, I'm just now building an audience and have limited followers.

    Great food for thought!!

  • http://www.pickegg.com/wholesale/Lens-Caps/2.html Lens cap

    Someday i missed her so much ,but we can not come back

  • Pingback: Highlights reel: My favorite posts from 2010

  • Pingback: Highlights reel: My favorite posts from 2010 » The Social Media Experiment 2011

  • Pingback: Quora

  • Kirsten O

    With due respect, offering two counter perspectives: Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Market. When loyal fans create and share content, brands can experience dramatic ROI. Trouble is, most businesses — particularly small businesses — do not achieve that level of brand engagement and enthusiasm. Although I once served as Whole Foods Market's National Marketing Director, for the past five years I've served as a brand communications strategist to high growth startups and I currently serve on the advisory board for the International Stevie Awards for Women in Business.

    When all is said and done, social media isn’t a strategy; it’s just a tool. And plenty of tools prove equally effective. U.S. businesses need to get back to basics: good old fashioned hard work, creation of quality products instead of worthless cr*p, value pricing, reverse logistics and supply chain management, integrity, ethics, localism, and in-person handshakes.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    Kirsten, I don't know if your response actually addresses the issue of “Sharing without consumption.” So I don't really see what the counter perspectives are.

    But, if you do have a true opinion on that, please let me know. I'm working on another piece about how people are using other people's content to build their own brand, and not the brand of the content provider.

  • http://blog.momekh.com Momekh

    I think you are taking this too seriously. It's like flicking TV channels. Do I watch NatGeo, if you'd ask me, I'd say 'of course'. And I wouldn't have lied. I would even associate with the brand, maybe buy their magazine once in a while, a cap or a shirt even. But the last time I tuned in to ANY television program was I think 4 months ago.

    Association is what derives recommendation, and not as such quality. Me thinks.

    NatGeo has quality programs, but that's the repute, not the 'peer review score'. I associate with it by recommending it. Making sense?

    We have been doing this type of 'association' for eons, may it be tech, culture or religion. Now that I think about it, thanks to you, the world would be quite different without it. So what you are seeing (more shares than views, etc) should have been anticipated actually. And I am sure them folks with deep insights into social sciences probably would've been anticipating this.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    Get down to the bare bones of this.

    What's happening is all these “influencers” are saying, “You should watch this” and as a result others are saying, “You should watch this” because an influencer said, “You should watch this.” All the while, nobody is actually watching the content. What results is the influencer, and the people parroting the influencer are all building their brand as a “recommender.” The one who suffers is the content creator who realizes they're being used as a tool to build other people's brand.

    Yes, many people used the excuse of, “I trust this person or this media channel, so I'll recommend anything they put out.” That's great for the brand to know that they're trusted, but what's happening is that trust reverts into a negative effect as too much trust results in less consumption and more sharing.

  • Kirsten O

    Hi David:

    Apologies – took me a while to figure out how to respond to your comment via Blackberry Mobile. Hopefully you received my FB message. My point is yes, sharing can – and does – lead to consumption when fans are engaged and loyal. The mathematical equation of (sharing + consumption) is a key indicator of cost per engagement. Case and point; recipes. Whole Foods Market fans seek out and share recipes…and then buy the products to make a delicious dinner. They vociferously debate organic and green issues and take action after receiving a Whole Foods' call to arms notice. Trader Joe's fan create their own videos of their shopping experience – and avidly read the Fearless Flyer online. True fans embrace a brand and help build its content empire. Sharing WITHOUT consumption ONLY occurs when: (1) brand content sucks wind, (2) brand fans are disengaged, and/or when (3) the brand fan base is comprised primarily of intellectual pedagogues who love to hear themselves talk. Sadly, this is far too often the case with tech brands that appeal to early adopters. ;)

  • Kirsten O

    Hi David:

    Apologies – took me a while to figure out how to respond to your comment via Blackberry Mobile. Hopefully you received my FB message. My point is yes, sharing can – and does – lead to consumption when fans are engaged and loyal. The mathematical equation of (sharing + consumption) is a key indicator of cost per engagement. Case and point; recipes. Whole Foods Market fans seek out and share recipes…and then buy the products to make a delicious dinner. They vociferously debate organic and green issues and take action after receiving a Whole Foods' call to arms notice. Trader Joe's fans create their own videos of their shopping experience – and avidly read the Fearless Flyer online. True fans embrace a brand and help build its content empire. Sharing WITHOUT consumption ONLY occurs when: (1) brand content sucks wind, (2) brand fans are disengaged, and/or when (3) the brand fan base is comprised primarily of intellectual pedagogues who love to hear themselves talk. Sadly, this is far too often the case with tech brands that appeal to early adopters. ;)

  • Kirsten O

    P.S. The (Sharing + Consumption) equation applies to personal brands as well as company brands. For instance, I truly believe tweeps and bloggers read and reflect upon what Seth Godin has to say before they retweet it (even though in IMHO Seth was stuffed into one too many lockers when he was in high school). ;)

  • Kirsten O

    P.S. The (Sharing + Consumption) equation applies to personal brands as well as company brands. For instance, I truly believe tweeps and bloggers read and reflect upon what Seth Godin has to say before they retweet it (even though IMHO Seth was stuffed into one too many lockers when he was in high school). ;)

  • Kirsten O

    P.P.S. For the record, I LOATHE my new TMobile Blackberry.

  • http://twitter.com/agent139 James Curcio

    Or at least, you know. Watch/read it first.

    Crazy talk!, I know.

  • http://www.hicksnewmedia.com jameshicks

    Great point you bring up here. I have to admit, there are a few times when I'll do a “blind retweet”. I agree that it may cheapen the true social media experience, and could, in fact, lessen one's credibility should the retweeted content be bogus.

    Thanks for bringing the topic up – I'll, myself, slow down and focus on what's really important – that principle of forwarding and sharing relevant and meaningful content.

  • http://www.kolibriexpeditions.com/birdingperu/blog/ Gunnar Engblom

    Why is that and what model is it?

  • sam li

    http://www.home-security-leader.com is a direct store of CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) cameras. We supply a wide range of CCTV camera and recording equipment suitable for homes, education establishments, businesses and contractors.

  • Pingback: 13 Annoying Communications that Must End in 2012

  • Pingback: Annoying Communication Habits | healthylivingandfun

  • Pingback: The Selfishness of Online Sharing - INGAGED | Marketing Engagement Insights

  • Pingback: How to Build Your Brand by Promoting Your Industry’s Rockstars - INGAGED | Marketing Engagement Insights

  • Pingback: This Article is Still Valuable to You Even if You Never Read It

  • Pingback: Are you using social media to serve your needs? | Search Engine Optimization & Internet Marketing (SEO & SEM) Blog

  • Pingback: » Are you using social media to serve your needs? - AWD SocialBlog

  • Pingback: 17 Communication Annoyances that Must End in 2014

Previous post:

Next post: