Network Effects (Yay!)
If you’re building a business online, whether its a product business, retail, blog or anything else, you’d probably like to take advantage of network effects to grow your audience; i.e. people sharing stuff, to other people, who in turn share that stuff on.
These effects are akin to nuclear chain-reactions: it can take a lot of energy, expertise and tinkering to get the balance of forces just-right, but once it gets going, its self-feeding and exponentially multiplicative. Content is your nuke.
Ok great, article-tagline sorted – but how do you get people to share your stuff? Or more precisely, what is the kind of stuff that people actually share?
The Blunt Hammer
You could take the heavy handed approach that (un)creative ad agencies favour: offer some extravagant prize and command people to tweet, Instagram or Facebook update #Some-Brand on their social channels for a chance to win. You need a good whack of cash for this approach; and though it might be rather effective in short-term “vanity” gains, I would argue leads to a long-term degradation of brand creditability and decreases the signal-to-noise coming from your audience (i.e. by introducing incentives that are only marginally aligned with your actual brand / product offering). At heart: its an inefficient expenditure of resources and energy for a more-than-likely highly ephemeral boost in your audience.
OR: you can go the route of “Content Pollution”: produce a high volume of keyword laden, low quality content; and pump your Facebook and Twitter full of it, on a daily basis. Don’t think too much or too carefully; just drivel & record etc. As I think any netizen could attest, this approach is a fairly sure-fire way to lose subscribers and friends (online and offline). This approach basically makes your brand seem like the Most Boring Person At The Party – and no one wants to hang out with that guy.
The You-Yourself Test
OR: you can take the “You-Yourself Test”.
The You-Yourself Test is pretty simple. You just take a look at what you’re about to share, promote or seed in some online channel and ask yourself, in all honestly, would you find this either:
A) Quite Cool
B) Pretty Nifty
C) Kinda Funny
D) Rather Clever
E) Super Useful
If you can’t truthfully elicit this reaction from yourself, then the share-ability of your content is pretty sunk. The people out there in Facebook-land are actually just like you. They’re not hypothetical User-Zombies who will click the ‘share’ button just because its there.
What they share is an expression of how they want to be perceived. The kind of person they want to be perceived as. No one is going to purposefully share inane, platitudinous content-gruel to their friends and followers (not-withstanding everyone’s “That Annoying Girl on Facebook”)
What they share is an expression of how they want to be perceived.
“It might be pretty cool if…”
At Qwilr, we’re trying to apply this philosophy to the content we share (like diet, exercise and doing your tax-returns, the discipline is simple to understand, but really hard to stick to honestly!). One win we’ve had was our Ad Spend Calculator. This little project was #1 on Product Hunt, and briefly made the front-page of Hacker News. It got a huge surge in traffic, many tens of thousands over the course of a day, and the follow-on traffic to Qwilr was substantial and valuable. And it began with a musing question: “It’d be pretty cool if we could turn our spreadsheet into a little web app right?”. The lesson I took from the Ad Spend Calculator, was that as marketeers, one should follow those “It might be pretty cool if…” ideas. Capture them, and think about the pragmatism of seeing them to fruition. Because if You-Yourself think it Would Be Pretty Cool If [ Insert Idea ] – that’s the bar for shareability right there.
Content Is Your Nuke
The success of content sharing online is a meritocracy of sentiments (A) – (E) in the “You-Yourself Test”. So if you want to try and take advantage of network effects, if you’re working to make content-your-nuke, then You-Yourself need to think what you’ve created is pretty cool / nifty / useful etc. or no-one else will.
As the Bard says: “Nothing comes from nothing”.