Improve your online sharing

A large part of social design is sharing. How do you encourage sharing? What should you let people share? Is there a way to improve the act of sharing? How do you know if sharing is successful?

Sharing is a pretty straight-forward process. Someone finds something interesting/controversial/useful enough to tell someone else about it. Breaking down this process into smaller steps can help you design better methods for sharing.

  1. Something worth sharing
    First, you need something worth sharing. It could be an object, like a video, slideshow, picture, or URL. Or it could be an idea or process, like a new way to cook spaghetti or a better way to design web sites. Ideas, however, need to be distilled into an object as well…since we’re on the Web most of the time the objects are URLs.
  2. Pivot points for sharing
    A good question to ask is: what are the pivot points on which this thing is shared? Here’s an example: most TV shows are shared not by the network they’re on, but by the title of the show. This suggests that network doesn’t matter as much as the show, and so giving people the tools to share the show is a higher priority. However, if you notice when you’re watching a TV show, there is a ton of network advertising…but nobody really shares at this level so it’s just not that effective…

A large part of social design is sharing. How do you encourage sharing? What should you let people share? Is there a way to improve the act of sharing? How do you know if sharing is successful?

Sharing is a pretty straight-forward process. Someone finds something interesting/controversial/useful enough to tell someone else about it. Breaking down this process into smaller steps can help you design better methods for sharing.

  1. Something worth sharing
    First, you need something worth sharing. It could be an object, like a video, slideshow, picture, or URL. Or it could be an idea or process, like a new way to cook spaghetti or a better way to design web sites. Ideas, however, need to be distilled into an object as well…since we’re on the Web most of the time the objects are URLs.
  2. Pivot points for sharing
    A good question to ask is: what are the pivot points on which this thing is shared? Here’s an example: most TV shows are shared not by the network they’re on, but by the title of the show. This suggests that network doesn’t matter as much as the show, and so giving people the tools to share the show is a higher priority. However, if you notice when you’re watching a TV show, there is a ton of network advertising…but nobody really shares at this level so it’s just not that effective.
  3. Make it easier to share
    How do you make something easier to share? Make it a PDF that people can email. Provide an explicit permalink to the URL. If you’ve got a video you place the embed code right alongside it. (and build the functionality to support the actual embedding). If you’ve got a book review, you might put an “email this” share feature beside it. Prompt the user to share and give them tools to do so.
  4. Personalize the share
    How can you make the act of sharing more effective? One thing you can do is to personalize the share message. Instead of saying “a friend wanted to share with you”. say “Your friend Josh wanted to share with you”. This is a more compelling message, especially in a age of SPAM when we are inundated with fake sharing all the time.
  5. Follow-up the sharing
    Also, follow-up the share. Who did they send it to? Did that person come and interact as a result of the sharing? Pay attention to this metric because it measures whether or not people are sharing your stuff persuasively. If they are not, help them do so by prompting them with a default message. Also, if it makes sense record the message that was shared so you can know if there are issues you’re not aware of.
  6. Leverage the Popularity of Sharing
    Create a “most shared” list. This helps people find the best content when they are looking for it. However, this probably isn’t a good primary navigation strategy because then people rely on it too much. Have it available, but make it secondary so that all of your content is still available and exposed.

Building tools for sharing is how you enable word-of-mouth online. By breaking it down into a process with many steps, you can begin to optimize each step and therefore improve the overall effect.

Published: September 24th, 2007

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