We all know it’s good to share, right? Silicon Alley Insider recently shared some information with us on How People Share Content on the Web. The article took a look at some recent data released by AddToAny, a company that develops widgets that enable users to share content across various social media and other Web communication channels. It should come as no surprise that Facebook (24%), email (11.1%), and Twitter (10.8%) are among the most popular methods for sharing content on the Web today. This is significant information for any Web publisher or other organization that seeks to provide content for its users to share across the Web.
I think this information continues to support the argument that organizations need to open up more of their content for users. As you shift from free to paid content business models, you reduce the potential for information to be shared across all these channels. It’s clear that we’re in a sharing economy today when it comes to information. Unlike a child that’s overly protective of his or her toys, it appears that most of us grown ups are comfortable with sharing. If you take a closer look at the data from AddToAny, you’ll also see that social bookmarking and user-generated news sites like Delicious, Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit are also among the top sources for sharing information online. If you’re not using a widget like AddToAny or Sociable (which we use on Journalistics), you could be missing a huge opportunity to share your content with a much larger audience.Will Sullivan recently wrote a great post on this topic for Poynter Online that discussed this topic in greater detail. In his article, Will takes a look at information provided by search engine marketing guru Danny Sullivan (no relation), suggesting that Twitter traffic numbers can be under reported by analytics tools like Google Analytics. I’ve found this to be true with this blog. I regularly track the number of clicks and “retweets” generated from posts I share through Twitter. In the case of clicks, I find the trackable URL shortening services I use (Tr.im and Bit.ly) often report more referrals than Google Analytics; often at a ratio of 3:1. I think this is important to point out, since Twitter can be a huge source of referrals to your Web content. In the case of this blog, Twitter is consistently a top referral source, despite information being under reported.
Back to the point of free versus paid content. Is it possible for users to share links to your premium content? Yes. Will it result in more people paying for subscriptions to your content? I have no doubt. However, you’ll reach a much larger audience if you make your content free for sharing. As a result, you’ll continually grow your audience. That much larger audience creates more opportunities for generating revenue than subscriptions alone. There are countless examples of this approach working for publishers of Web content. In my case, I know it’s true. We continually see an increase of more than 100% month-over-month in readers of our Web content. If I started to charge for content, I have no doubt our audience would atrophy and people would stop sharing our content. A larger audience has far more value than a smaller paid subscriber audience.
As a consumer of online content, I am also an active sharer of information I find interesting. I am 10 times more likely to share content I know my audience can easily access and share without a subscription. It’s the classic pay-it-forward model. When I find great information on a subscription site, I don’t share it. It’s too much of a burden on my audience to jump through hoops to read the article. I realize organizations need to find new business models that will help them achieve sustainability, I just can’t help but think paid content models will lose big in this sharing economy we’re in today.