The Knights of Sharing battle

Those little buttons pack a big punch. A single act of social sharing may only take a split second, but make no mistake; it is in reality a complex, simultaneous exchange of two of the most important forms of value that exist today—social currency and social data.

Sharing buttons themselves are important as “the point of transaction” at which social currency, which is inseparable from social data, is exchanged.  When Facebook put its Like button in the hands of website owners, I wrote that “ease of integration and use of Social plugins will reduce the barriers – technical, usability, psychological, etc. – for social interactions across the Web.” New +1 integrations and features, like +1 on product pages, in-button sharing to Google+ Circles and +Snippets, are all promising steps toward further eliminating those barriers, while making the social currency market more ubiquitous by installing these points of transaction in more critical places across the web. This is how the “button war” over clicks and data has made winners out of brands of consumers—through innovations that make what we’ve shared more discoverable and impactful to a wider audience. And yet, as accurate social signals, sharing buttons still fall short of their true potential. Let’s dig in.

Deriving more value from social sharing

When we share something we encounter with the world—an idea, a product, a story—what are we telling the world about ourselves? By sharing something, we are in effect saying any or all of these things, according to The Psychology of Sharing:

  • I think this will be valuable to others
  • I think this will help me define myself to others, and will help me receive social validation
  • I think this will help me strengthen and nourish my relationships
  • I think I will receive credit for sharing this (and I like that!)
  • I think this content helps me advocate for a cause I believe in, or helps me support a brand I like

(Notice that all of these intents express a positive sentiment toward what we’re sharing; we’ll come back to that.)

Brands typically see the value in social currency through the lens of word of mouth. They want consumers to share their brand with one another, and the more they do so, the more social currency the brand has earned. This lens is still incredibly important, but there’s another lens that adds an important dimension to the value of sharing, and technology is finally allowing brands to see their customers more holistically than ever before. By sharing something that a brand has created or provided, they also tell the brand about themselves through social data. In this way, brands can now tap into an endless wellspring of consumer insights as they build social data equity.

Weaving social sharing into the buyer’s journey

Today’s consumer has escaped the funnel and demands more information at every touchpoint to guide their decisions, and sharing buttons are one important way social information has been woven into the journey of many buyers. It’s there at the beginning, the Zero Moment of Truth. It’s there when the customer returns to let others know about their experiences. This is a good step forward, but it could be better.

What social sharing still lacks: balance

It has come a long way, but we haven’t yet seen sharing’s full potential. Clicking Like or +1 is a positive gesture, but these lack standardized negative counterweights. If we want to share something that we don’t actually support, find valuable, or agree with, we’re left without a clear, intuitive device for expressing this sentiment. We can usually add contextual clues in the text we share along with the link, but this makes something that should be easy that much more complicated. The result is more positive inputs than negative, a biased view of the way we feel about things across the social web.

Compare this to having clear, standard indicators of sentiment, like star ratings or thumbs up, thumbs down. Standard indicators of negative sentiment are a goldmine for brands, because they allow quick insights to be pulled from unambiguous data—no guessing required. In just a few clicks, they can look across their lowest rated products for commonalities, or see which of their YouTube videos aren’t resonating with audiences and optimize on what they find.

Who will win the button war? Consumers and brands

As the giants of search and social race to out-innovate the competition, sharing integrations get better and better. Consumers now have more choice when deciding where, when, and how to exchange social currency. They have more information to guide their decisions, whether that decision is deciding which blog post to read, or which laptop to buy.

As a result, brands now have more power to analyze and adapt to these signals, improving every aspect of their product development and marketing.

The button war means more choice, more data, and more value to consumers and brands. Let’s hope it rages on.

To learn more about how Bazaarvoice can seamlessly implement +1 on product pages, visit our Press Room

Customer Intelligence

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