Everything we know about social media and social sharing is wrong. If you manage social channels you are doing it wrong, if you analyze social activity you are doing it wrong. Everything is wrong from the basics, because we don't know how social sharing actually works.
Let me explain why...
#1 Concentrating just on the open platforms
If you think social media equals to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest (and other open platforms), then I have to say that you are wrong.
Don't be surprised, but social media is not just Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Actually social media is much bigger than you think. This other half of social media is not quite visible, but it is there and it is huge.
You are making a mistake, because you are concentrating just on the open platforms, which means you probably ignore two-thirds of all social activity around your brand. But what about the private social media platforms?
Yes, I said private.
Just look at the current trends. What do you see?
Probably you have already noticed that mobile phones are accounting for a significant part of social activity. And this trend won't stop here. Sharing via mobile is becoming even more important in the future.
The most exciting part of the story is not the emerging trend of mobile sharing in itself, but the way people share.
People tend to share more on mobile by using private channels. These private channels are mainly instant messaging apps, emails and online chat tools. These channels are private, because content is shared with one person or a small group of people via a secured channel.
And these private channels are the golden mines. Golden mines you just ignore. These are the places where online word of mouth takes place. This is the channel where the shared information/ content comes from a trusted source, from peer influencers who are friends, family members and people we know.
Content shared via private channels are super targeted. Let me explain it why:
You have a friend who is a big fan of Star Wars. You are surfing on the internet and just find an awesome article about the newest Star Wars film. You know that you have a good friend who probably likes this content, so you send the link via an instant messaging app. Chances are high that (s)he will open your message and will click on the link, because:
- Link comes from a trusted source (from a friend)
- The content is highly relevant (you know his/her interest)
- The communication channel is private, which means that it is not crowded with other irrelevant social posts. (less distractions)
Due to these reasons mentioned above, reach and open rates of these messages are almost 100% and click through rate could be incredible high. Just compare this data with Facebook's 3,6-8,7% organic reach.
Actually, there are more reasons to use instant messaging app for marketing, if you are still not convinced, I recommend you this article.
And now we arrived to the second problem...
#2 Dark social traffic
This private sharing activity is not visible in your analytics. Ok, it is visible, but web analytics considers this traffic as direct traffic, which is not true, it is social traffic.
Does your website get a lot of direct traffic? Do you think it is high, because the branding team did a great job? Not really. Most of your direct traffic is actually social traffic, but it is considered as direct traffic in the web analytics.
Why is it considered as direct traffic? I'm glad you asked.
Links are untraceable and referrer data are lost, when someone is moving from a secured sites/ apps to a non-secure site/app.
Why is it important for you?
It makes web analytics horrible, because it doesn't show the real performance of the social activities. It means that you don't see the real performance of your social media efforts (which is probably undervalued) and you are going to make bad decisions, which lead to bad results at the end.
#3 Misunderstanding sharing
Counting social shares is not enough anymore. What you see and what actually happens in the background is completely different. Social sharing is more complex and traditional web analytics can't track the whole process of content sharing. You can see how many Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn shares you got and how many visitors came from these channels, but what you can't see is how these are connected to each other across different platforms (including instant messaging apps, emails and chat tools).
You are making a mistake, if you just follow what you see, because social sharing works differently and today's web analytics can't handle this complexity. It creates a wrong, very limited picture of the sharing activity around your brand.
Here is a picture from Buzzfeed, which explains everything:
Social sharing has a tree structure, but currently you don't know how your content actually spreads. You just know how many shares did you get and how many visitors you had from different social media platforms.
I receive a great article from a friend via WhatsApp and I decide to share it on Facebook. After sharing it, one of my friends see the post and copy-pastes the link and shares it on Twitter and an other friend shares it on Messenger. The whole process started from a single private message from an IM app. You can see how many visitors come from these sources (except IM apps, which generate dark social traffic), but you can't see how social sharing works in the background and won't understand the nature of sharing.
Something is in the air. Social sharing has changed and people share differently by using countless social channels, mixed with open and private channels. The problem is simple: web analytics can't track the whole sharing process, so you don't understand how your content is being shared. What you see and what actually happens are different and this is where we go wrong...