9 things smart brands do to mess up the shareability of their content

This post may come across as harsh, but I mean it only as tough love.

It kills me to see smart publishers churn out really excellent content only to frustrate users by making it hard to share that great content.

And “shareability” isn’t rocket science. It just requires you to put on your user hat for a few minutes and think about the myriad ways your readers might access and share your content.

In this first part of a two-part series, I’m taking the gloves off and highlighting some of the worst mistakes people make in publishing content via the social web. Things that can be fixed. Things that should be fixed. In part two, I’ll provide a checklist for successfully making sure your content is shareable across the social networks that matter.

Shareability gaffe #1: not thinking about how people share

Ever been on one of those websites where there’s a “share” button on every page? Share our disability policy, share our 990 forms. You get the sense that someone on their board said: “hey let’s get behind this whole Web 2.0 thing and make all our content shareable!”

The conversational web is all about being able to distinguish content that is shareable from content that is not. Breaking news, cool lists, how-tos, exclusive interviews: shareable. Your about page? Probably not.

I thought a lot about this when developing the architecture for the New York Film Festival site for 2010, because above all, I wanted this site to be thoroughly, fundamentally social. I continually asked myself, “shareable or not shareable?” when making a page, deploying tweet buttons or comment sections as required. It seemed to work, with at least one page racking up hundreds and hundreds of tweets and shares across network.

Bottom line: don’t put “share” buttons on every page. It makes you look clueless about what your user is doing.

Shareability gaffe #2: not thinking about where people share

When it comes to sharing, one might think that more is better. Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Meebo, Bebo, HeMan, Shira.

I kid, but it kind of bugs me when a site offers kitchen-sink sharing options. What is Mister Wong, Mixx and Furl? I don’t really know. What I do know is that the really important content transactions are happening via Facebook and Twitter. Make those option as easy as possible for your readers. Don’t sweat the kitchen sink.


I liked the article above in the Baltimore Sun. Not enough to Facebook “like” it, but enough to tweet it, with its link-bait friendly title. Oh no, there’s no tweet button on your content, but you want me to believe people will submit this to Digg or Reddit? Sorry, I’ve lost interest already.

The bottom line: implement core sharing services, like Facebook Open Graph (the “like” button) and Twitter. If, and only if, your content warrants it, or your audience requires it, look to other services.

Shareability gaffe #3: Using nutty sharing tools

Adweek, I’m looking at you here. You have raised your game in covering the digital space, but you have this deal with Meebo that makes you use all of their cockamamie sharing tools. I’m constantly look at your cool, important articles and want to share them far and wide. I hit the “share” tool and suddenly I am in a strange limbo. A place not only of sight and sound but of mind. The Twilight Zone. At that point, I usually get scared and take the link to a bit.ly shortener, but why–Adweek? Why? Please can you just bring in a simple tweet button? Pretty please?

Bottom line: simple sharing tools are best.

Shareability gaffe #4: failing to recognize the importance of pictures

I love Ted Hope. I love that he’s a progressive and activist voice among an independent film scene that’s often a step behind the cutting edge.

He also brings tons of A-game content on viable alternatives to an outmoded distribution model to his blog, Hope for Film. He’s fully embraced the social web by using Facebook and Twitter.

So what’s my beef with Mr. Hope? Pictures. Namely, that he doesn’t use them very often. Which is a problem on the social web, because it gives you a stack of posts that look like what’s going on up above. He’s churning out great content, but pictures would help him capture more attention.

Pictures are really important on nets like Facebook–they are among the most shared items there. More importantly, pictures catch the eye. They make you want to click on something. Use pictures in all your posts.

Bottom line: Pictures, use them. Your content will be shared more.

Shareability gaffe #5: dumbing down participation

Ah, tumblr. You have taken the world by storm. You have made it incredibly easy to post and share ephemera.

But you have also reduced participation to it’s most boring essence. What that gives you on popular, much-read blogs is long strings like the one above where people are “liking” or “reblogging” something.

So I’m split on tumblr. I like the community aspect, but I think sharing formats like this take all the fun out of sharing. If you’re not asking the user to do anything, what’s the point?

Bottom line: While sharing should be easy, I also expect it to yield an interesting interface.

Shareability gaffe #6: Using tools like twitter as an RSS broadcast method only

If you’re just using Twitter to push out links from your RSS feed, you are missing the point completely.

I’ve seen huge publishers do this, and they’d probably have ten times the follow count, not to mention an army of vocal share-ers if they just took the time to engage in a conversation about their content instead of just sending it out into the world with no one there to engage.

Shareability gaffe #7: Burying your lead under a jump

One broadcast format we haven’t talked about yet is mobile. I’m thinking particularly of the Pulse Reader, which takes RSS feeds and makes them into a lovely visual interface, one that can be browsed even if you don’t have uninterrupted access to the web.

American Express OPEN Forum is a terrific resource for small businesses, chock full of great content from all sorts of entrepreneurial folk. But it’s a terrible reading experience on the Pulse. The reason why? Just about all of the content of articles is buried behind a “jump.” It’s uncommon to even be able to figure out what the article is about from the first sentence.

There are two ways this could be addressed. One is editorial: make sure that the first sentence of each article has a strong summation of the subject matter of the article and a strong hook. The other is technical: offer more of the article before the “read more” link or just offer up the whole article (what most Pulse readers would opt for, I’m sure).

Bottom line: don’t bury your best stuff behind a “read more” link.

Two bonus shareability gaffes:

Not using link shorteners. Brevity is a virtue.

Not using Youtube. You can use a pretty Vimeo player, or a proprietary model that bypasses the social web completely, but if you’re not including YouTube in your video distribution channels, you’re missing a lot of eyeballs.

Sharing is caring. And with the proliferation of content shifting and social networking in ever new forms and formats, it’s incumbent upon all publishers to think about how their content is share and read across the web.

Stay tuned for a checklist on making your content more shareable.

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3 Responses to “9 things smart brands do to mess up the shareability of their content”

  1. Dustin W. Stout March 7, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Yes! These are so true! It blows my mind that brands– even smart ones– just don't get it sometimes!

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