This post is an off-series where I won’t be narrating my story as an entrepreneur. Instead, I will approach a subject that I believe might be interesting for you. If you are mainly interested in hearing more of my experience, don’t worry, there will be more of that coming up.

You have something good to offer, but you can’t get the word to spread outside of your direct circle.

How to reach further?

I turned this thought in my head for months before getting a hint of an answer.

It happened when my blog kind of exploded, going from a few hundred visits a day to a few thousand. That’s when I realized that they were two types of visitors:

  • Those who simply enjoyed the content
  • Those who shared it

The first category would gather people from all kind of backgrounds, but only a very specific type of people belonged to the second category.

Let’s try to explain what is the difference between the two.

In the post, I am referring to what you want to be shared as “Your content”. However, the principle applies similarly to things like blog posts, articles, trailers, apps or anything you want to get out there.

Connection layers

Everybody has a reach.

These are all the people you can directly share content with. Through social media mainly, but also forums, emails or direct conversations.

These people have their own reach, which adds to yours and forms layers.

A layer represents a “step” you need to take to reach anybody in your network.

For example, there is one layer between you and a friend of a friend.

The six degrees of separations idea stipulates that you are connected to everyone in the world by a maximum of 6 layers.

Sharing your way through the layers

When you share your content, it gets to people within your immediate reach.

It’s very unlikely that your initial reach contains enough people to satisfy your goal.

So what you want is for your content to move to the next layer. You progress to the next layer by getting people from the current layer to share.

But what motivates people to share? Why some simply enjoy it, and others go one step further and share it?

The answer is added value.

People share content when there is value to be gain from the act of sharing.

Okay, it sounds very capitalistic but bear with me.

Added value can be many things, including the feeling of being useful or helping out.

This is the part where it gets very interesting, though: Not all added values are equals. Some won’t survive further than the very first layer, while some others will keep pushing through all layers unphased.

If you want your content to move from layers to layers, you need to make sure that you provide enough value to people so that even the friend of a friend of a friend will share your content.

Added value for the sharer

Here is a non-final list of added values that you can give to people sharing your content.

I get to support someone I like

This is the smallest possible added value, which also dies the fastest.

People who like you are already within your reach. For sure, they are more people out there that would like you if they had a chance to know you. But you can’t expect people who don’t know you yet to support you.

Which means that past the very first layer, the value “I get to support someone I like” has vanished.
In other words, if this is the only value that your content has to offer, it will only be shared once.

On top of that, people usually only support-share things they feel strongly about. This means that even amongst those who like you, only the most fervent supporters will actually find value in helping you out.

Example of content with only this kind of value:

  • “Here is my portfolio, please share!”
  • “Here is our Kickstarter page, please share!”
    This is not as bad as the portfolio case, as the page itself might have interesting content. But if people don’t really feel strongly about your project, it is unlikely that simply asking nicely will have much impact.
    Inserting other types of added value to your message may help those who feel “kind of okay” with your project share.

I help a lot of people

Here, we are talking about content like this blog post.

Being useful feels great. That’s why societies work after all. The added value of helping many is much stronger than helping just one person/group. People don’t need to feel so strongly about your content before sharing it if they can see how useful it can be to their own reach.

An important point though: if we’re talking about mass sharing like social media posting, your content has to be useful to a big part of the sharer’s circle. If they believe that, let’s say, 1% of their reach will be interested, they won’t want to impose your content on the other 99% of people.

Therefore, this added value won’t necessarily go through many layers depending on who is in your reach. For example, if you work in the game industry, you may have followers from many sectors. They are interested in your content because they personally like games, but might not share it because their own reach is 90% interested in medicine-related contents.

This added value will probably go through more layers than just helping one person, but probably not so far either.

“Helping others” can also mean “sharing with someone who might feel concerned”. That’s the reason why Facebook posts with the caption “Tag three friends who also like to eat pizza” work so well.

As bad as the Facebook example sounds, it’s not a bad idea to remind people that your content may relate to others around them.

“Any fan of motorbikes out there? My app XBikers is for you!”

Someone might read the first question and think “Oh, I do know some motorbike fans!” and take the opportunity to be useful to them by sharing.

Supporting and helping people are very common reasons why people share content, but unfortunately not the most effective ways of piercing through layers.

