We’re seeing more and more online campaigns these days aiming to get their message out through social sharing. They pour time and money into creating videos, image memes and microsites, and then wait the magic to happen.
But then the Social Sharing Fairy with that pouch of viral dust never shows. A handful of retweets, pins and Facebook likes later, the project dies a quiet death… and everyone in the organization wonders what went wrong.
Too often, the answer is very simple. There’s a question every one of your audience members is going to ask before sharing something of yours – and if you don’t want your content to wither on the vine, you need to ask it first.
That question: “Why?”
Why should your followers retweet you? Why should they like or reshare that photo you’ve posted to your Facebook Page? Why should they pass along your video to their friends?
Put yourself in their shoes. When your followers share something of yours, they’re telling their friends and followers “This is worth your time.”
And social networks are training them well in what they do and don’t want to share. If it’s something great, they’re rewarded with thanks, LOL!!!s and a sense of satisfaction. If it isn’t, they can lose followers and find it harder to get people’s attention the next time. As Scott Stratten says, “People spread awesome. They don’t spread meh.”
That’s a tricky lesson for those of us who are trying to communicate around values and policy. When you believe strongly in what you’re fighting for, it would be great to believe your audience feels the same way, and will want to reshare everything you post.
But they probably don’t – at least, not with the same depth of passion you and your colleagues do. Ask them to share content that doesn’t resonate with them, and they’ll say no. Oh, a handful of your strongest supporters will (and you should treat those people like the saints – or, in marketing speak, “brand ambassadors” – they are). But most won’t.
Here are five kinds of content that can kill the Social Sharing Fairy dead:
- Dry and tedious: That 40-minute speech delivered in a flat monotone isn’t going to set YouTube on fire. And a parade of academic papers, impersonal news releases and jargon-laden bulletins won’t get many joiners, either.
- Overly earnest: Nobody wants to be scolded, hectored or lectured – unless they’re a true believer (again, that’s spelled S-A-I-N-T).
- Embarrassingly bad: Technical execution doesn’t always have to be great; just look at the popularity of a cartoon like xkcd. But unless your content has something else really compelling going for it (how many people complained about the audio quality in that Mitt Romney 47% video?), sloppy, ugly or error-filled can sink you.
- Nakedly self-serving: If it’s all about you, it isn’t about your followers and their friends. “Looks like we have quorum for our executive subcommittee of the whole!! PLEASE RT!!!” is the organizational equivalent of “That last burrito isn’t sitting too well.”
- Wide of the mark: That script may have had you, your coworkers and your board in stitches… but if the jokes aren’t funny to your audience, no amount of jaunty music, quirky actors and smash cuts are going to save you.
And what can make the Social Sharing Fairy sparkle and shine?
- Relevance: Test your content outside the echo chamber – with the kind of people you’re hoping to reach, in a context where they don’t feel obliged to be kind. (So, not with your mom over dinner.)
- Timeliness: Social sharing happens in real time, and if you can join a conversation while it’s fresh and vibrant, you stand a better chance of success. With a breaking news story, that means less time for elaborate production or approvals. But sometimes you can anticipate a topic, the way the CDC did with its wildly successful zombie blog post.
- Humour: Something genuinely funny can help you connect with a much wider audience. If they can get the joke, people will share content even when the subject matter isn’t near and dear to their hearts.
- Emotion: We like to share our strong emotions – and the content that triggers them. Outrage and anger are often the easiest emotions to appeal to (especially when you’re fighting for social justice), but hope and delight can be even more effective.
- Uniqueness: Offer your followers something new and different – something they haven’t seen countless times before. And never, ever post a photo of a sunset captioned “Be the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi“. (Also, he probably never said it.)
- Convenience: Make it as easy as possible to share your content. Give your audience clear, prominent links to the networks they’re most likely to use, including Facebook and Twitter. (And you can try coding the Twitter link with a short message, to help the tongue-tied.)
- Relationship: Ask a stranger to share something, and you’re likely to be ignored. But put in the time and effort to build a friendship with someone, and you can legitimately ask them to do a favour from time to time. Just remember that friendships are reciprocal: when you ask someone to share something great, you’re doing them a favour, too.