Do Brands Understand What Motivates Sharing?

Ben Martin
Ben Martin Head of Planning, Beyond

Posted on April 20th 2013

Do Brands Understand What Motivates Sharing?

personalityAccording to a recently released study from PNAS, what you Like on Facebook is an indication of your personality, right down to sexuality, political leanings and intelligence. In a study of 58,000 volunteers, this was proven with staggering accuracy. The problem is, too few brands have yet to understand this connection.

Let’s move away from social for a second. Do you own a Dyson vacuum cleaner - and even if you donʼt, would you like to? If the answer was yes (and I hope it was), why would you buy a vacuum cleaner that costs around five (sometimes as much as ten) times as much as one that serves the exact same purpose? The answer? Because of the way it makes you feel. Owning a Dyson is more an affirmation of status than owning a product that might do a slightly better job than its competitors.

In his book “Hegarty on Advertising”, John Hegarty makes the case that audiences donʼt care about functionality any more - they expect stuff to work so it shouldnʼt be a selling point. What they do care about, instead, is how the brand reflects on themselves: how it makes them feel and how it makes them look. He says:

The issue with brands today is not about whether 'it', the product I've just bought, works - I expect 'it' to work - but what 'it' says about me. 'It' becomes a fashion statement. Brands should now be viewed through a prism of style and substance

In a nutshell: fashion over function. In longer-established forms of advertising, brands do a better job of remembering this. Online? Not so much. Brands waste energy in talking about themselves rather than remembering what their audienceʼs participation with that brand says about themselves. How awesome the product / service is rather than why people should care about it. Function over fashion.

BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti touched on this a little when he said that “the social web requires ad creative be re-envisioned for sharing among groups”.

So, why do people share? Because it gives them a feeling of meaning? Of giving something back? Possibly but ultimately people share to build “Brand Me”.

Regardless of the platform (Facebook; Twitter; LinkedIn, whatever), the online profiles we have are digital expressions of our personality, and the content on reflects that. Or, more accurately, how we want them to reflect that.

This is entirely defined by the content we choose to share. There obviously has to be an element of interest in the content but for the most part we share links about social media to show that we are knowledgeable about it, we share funny YouTube videos to show that we have a sense of humour and we share pictures of our nights out to show that we are fun and popular.

As a brand, how do you get people to share your content on their own social media channels? Well one proven method is this approach: instead of making your content about you, you make it about them.

When you think back to some memorable social campaigns, the results prove the value of this approach. Old Spice: Personalized videos of the Old Spice Guy directly addressing users. Results: 40 million views in a week, 1.4 billion campaign impressions and a 300% increase in traffic to oldspice.com). Intelʼs Museum of Me: A personalized museum built out of a userʼs own Facebook profile. Results: 540,000 Likes, 790,000 Facebook Shares,130 million Facebook Impressions. One of the earliest social “virals”, Elf Yourself, still gets millions of hits to this day (with over 378 million elves created so far) because itʼs entirely focussed on personalization.

All too often, brands are focusing on providing that personalisation purely through engagement around the content, rather than considering including it in their content in the first place. “Weʼll encourage user discussion around the video/infographic/app” is a phrase all too often heard in the hallways and boardrooms of agencies and marketing departments the world over, without really thinking about why the user might bother.

Making shiny content might get an audience talking about it, but unless it offers any real value to them and their personal brand, why would they bother sharing it with their own audience? Think about what matters to your audience the most (themselves) and make that your priority. Ask yourself: “Why care, why share?” Because itʼs about me.

Ben Martin

Ben Martin

Head of Planning, Beyond

Head of Planning at Beyond, a full service, creative digital agency part of the Next15 group. Working out of our New York office, I’m responsible for formulating client strategy and tactics, setting direction for the work of Beyond’s social and content work.

Outside of work stuff, I'm a keen foodie, cyclist, rugby player and pop-culture geek.

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