7 Reasons why social sharing and branded content are the perfect mix to get your brand noticed

How brands get their content shared is perhaps one of the most important challenges facing marketers at the moment. And whilst social media gives brands an opportunity to attract users, as well as encourage them to share with their friends, how do brands develop a personal relationship with a user that goes beyond just 'like'?

Answer: provide them content that naturally integrates into their social feeds, that they can easily share with friends and makes them look cool in the process, was the notion offered up by Terry City, VP of West Coast Sales for BuzzFeed and Greg Colvin VP of Digital Universal McCann at the recent social media week panel. ‘Social sharing and branded content = the perfect match’.

I believe we are now at a tipping point where branded content and social sharing now go hand in hand so why has this occurred and how can brands get the best results with their own content as part of their social strategies?  

1. We are now a connected generation of Supersharers

Over the last twenty years we have gone through a paradigm shift in how we receive our news, the first stage was via websites like Yahoo and AOL, stage two was via Google and more recently via our social feeds like Facebook, and Twitter or via aggregators like Flipboard and Feedly that integrate all of these for us into one neat package. 

Indeed it is the rise of content that we now receive through our social feeds that is turning us into a society of Supersharers or what Brian Solis calls Generation C who are defined by their connectedness, their interests and by the way they learn, discover and share information online.  It is this generation that is regularly seeking out new information to share with their friends and has led to the rapid rise of sites like BuzzFeed who attributes as much as 75% of their traffic from consumers simply looking for cool content to share. 

@@Tip: Find out what the online groups make up your target audience & what their interests are and who influences them.@@

2. A new wave of social media technology is making it easier to share than ever before

Until now the majority of sharing occurred in the browser via Facebook, Twitter, +1, Stumble UponRedditt, etc., but with the proliferation and increased use of smartphones there has been a dramatic increase in the use of mobile phones for all types of social sharing activities from texting to photo sharing to streaming music and video. 

This has led to a tipping point in social sharing enabled on two fronts: one through the convergence of smart mobile devices with 4G and high-speed mobile broadband networks has meant the faster and easier delivery of mobile services. On the consumer front, trends indicate heavy usage patterns, the latest figures of which show that Facebook now has 543 million active members who access the platform through mobile.

This new smartphone technology has enabled users to instantly share any content through their mobile phone by text message and via new applications to manage our social networks such as buffer and Postling.  

Another trend to watch out for that has already started is the growing effect issues of privacy and personalisation are having on sharing. Expect a shift from sharing with one-to-many to more selective, one-to-few narrowcastsharing with a more intimate audience. e.g. Facebook lists, Google Circles, Path, and Foursquare etc. As a result people are increasingly looking for opportunities to share their personal photos, articles, images, thoughts and location with their closest friends, family and specific interest groups instead of sharing with everyone in their social network.

@@Tip: Prioritise content strategies that facilitate personal sharing through mobile as well as through the browser. @@

3. Content is now a gift that is a form of social currency

Terry City from BuzzFeed said that content should now be seen as a social gift and for brands an important form of social currency that positions them favourably as part of the consumer consideration set. In effect content is currency — something we trade for our audience’s attention. That currency becomes more valuable every time it’s shared by someone other than ourselves.

In his article ‘How to Thrive in Social Media's Gift Economy’ Mark Bonchek argues “the purpose of a social currency is to express a relationship” and by providing relevant content to your community you are forming what he calls a gift economy.  One example of a brand he cites that recognises this is Kraft foods that use exchanging recipes as social currency and engage customers on the web, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. When formulating content strategies Bonchek contends that brands need to answer the following questions: 

  • What rituals, traditions, or social conventions involve your product?
  • What do people talk about, share or exchange in these activities? 
  • How might the experience be enhanced with something better or different?   

And it is through these insights that a brand can bring a social strategy to life with branded content.     

@@Tip: Look for ways to transform your products into content, and your content into social currency.@@

4. The rise of the visual social media

The saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ has never been truer than on the web today. Due to the constant noise, people have less time to read words and prefer to digest information through eye-catching and appealing visuals. 

A study this year by ROI research found that when users engage with friends on social media sites, it's the pictures they took that are enjoyed the most. Forty-four per cent of respondents are more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures than any other media. In effect pictures have become one of our default modes of sorting and understanding the vast amounts of information we're exposed to every day.

