New Study Reveals Surprises In How People Share

by Jason Falls |

We’re starting to see an interesting by-product of cool social media tools emerge: Research pulled from user data. One such effort, a new study released by SocialTwist, makers of the content share widget Tell-A-Friend, reveals some interesting facts about how people share information online. You can see the report in its entirety on the SocialTwist website.

First, let’s set the expectations appropriately. The data behind the study is collected from anonymized user data for people who click on the Tell-A-Friend widget where it is used on blog posts, newspaper websites and more. That widget represented just below this paragraph, is similar in functionality to ShareThis, AddThis and others. While the design, functionality and placement of the widgets do skew the data in various ways, the widget has served almost two million billion (yeah … with a “b”) impressions to date, so there’s a lot of data there.

The Tell-A-Friend Widget
The Tell-A-Friend Widget

The parts of the report that caught my eye included the following:

  • People still share via email and instant messenger more than via social networks. An astounding 59% of all shares on the widget were done via email, 25% via instant messenger and just 14% were passed along on networks like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Twitter, which has recently emerged as the share site du jour for those in the social media world, accounts for only one percent of all shares. Facebook is 11%. Yahoo mail is the highest individual share channel at 26%.
  • Yahoo (44%) and MSN (25%) mail are way ahead of Gmail (19%) as the email provider used by Tell-A-Friend users.
  • Facebook accounts for 79% of all shares via social networks. MySpace is second at 15%. Twitter is just 5% of all social network shares via the widget.

While I do think there is a separation between what I would call hyper-tech users (those who owe their soul to Google, defer to other bookmarklets and other methods rather than clicking on the share widgets provided) and the average Joe or Jane, the statistics are significant. They show us how wide of a gap there is between those two crowds. When we as Internet marketers are making recommendations and building functionality for the mainstream, we have to remember that WE are not the mainstream.

Another insight I get out of this data is that one-to-one communications – email and instant messenger – are still enormously powerful. Most people either don’t realize they can share with more folks via social networks or are not comfortable doing so. It might just be that sharing the information with one or two people is the methodology of choice for the rest of the world. That can change how we approach social media strategies for some products and services. Design programs and products that inspire more one-to-one pass alongs rather than “LOOK WHAT I FOUND!” messages on social networks.

To gather some comparative data, I asked Tell-A-Friend competitor ShareThis if they minded sharing some cursory data. For the month of October, their users also shared more via email (46.4%). Twitter was higher than Tell-A-Friend’s results, but also surprisingly low (5.82% of all shares). Facebook accounted for 33.32% of all share paths for ShareThis in October, higher than Tell-A-Friend. If you’re wondering about ShareThis’s IM numbers, they don’t offer instant messenger clients as share options, sans AOL Instant Messenger, which is buried on the third tab of their full icon set option.

I spoke with SocialTwist president Vijay Pullur on Friday about his company’s report. He was just as surprised at some of the data as I was, namely the low share number for Google’s channels and Twitter.

“Twitter is so popular and has been growing like crazy,” Pullur said. “But if you look at the data, the usage is extremely low. It has been picking up a little bit lately, but not much.”

Pullur agreed the numbers may indicate that the “normal” social media user may not be as tech savvy as those of us in the social media marketing world think.

“We have a very wide cross-section of users and the data is a general aggregate using a data sample of 10 million messages,” he said. “What appears to me is that the world of Internet users is a lot bigger than the tech savvy world you and I live in.”

Pullur and I both agree these conclusions are anecdotal and assumptions. But they are indications that may very well help us all shape more sound strategies for social media programs and initiatives in the near future.

Please do check out the full report for yourself. Let us know in the comments what insights you were able to glean and what you think of those discussed here. Are the assumptions you made about how people share using social media tools right? Different? Tell us in the comments.


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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).