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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 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.

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