I get potential users for my own product

This is the main reason why bloggers, reviewers, and journalists will share your content. If it is what they are into, your content will make their users happy and bring more in. Everybody wins.

This added value has the potential of opening layers reaching dramatically more people than your own. The problem is that it is unlikely to go further. If this is the only value that your content has, once the blogger/reviewer/journalist has shared it, it will be viewed but the share-chain will stop.

I get to express who I am

Content with such value is probably the most viral. It splits into two types: static and dynamic.

Static
  • Any form of art: drawing, music, video, game, book, poem.
    By sharing such content, people get to say “This is what I like, what resonates with me”. Sharing music or even the latest trailer for a movie/game you like is a way of telling people more about your personality and what gets you excited.
  • Humor, jokes, memes
    As with art, humor is a defining aspect of someone’s personality. When sharing content that makes you laugh, you get to tell more about yourself. Memes are the strongest example of this, as they often also portray situations that you relate to.
  • News
    Content that relates to recent events gives people an opportunity to give their opinion. It’s a great way to express yourself and what you believe in. If your content expresses an opinion that goes in the direction of someone else’s, it’s very likely that they will share it without a second thought.
  • Slice of life blogging/Anecdotes
    As I was saying at the beginning, they were two types of visitors on my blog. The one who enjoyed reading my story, sometimes finding it inspiring; and the ones who were actually sharing it.
    The first group simply enjoyed reading what I wrote but had little value in sharing it.
    The second group, however, was almost entirely composed of fellow game developers or entrepreneurs. People who could actually relate to what I was writing. By sharing my content, they had a way to express who they were and what they went through. This is the added value that made the difference between consuming my blog and sharing it.

The efficiency of content that helps people express who they are is hard to grasp. The number of layers this added value will survive through depends on how many people can relate to it. It needs to be precise enough so that it will trigger a “that is so ‘me'” reaction, but also wide enough so that as many people as possible will get this feeling.

It does get slightly easier if your content is dynamic.

Dynamic

Content that changes based on whoever interacts with it. As this adapts to everyone, it can potentially survive through all layers. It’s not a surprise that these are usually the most viral types of content.

  • Personality tests, photo processing
    “I am house Stark! Take this test and find out which Game of Thrones family you belong to! ”
    “[Picture] This is how Paul would look like as a woman. Find out how you would look like as a man/woman here”
  • Personal data sharing
    “Marie has run 10 miles on Saturday. Download Run-addicts to track your own progress”

What is important is that users don’t only share the link going directly to your app/website, but the result of the interaction as well. This is where the value is for them, as it allows them to express who they are. Only sharing the link to your page is “Supporting someone I like” which only works if they strongly support said content.

I get a tangible bonus (money, service, any sort of reward)

Anyone who shares this content gets something concrete in exchange. This is the Dropbox referral system, that many other services use nowadays. It’s straightforward, efficient and can survive through all layers. The only problem is that people are suspicious of shared content that openly rewards whoever shared it.

Is it a real recommendation or is this person just interested in the reward? If I click on it, am I not basically being used for someone else’s gain?

A warning though: most of these systems are conditional. You only get the reward if the person you shared with takes action.

On top of sharing your content, you are asking them to do an extra step and convince people to sign up (or whatever action is required). People will often pass on the opportunity if they don’t think they can convince someone else to use the product. Nobody wants to play the door to door salesman.

The better the ratio reward/effort, the more likely people are to take the extra step of talking someone else in.

Combining added values

The important thing about added values is that you can combine them. More added values mean increased chances to pierce through more layers. When some added values fail to cross one layer, others can take over. Ultimately even something that didn’t work at layer #1 could give a little boost at layer #4.

 

Conclusion

What I really like with this approach is that it can be summed up as “be useful”. It’s not simply getting your message through but also thinking about how you can do more for people around you.

This kind of synergy is the marketing I am interested in, much more than invading people’s personal space with abrasive ads until they give in.

If you want to learn more about how being useful can impact your marketing positively, I invite you to watch the following talk by Dao Nguyen.

 

This post was a little off-series where I didn’t talk about my personal story. Not sure if this is content you are interested in, so don’t hesitate to let me know within the comment section :).

 

Stay tuned.

