The Decrease in Social Sharing, Mobile Websites, and Dark Social

Photo credit: Pixel Addict on Flickr.Content marketing is a great way to generate leads for your business.

Smart businesses know this and have invested a lot of money into creating great content and optimizing it for search so that customers and prospects find their business when it is most important… when the customers and prospects need them.

But search engine optimization is only part of the equation. When it comes to content marketing, getting people to help share your message via social media is also important.

In fact, social sharing is one of four key social media metrics that Avinash Kaushik suggests businesses track. He refers to the social sharing metric as Amplification Rate. (The other three important social media metrics that he suggests that businesses track are: Conversation Rate, Applause Rate, and Economic Value.)

According to a post that Kaushik wrote in 2011, Amplification Rate is measured by tracking the number of times users share a piece of content per post.

In General, Amplification Rate Is Decreasing

In a recent post on the BuzzSumo blog, Steve Rayson points out that although some popular sites have increased the amount of content that they produce, the level of engagement with those posts has been trending downward.

In fact, after analyzing the shares and links of 1 million posts for a research project that BuzzSumo did in conjunction with Moz, they found that 75% of randomly selected posts received 39 shares or less. Furthermore, 50% of these randomly selected posts received 8 shares or less.

In the post, Rayson explains that while content supply has increased at an exponential rate, the fact that demand for content has remained relatively flat partially explains this decrease in content sharing. (Rayson cites Mark Schaeffer in the post. Schaeffer calls this “content shock.”)

In his post, Rayson also identifies three other factors that are compounding the content shock problem.

These three factors, or mistakes that content creators make, include: Lack of research, lack of amplification, and lack of monitoring.

I suggest reading the BuzzSumo post for further details.

Mobile Social Sharing Buttons

Recently, I have noticed that many businesses are not including social sharing buttons on their mobile websites and blogs. Is this by design or something that they have just overlooked? (In WordPress sites, a common social sharing plugin might be the issue, as I have noticed that many blog sites with the “floating” share buttons on their desktop version of their blog don’t have the social share buttons on their mobile sites.)

I wonder if this is another partial explanation for the overall downward trend in the rate of social sharing, given the fact that so many people are consuming content on mobile devices these days.

After doing a quick search on Google, I wasn’t able to find any hard numbers to verify my observation.

However, I was able to find an article on Marketing Land from 2013 that said that consumers were “nearly twice as likely to click and share content on social networks through mobile devices as opposed to desktop.”

This data might be outdated, as these numbers can change extremely quickly based on many different factors.

In fact, according to a post on their blog in May of 2015, Moovweb reported that “Only 0.2% of users ever click on a mobile sharing button. Mobile users click sharing buttons 35% less often that they do on the desktop.”

These numbers also need to be taken with a grain of salt because they based on a subsection of Moovweb customer data. (While Moovweb powers over 250 mobile experiences, these numbers might not reflect the state of social sharing on mobile websites, in general.)

That said, they may have uncovered some valuable insights that businesses can use.

According to the Moovweb blog post, “Just because sharing buttons have been popular on the desktop web does not mean they can be ported over with the same experience on the mobile web. And while 0.2% of mobile users clicking on a social sharing button is a minuscule figure, it does reflect the way social media usage on mobile has evolved: away from the web and toward apps.”

“Most mobile users access social networks via an app, so they are often not logged in to the corresponding social networks on the mobile web,” the blog post continues. “Pinterest, for example, gets 75% of its traffic from apps.”

Moovweb believes that the fact that users need to be logged in in order to share content is the reason for the low percentage of sharing on the mobile web. This creates extra steps that mobile users might not be willing to take.

“For starters you have to thumb type your username and password,” the author of the post writes. “If you’ve been saving your password in-app or in-browser, you might have forgotten it. Resetting a lost password is a huge hassle on mobile.”

Note: I have encountered social sharing buttons on mobile websites that require a user to log in to the mobile web and others that ask if I want to open the correct app, thus bypassing the need to type in a username and password again. This helps fix the problem that Moovweb identified. However, I am not sure if this option is available on every mobile device.

Sharing on Dark Social

To complicate things even further, there is the issue of users sharing links to content via email, SMS, instant messaging or some other way of electronic communication that does not fit neatly into what we usually classify as social media.

In an article for The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal classifies these types of referral sources as “dark social” because they are difficult to measure exactly which sources are driving users to a website.

At the time the article was written, Madrigal stated that dark social was nearly always the top referral source for The Atlantic.

This reflects the ever-changing way that people use social media and other electronic communication methods. And, again, mobile devices are helping drive this trend.

A recent post on the NeimanLab site helps illustrate the prevalence of “dark social” sharing.

As Joshua Benton explains in the post, when asked how often SMS and chat apps are used for sharing posts on BuzzFeed’s site, Stacy-Marie Ishmael stated that SMS was the most used way readers share BuzzFeed’s content, followed by Twitter, email, and Facebook. That means that two of the four most common ways that readers share BuzzFeed’s content on Android and iOS are not on standard social media sites. (It appears that this is only based on traffic received from mobile devices, but it is not clear based on the information provided in the article.)

If the way BuzzFeed’s readers share content is representative of the way all Internet users share content, businesses might need to find alternative ways to track what sources are driving traffic to their websites.

Note: Some of what might be classified as dark social sharing might, in fact, be a form of bookmarking posts so that users can read it later. For example, they might email an article that they find on their smartphone to themselves in order to read it later on a desktop computer.

Final Thoughts

There are many factors that play a role in whether content gets shared or not.

However, sometimes the problem is not the fact that users are not sharing the content, but that they are sharing it in ways that we can’t currently accurately track and measure.

Therefore, identifying the key issues that inhibit social sharing is not always easy to identify and might be even more difficult to fix.

Photo credit: Pixel Addict on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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