Sharing is Not Reading

Over on the Social Media Today site, I came across an article about online advertising when searching for some information for a future blog post. The article itself was about all that we think we know about online advertising, but one part really jumped out at me as being fairly interesting above and beyond that topic:

It also turns out that pieces of content that are widely socially shared, aren’t necessarily read. Chartbeat looked at 10,000 socially-shared articles “and found that there is no relationship whatsoever between the amount a piece of content is shared and the amount of attention an average reader will give that content.”

It was a comment that I’ve seen before, and even talked a bit about before when I wrote It’s True Twitter Does Not Drive Traffic, but today for some reason as I pondered that, I began to wonder why.

After all, as someone who shares links frequently, across all of my sites, I’m always concerned about sending someone off to a site that is going to give someone bad information, or just not be helpful, and I’m concerned about my reputation being impacted by that. I especially see that with my Child Abuse site, where I spend a lot of time trying to read through articles, and weed through information about resources, charities, etc. so that I don’t send someone to a story about an abused child that turns out to be a donation scam, for example. I know that protecting that audience is an important part of being trusted, and I make sure to check out everything I share as much as I can, and offer caveats when I can’t verify it all.

Why wouldn’t everyone do that?

Mostly, because we’re lazy. Which then begs the question, if we are so lazy, why are we still going to the trouble of sharing?

Because we want to be seen as a certain type of person by the people we interact with on social media. To a certain extent, we all, and I do mean all, act this way in real life as well. With some people we want to be seen a certain way, so we act that way. With others, we might act differently. If you’re a parent, you want your kids to see you a certain way so you act accordingly. But when you’re out with your friends away from the kids, you act the way you want them to see you. (After all you aren’t really boring like your parents were, right?)

In real life though, that takes work, and eventually most of us settle into a version of us that we can live with. It may not be 100% accurate, but it’s close enough that we generally fit in with our social tribe, and we don’t have to work too terribly hard at it, because that’s kind of exhausting.

Online, however, it’s a bit different. I don’t have to work as hard to be a different version of myself, a “better” version, if you will. I can appear hip and progressive, smart, sensitive, etc. just by sharing the same things that my hipper, progressive, smarter, more sensitive friends are sharing! I just look at the headline, level up the appropriate excitement/outrage/approval to match and share away! Look at me! See I’m one of you, I shared this long article about a scientific topic I really wouldn’t have understood if asked to read it, but the headline agreed with what my tribe thinks, so I shared it, and you should totally go and read it and see how it proves everything I already believed. Except maybe it doesn’t, because I didn’t actually read it, and neither did the 20 other friends who shared it before me.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”I can appear hip and progressive, smart, sensitive, etc. just by sharing the same things that my hipper, progressive, smarter, more sensitive friends are sharing! ” quote=”I can appear hip and progressive, smart, sensitive, etc. just by sharing the same things that my hipper, progressive, smarter, more sensitive friends are sharing!”]

That’s why shares, especially of certain types of content, might be kind of meaningless. What good does it really do if your content goes viral, but no one actually learns anything from it? As an individual blogger, what good does it do to have 100s of shares, if no one remembers anything about you, just the headline? As a business, what good does it do if a post goes viral, but no one actually interacts with your product because of it? Shares are nice, I certainly appreciate anyone who shares my content with their contacts, because it gets the information, potentially, to a larger audience and I’m all about sharing good information as widely as possible!

On the other hand, I’m skeptical of things that are widely shared. I’ve seen all too many instances where a link on Facebook leads to a comment storm based on a headline that wouldn’t have been at all necessary if people had actually clicked on the link and read the article, or serious re-tweets of what was obviously satire to those of us who actually followed the link. It’s important to you, as an individual, and your brand as a company, that you not give in to this temptation of lazy sharing. It’s a good way to ruin your reputation, getting caught sharing something that you obviously didn’t read. Sharing popular content may make you look like one of the cool kids, but when a quick Snopes search shows that the amazing thing you just shared is complete hogwash, or the quote you shared was made up, it won’t really matter that you weren’t the only one. It’s not a good look.

In fact, it shows a lack of attention to detail, and doesn’t that just impress potential employers and customers?

Have you witnessed contacts sharing information they obviously hadn’t vetted? How did your opinion of them change?

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