The Share is the Thing

When was the last time you made a purchasing decision based on what you saw on local TV news or read in the paper? It could be a new restaurant, auto insurance or a new wellness regimen.

Now, when was the last time you acted on the recommendation of a friend or someone you trust?

Chances are the second question is easier to answer than the first. There is a difference between the media you know from an arm’s distance and the “friend” who’s part of your “community” – be it family, work, Facebook or Reddit.

When I worked in television news, we felt we had earned the trust of our viewers; when they heard it from us they could feel safe acting on it. When we went on the air during the hot summer and made a plea for donated fans the public would step up and deliver.

When I moved into public relations, I played a variation of that theme, telling clients we were delivering value by placing their experts, products or solutions in the media. I would tell them that third-party endorsement is much more effective (and believable) than if they simply talk about themselves.

I was having lunch recently with a friend who runs the US digital practice of a global PR firm and we got to talking about the changing media landscape. I launched into my tried-and-true opinion about the media bestowing credibility, and I could see by the look on his face he differed with my take.

“Not anymore,” he countered. “Nowadays, the share is the thing.”

Admittedly, that’s a bit oversimplified, but I have to agree with him. Traditional news media have lost ground as a trusted source, and you could argue that with the proliferation of social media they are no longer our “go-to” source for information and opinions.

The fact is … we get and share our information differently today. We shout out to members of our hand-picked community in Facebook. We posture on Twitter to the people who choose to listen to us. We do whatever people do on Reddit! We review a restaurant or realtors on Yelp and, thanks to crowd-sourcing, people looking for a good restaurant or realtor read our review and take our advice.

All of the above have replaced watching the evening news or opening the paper (including reading the online edition). See the difference? With traditional media, you tune into a broadcast – broad in that a diverse array of news is delivered. With social, you’ve become selective about what you want to learn and discuss – and with whom.

You’re more invested in the process because you’ve essentially shaped your personal diet of daily information. As a result, you put more stock in what you hear and read.

Yet what I find amazing is that the path we take through social media is fantastically convoluted and most of the time we’re not even aware of it.

For instance, think of how often you will read a friend’s post, click through to the site she’s recommending, see something related and click on that and read a few of the comments, then jump to something else. Your path through social media looks like a twisting mountain road rather than a straight freeway. And that’s how it usually goes when we are consuming our daily information.

So it’s understandable that like beacons lighting the way, those “shares” or recommendations from friends and acquaintances help us make sense in a chaotic world overstuffed with choices and decisions.

What do you think? Where do you get your information? Whom do you trust?


andrew.badgerow said...

I disagree. It may seem like we share it differently, but that can be more attributed to the fact that technology has progressed to allow society to, instead of maybe making a phone call to a neighbor or two or even telling something about something at a bar to friends, we all have the ability to communicate with large amounts of people instantly, previously a right reserved for only the rich and powerful. With the invention of the telephone, it started a new era for humanity in which people could communicate with more people quickly over large distances(hence the term, "Shrunk the world"), so something that would normally take days to reach just one person could now be shared with hundreds in minutes. With the progression of technology since, we have simply kept to what humanity has always done well socially: gossip immensely over both facts and rumors and share news, communicating with greater efficiency and reach as time and technology progressed. Humanity as a whole hasn't changed the way we socialize, but instead embraced the environmental changes that allow it to be more prevalent. People have always shared. It just took serious advancement in social technology for people to realize just how many others they could share information with. I maintain that humans haven't changed the way they get and receive information about anything. Technology has. By simply looking at the effects of technology in the past 50 years my dear uncle, you are not taking into consideration the entire picture. We have been communicating far longer than that. Writing was the first social technological improvement. Since its invention, humans have gone from sharing things in the gather's portion of the hunter/gather groups and tribes, in which the gathers would socialize in a open forum while performing there societal duties. Writing gave the ability to catalog these social exchanges, thus creating news. Since then, all of our social instincts have arguably remained the same. I say it is because of technology that we now can reach so many people with just simple online sharing.

John Novaria said...

Andrew, you're right. Technology has changed the way we communicate and as you say our instincts remain the same. Just as we've always "tuned out" the part of the evening news we don't care about or tossed aside the Sports section if we're not interested in sports, we use social media to choose what information we need and with whom we wish to socialize.