Users don’t share social media content because of its quality – they share it because they can.

If your business regularly posts on social media channels and your thoughts get shared or retweeted, then you’ll probably feel quite chuffed about it. After all, if people choose to share the content you write, what’s not to feel smug about? But ask yourself this question: are users necessarily sharing your content because of its quality and uniqueness, or is some other factor at play here – something indefinable? Well, if the recent research from the USA is to believed, the reason many users share content on the likes of Facebook and Twitter is not the quality of the material per se; it’s because they can.

So what did this research find? Well, in a nutshell it found that a great many people who share content on social media channels are far happier to share content than they are to actually read it. A report in the Chicago Tribune quoted research from Columbia University and the French National Institute which found that 59 per cent of links shared on social media are shared because of the headline. If that article does truly represent the state of play on social media, then many marketers may have been wasting time crafting quality content: they may have been better off coming up with a catchy sub header.

How did researchers come to this conclusion? Well, the researchers conducted their study after the Science Post, a satirical website, published an article entitled, “Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting.” The headline certainly grabbed attention, but interestingly the body of the article contained nothing more than “lorem ipsum” placeholder text. Yet despite this glaring omission, the piece was still shared 46,000 times. However, to prove that this phenomenon wasn’t simply a one-off, researchers then tracked shares and clicks on 5 other major news sources over the course of a month, and also found that considerably more users shared these news stories than clicked on them.

The research also uncovered another interesting data point: Most clicks on content shared on Twitter came from regular Twitter user accounts and not the publisher’s account, suggesting that shares from influencers are far more valuable to getting something to go viral than shares from publishers.

Columbia University and French National Institute’s study co-author, Arnaud Legout, said in a statement:

“People are more willing to share an article than read it. This is typical of modern information consumption: people form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”

So what does this research mean for marketers? Well, if it proves to be an accurate reflection of life on social media, then traditional social media engagement metrics like ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ may not be as valuable as once thought. It’s all well and good being liked on Facebook or shared on Twitter, but if people are sharing content simply for the sake of sharing, rather than because they have engaged with the content, then the goalposts have definitely been moved. The challenge for marketers now is to find other ways of finding the net.

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