 

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8 Thoughts to “The share chain”

  1. This article makes a lot of sense, back when I was running my failed Kickstarter for a board game I struggled to get noticed. Sharing it in my immediate social media circle barely helped and joining groups to share it came off like spam I think. I need to work on this, figuring out a way to add more value to people who do share.

    I’m also a video game designer, I started in the mobile game industry after getting my degree and I left after a few years for the same reason you didn’t accept a job offer from one(free to play design). I’m enjoying your blog so far, and The Witcher 3 is one of my favorite games of all time.

    1. I think we all struggle with getting the word out. It’s frustrating when you feel like there is an audience for what you produce but that you just can’t reach them. Especially if you don’t want to appear spammy.
      I think running a successful Kickstarter require as much marketing than releasing a successful game, if not more because of the time constraint!
      Hope the read can somehow help you in the future and thank you for visiting the blog 🙂

  2. It’s interesting how by writing this article, you bring the theory of what you claim into an action: you provide additional value for your readers. It’s not an easy task to perform right. Nice job!

    Moreover, it’s inspiring to read about your journey. I’ve been struggling with similar decisions regarding money vs. following your dreams, and I’m determined that you can’t be happy if you don’t listen to the inner voice telling whether a decision is right or wrong.

    Anyway, I wish you all the best on the path you chose. I’m sure that it’s the right one even if it wasn’t financially successful.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. I also believe firmly in the path I chose and don’t regret my decisions 🙂

      When it comes to this article, I do hope it has value for the people reading. When it comes to sharing it, however, it only has the added value of helping others or supporting me; which are quite weak. So even with a high number of readers, the number of social shares should be low. It would be fun to think about how to add more sharing value and put the theory into practice with this very article 🙂

  3. I don’t believe expecting someone to share your content is the right approach.
    It’s always nice when people help you to promote your content, but you shouldn’t ever expect them to. Most of internet users never ever share anything and just consume the content passively, or maybe they don’t even have a relevant circle to share your content in.
    Frankly, piercing all the layers is the job of the content creator, not of the audience. So I think forming your own strategy to penetrate as many layers as possible is the best approach.
    Gaining exposure through ‘word of mouth’ is totally legit, but there’s only one recipe to it: make an extremely good and original content, promote it in as many sources as possible, exceed expectations and amaze your immediate audience.

    1. I totally agree, piercing all the layer *is* the job of the creator, certainly not of the audience. This whole article is about how you can, as a creator, make content that people will want to share, not because it’s their job, but because they enjoy doing so.

      Unless you can directly reach the totality of your audience, I don’t see how you can build something without expecting any sharing whatsoever from your audience.

      If simply having a good product was enough, marketing wouldn’t exist and the tv show Firefly wouldn’t get canceled.

      There are tons of good products out there – not masterpieces but genuinely good – that never got the audience they were meant to have. There are so many similar examples of content that you enjoy, which is therefore good even if not the next big thing, that has to die because of a poor reach.

      “Word of mouth” is good, but is only enough for the top of the pile and the lucky ones. All the other “just good” stuff out there needs to put a bit more work into getting the word out.

  4. If you have time, you can always just be persistent in your work, steadily gathering new fans and followers. Being an artist I struggle a lot with making a content that is true to myself and also will find an audience. Also, completely conforming would be bad for my art and also, could be bad for my business (even when I don’t have much work right now). I also feel that indie game developers are some kind of artists and have similar problems.

    The thing that I managed to notice, is that it’s very important who shares your content. If someone popular likes and shares your content it’s easier to find audience. It’s hard to organically gather a lot of eyes and ears in your direction, without outside support. I learned that socializing is important part of being a creator and it may be hard for someone more introverted to pierce through those layers (I’m still improving my social skills and I’m usually an introverted person). You can polish your craft as much as you want, but without a little bit of luck, or a great deal of work on your social skill, it may be not enough to gain success. Knowing the right people helps a lot.

    1. I completely agree with your vision of Art. I think it is sad when you choose to conform for the sake of visibility. This right here is the reason why I chose to start with app development instead of games. I don’t want to end up in a situation where I have to change what my games are about just for the sake of marketing.

      This article is not meant to tell you what you should or should not do. It’s simply an explanation as to what is the mechanic behind sharing.
      It’s up to you to decide what you want to do with this information 🙂

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