With the popularity of sites like Pinterest and Instagram coupled with the growth of meme culture, sharing pictures and photos has never been quicker or easier with numerous photos sharing apps available via the web and mobile.


In fact the definition of a meme  is "an idea, behaviour or style that spreads rapidly from person to person within a culture and we have certainly come a long way from Lol Cats to more recent incarnations such as overly attached girlfriend and socially awkward Penguin. Indeed the productions of these images on sites like meme generatorquikmeme, cheezburger & know your meme have meant that memes have crossed over into popular culture. It is now at the point where any big event has its own accompanying meme, be it Clint Eastwoood speaking to an empty chair in the democratic election rally known as ‘Eastwooding’ or Mckayla’s is not impressed from the Olympics. 

Whilst the current fascination is for animated gifs, meme culture as a method of allowing people to contribute to popular culture shows no signs of going away in the near future and is well and truly ingrained into visual social media. This led to Intel's social media strategist Ekaterina Walter saying in a recent Fast Company article “Brands that can rock visual media will find themselves market leaders”.

@@Tip: Using original branded images in every one of your posts is one of the best ways to promote the sharing of your content. @@

5. Social sharing has now turned into a science

How to get your content shared on the web is one of the most important challenges for marketers right now so much so that there are numerous studies on the subject. A recent report by compendium suggests that social sharing best practices in B2C & B2B can vary dramatically based on the time of the day, what day of the week you post on which platform and even through the use of exclamation marks, question marks or hashtags. However a study earlier this year by Nils Mork-Ulnes and Judith Lewis, The Science of social sharing, identified seven different types of social sharers, ranging from altruists who share because they want to help to careerists who share because it helps them in business. In the UK, altruists account for the largest proportion of sharers (39.6%), while careerists are in the minority (2.5%). 

Social Sharing widgets like stumble upon recently have been given major credit for driving social sharing by researchers like Dan Zarella the Social scientist and BuzzFeed also found after recent analysis of its campaigns that Stumble uponwas the most valuable sharing tool for driving views on its site. 

Whereas the other media property owned by BuzzFeed’s founder Jonah Peretti’s Huffington Post have developed great one-click features that tailor a tweet post for each of the headlines you are reading. See below example and all of the Tweetable tips in this article.  

Add to this a culture of hacking and developers are constantly finding new ways to make it easy for people to share their content. One such person is Derek Halpun who has made it easier to share than not to share posts on his social triggers blog by simply highlighting a passage from his post and asking people to tweet it. See below right.

This is brilliant because it gives people a clear call to action right in the middle of a post, not at the end when they’re ready to move on to the next shiny object that they see.

Add to this recent examples of memes such as leg bombing with Angela Jolie at the academy awards and Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair then there is also the argument that 

Social sharing is about moments of relevance and timeliness which has given rise to the term more recently Meme jacking.   

@@Tip: Don’t be afraid to experiment with new tools & tricks ways to share content. There is no one hard and fast rule is this rapidly evolving space. @@

6. The rise of the creative content curator

According to Buzz feed’s marketing director creating great content today is a mixture between art and science. I would go a step further and say it is a combination of creating stunning emotion provoking images and great copywritingthat connects to the brand. 

So in order for content resonate “It should provide a reason to share so if your content is cool and its funny people and garners an emotion people will share it.” 

Que the role of the creative content curator whom has the ability to monitor trends, and filter content around particular themes that resonate with audiences.

By surrounding brands with cool content makes people feel favourable towards them as part of their brand consideration. Curating content into subsets and genres is something which that BuzzFeed have turned into an art form.  

For example tapping into the trend for  animal content online they have produced articles such as ‘why cats better then dogs’ that have captured in excess of 9 million views to date. When Toyota approached them to try and become more relevant to its target market to promote its new Hybrid model promotion BuzzFeed created ‘The 20 coolest Hybrid Animals’ post on a custom page on the site for the promotion incorporating the brand's Facebook and Twitter feeds as well as a Facebook comments box all combined to ensure engagement for this campaign far exceeded the brands expectations. 

Other content themes that have been played out to great effect include tapping into to our obsession with nostalgia where BuzzFeed created the “The BuzzFeed Time Machine." For GE where readers can flip a dial from decade to decade and see the site immediately re-skinned to reflect what the coverage would have looked like at an earlier time.

