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Forget Incentives, People Want To Share Stories They Believe In


In 2012, entrepreneurs Arvind Dixit and Jason Zuccari founded Bubblews, an innovative social network that paid its users to share content. The idea was unique--one meant to incentivize people to join and stick around. It played on the popular theory that money motivates. With that belief, other companies followed. Tsu, Bonzo Me and Bitlanders similarly offered users payment for participation. But earlier this year, Bubblews shuttered.

Currently, the company’s homepage reads, “After being up and running for almost 3 years now we regrettably need to inform you that we will be shutting Bubblews.com down. The climate for display advertising has drastically changed and made it impossible for us to sustain the business model and operations.” Bubblews’ fatal flaw was its failure to bake the intrinsic value of social sharing into its long-term strategy and vision. Although the other platforms remain, none challenge the major social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and most industry experts have written off Tsu, Bonzo Me and Bitlanders as unsustainable experiments in social networking.

In a blog post, Sangeet Choudary, an academic and consultant focused on platform business models and multi-sided network effects, explains, “Every networked platform needs to structure the right incentives for its users. These incentives may be organic (fun, fame, fulfillment) or inorganic (fortune). But platforms need a balance of incentives that leads to the right types of interactions. Paying someone to use Facebook or LinkedIn may, for instance, possibly encourage the most undesirable interactions.” He concludes, “There is a reason why platforms which cater to organic incentives well, perform better than the more transactional ones.”

For marketers, Bubblews’ post-mortem is important to marketers, HR, and sales leaders everywhere: the company’s demise reveals that consumers are not highly motivated by financial incentives. Instead, they participate in social networks for more organic reasons. To capture audience attention, companies need to promote content that actually reflects consumers’ beliefs and values. If you want your employees (and customers) to share your content, you need to appeal to the right motivations. Here are 15 ideas to help you get started:

15 reasons to share

Getting paid to share a piece of content can be, well, awkward. Because sharing is an inherently organic process, financial incentives may sometimes deter people from promoting certain stories.

Social business strategist Angus Nelson believes:

"People share great content because it makes them look                     (fill in the blank)"

  • good
  • smart
  • controversial
  • connected
  • funny
  • insightful
  • like a go-to resource
  • or whatever

Nelson also adds that sharers aim to:

  • gain attention
  • show they have inside info
  • help
  • reach out
  • show friendship
  • show humor
  • provide information

It’s more natural for audiences to like, retweet and pin articles on subjects they personally care about. Other times, they share stories they believe their social connections may enjoy.

Encouraging social action

When brands produce content, their goal should be to strike an emotional chord with readers. Doing so increases a story’s viral coefficient. In October, the five most popular pieces of branded content, according to Contently, were:

  1. Thomson Reuters: “9 Billion Bowls”, which explores the increasing issue of world hunger.
  2. GE/National Geographic: “Breakthrough”, which explains the impact science can have on our future.
  3. JetBlue: “HumanKinda”, which gives audiences a reality check about their unnecessarily busy schedules.
  4. Westin: McSweeney’s Out-of-Office Generator, which pokes fun at professionals who can’t unplug during vacation.
  5. The Alex and Ani App, which aims to inspire people’s lives and sense of style.

For its campaign, Thomson Reuters generated more than 3,000 social shares. GE and National Geographic’s video teaser now has over 9,000 views and almost 600 likes. On YouTube, JetBlue’s documentary received 88,900 views. So far, Westin’s Out of Office Generator earned nearly 1,000 shares. And the Alex and Ani app has been downloaded more than 80,000 times. By developing stories that their audience cared about, these brands attracted an active social audience.

“Increasingly, consumers want brands—and the people who work for them—to fight for something more than profit,” wrote the curator of the list, Joe Lazauskas. “According to a recent Nielsen survey, more than half of people across the globe are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact. In the U.S., 91 percent of consumers are likely to switch to a brand associated with a good cause. Not surprisingly, these attitudes are reflected in content marketing.”

It's simple

For brands to succeed with content and on social media, they need to think less about how to encourage or incentivize readers to share and, instead, they must develop shareworthy stories promoting causes or ideas that audiences truly believe in and will happily promote for free.

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