This was a fun way to bring the brand to the forefront of their reader’s consideration.

What BuzzFeed do so seamlessly on their site is expertly leverage the use of lists. They not only increase engagement but add depth and widen audience appeal and in the process leverage other great content. 

@@Tip: By associating your brand with content that is cool, interesting, fun and quirky people will feel favourably towards the brand.   @@

7. New forms of branded content combine story telling & brands in an organic way

So whilst BuzzFeed is flying the flag aggregating and curating content, other brands are actively looking for new ways to connect with audiences and integrate brands via storytelling. 

According to Avi Savar, founder of US agency Big Fuel, who led the inaugural Branded Content and Entertainment jury this year at Cannes, while traditional advertising starts with defining “what is the unique selling proposition of the product you’re trying to focus on?”, branded content is really the inverse of that. It’s thinking about people first. What’s resonating with them and connecting those people’s stories to your product in a relevant way? 

The sweet spot for branded content therefore is to tell a story in a completely organic way so people engage with your content and it doesn’t feel like an advertising message.

In effect according to Colvin “If content is fun interesting and quirky the message can be secondary because the brand association and resulting organic lift is what is so important.” 

Great examples of branded content at the moment include:

Intel’s 6 part romantic video series “the beauty inside” that was played out over a month that gained over 55 million views and 94,000 Facebook “likes. Crafted as a fan-centric social film to promote Toshiba’s Protégé Ultrabook and Intel software, it was consciously decided to make an online coming-of-age love story. What they found is that whilst viewers came for the innovation of the project they ultimately stayed for the story.

Another brand hot on the heels of Red Bull is KLM whom flew the flag recently to record a year in the life of Dutch superstar DJ Armand Van Buren. Check out their YouTube page to see some of the inspirational content they are producing currently. Who honestly would have thought a few years ago that a major airline would be producing content such as this to inspire brand loyalty.

The Holstee fashion brand is another great example that wrote a manifesto and posted it on its website to share the company’s values and mission with its customers. Much to their surprise the manifesto went viral and spread rapidly especially on visual platforms Tumblr and Pinterest.

The resulting effect was that Holstee sold out of the first batch of products. Not only did the manifesto increase sales, it encouraged people to start living the message and now the brand has gone further by launching a whole platform called My life where people can share their stories inspired by the manifesto.

The shining example of branded content for all other brands to aspire to be Redbull has built itself to be a media publisher and the recent Stratos projectclocking up the record for the most watched live stream event in History.

What all these brands have in common is that they understand the importance of brand association through content and events that are cool fun and interesting which gets people talking and sharing their content.   

Tip: Design an experience around what matters to your audience and make it easy for them to share and express themselves as part of the process.

Creating your own branded content

As the saying goes “if you want a big snowball effect to start with a big snowball” and start by putting some money, thought and sometime into what’s going to go viral. The Starting point for any brand argued Colvin should be to start by looking at what content is already out there that is working. 75 % is just noise and 25% is working so when we look at why is it working we should ask ourselves why does it resonate, why is it easy to remember and does connect back to the brand?

So for a brand that is experiencing some negative backlash online a great way to look to counter this is to take a leap of faith and start surrounding the brand with content people do like to get people engaged and making the brand relevant.

The classic example now is Domino’s who after listening and held its hands up and said yes our pizzas were crap and has done something about it and has embarked on a transformation by adopting radical transparency approach and baring it soul in such a public way. From publicising its tweets on New York’s time square in a real time feed to integrating the time tracker for all its deliveries it has succeeded in engendering consumer trust and reigniting the brand.

The Wrap 

Social sharing and branded content are important because with social media at the pulse, the way we interact, engage and talk with our friends has become based upon sharing more than ever. Brands that can capitalise on this and associate their brands with cool interesting and quirky content that people want to share will position themselves more favourably as part of consumers purchase consideration.

Who would have thought an energy drink would set the record of the most amounts of live stream views a few years ago. I wager this is just a taste of things to come in the branded content revolution where designing experiences which matter helps build brands alongside more product orientated marketing. 

So what are your thoughts?

Do have any great tips to share on social sharing? Any great examples of branded content you‘d care to share? Or do you think like me that branded content made to share is the future? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.