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Is “frictionless sharing” really frictionless?

By Digital Strategy — April 3, 2012 - 10:00 pm
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“Vicky bought a Izola shower curtain linen at 10% off on Fab.com. “

“Peter pinned a picture on Pinterest

“Asaf viewed a feed on Pixable.

Many of you probably have seen posts similar to those at some point on your Facebook Ticker or Newsfeed. There are several actions you might take, 1) try to turn them off, 2) click on the post to see why your friends are so obsessed with those services and keep posting them, or 3) if you happen to use the same service, start feeling self-conscious knowing the content you are consuming is also seen by others. No matter what action you take, one common thing you will come across is that most of the content is automatically shared without the sharer’s awareness, and this automatic sharing function is usually set by default by third-party services.

Facebook revealed “Open Graph” last year, where Facebook will share user’s activities on sites outside of Facebook with their friends. Whether it is listening to a song on Spotify, watching a television show on Hulu, or reading an article on Washington Post, everything can be shared on Facebook for friends to see and join in. According to Zuckerberg, the idea of Open Graph is to combine the “actions” users engage in both on and off Facebook into a single spot, and hence create “a completely new class of social apps than what was ever possible before”.

Apparently one major benefit of Open Graph for Facebook is that it facilitates better advertising. However, from a strategic perspective, Facebook’s aggressive initiative suggests a shift in their strategy: from relationship management to content curation. With Open Graph they can now leverage social connections to enable users to filter through a massive amount of information online and find interesting and personally relevant content. There has been a major argument about how real a Facebook relationship is compared to one that takes place offline. Instead of purely focusing on duplicating offline relationships online, Facebook and other networking sties can provide another unique function — helping users establish lightweight connections with people and in the process gain relevant and useful resources. In some cases, every once in a while, users do tend to find content or deals they are interested in just by watching their friends’ online activities. Facebook’s focus is not only about turning transient and lightweight relationships into emotional and deeper ones (i.e., finding best friends in your life), but also about bringing utility to those connections and making them meaningful to users. The video below put together by Percolate helps us better understand the concept of content curation and how it works from a user’s perspective.

However, despite Mark Zuckerberg’s enthusiasm for ensuring that everything a Facebook user cares about streams to his or her friends and family, consumers have their concerns. Spotify – one of those early partners who signed up on the “frictionless sharing” initiative with Facebook– had to provide a “private listening” mode after a few months because of the huge backlash among those users who didn’t want to share their guilty pleasures with their friends. CNET editor Molly Wood goes so far as to call the frictionless sharing as “a disruptor of her Facebook experiences.” Irrelevancy is another holdup. Researchers from Harvard have found that people are little influenced by their Facebook friends’ tastes. And it’s not hard to imagine that users don’t ask all of their friends for advice; an individual’s social influence and area of expertise determines whom users would ask for recommendations among all their friends and families.

The good news for brands is that those concerns didn’t stop Open Graph being successful in increasing engagement and traffic. The Guardian, The Independent and Yahoo! News have all reported massive increase in traffic and engagement on their websites since adopting Facebook Open Graph. So now the question becomes, as brands, how do we leverage this unique opportunity to better engage consumers, while being mindful of potential pitfalls?

The three questions below will help us answer this:

  1. How is content spread and consumed in the real world? We know that some people are nervous about showing their iTunes playlists to friends, so why wouldn’t they be self-conscious when it comes to sharing playlists online? Google+ might not be so much of a successful social site, but the Circle idea (which allows users to share different content with different groups of people in their network) could be borrowed for “frictionless sharing” to really work in an acceptable and meaningful way. Users need to be given options of whom to share with as well as what to share, rather than feeling forced to broadcast all of their online activities.
  1. What is the motivation of users sharing consumed content? Frictionless sharing is more of passive sharing from a user’s end, and therefore the motivation might be less about self-documenting but more about bringing benefits to others and getting inspirations from the community. Therefore, providing a feedback function to stimulate discussions around the content that’s being shared is key. But this is not just a comment box or a “Like” button; it has to be designed in a social context and user-friendly way. For example, asking users to rate the content based on certain criteria and share, allowing them to start a group conversation, or sharing different comments with different groups of friends, such as friends who have consumed the same content versus friends who only have heard about the content.
  1. What’s in it for users? Besides making “frictionless sharing” more social and relevant, are there other utilities brands can offer to users? One method is to provide exclusive and personalized content to improve user experiences. Airbnb now allows users to register through Facebook and personalizes the search results according to their Facebook network and how they are connected to the hosts/reviewers. Shelby.tv aggregates all of the videos being recommended by family and friends on Facebook and Twitter into a single personalized video streaming channel.

Simply put, Facebook’s Open Graph and the notion of “frictionless sharing” would only work if brands respect sharers’ privacy and truly bring utility to both sharers and users.

The type of brands that benefit the most from “frictionless sharing” so far seem to be e-commerce sites. To them, this “frictionless sharing” function is a great alternative to email spams for presenting offerings to consumers and keeping them on top of product updates. Designer shopping site Fab.com has had a 50 percent boost in traffic from Facebook since they adopted Open Graph. (They offer members $10 worth of Fab.com credits a month for activating their Facebook App, which automatically publishes members’ purchases to their Timeline, Newsfeed and Ticker.) Other e-commerce sites like Payvment and Lyst encourage users to “own”, “want”, “love” or “share” products, which create higher engagement and more comprehensive data of users’ needs.

Like many of the initiatives Facebook has launched in the past, the initial response of this “frictionless sharing” among users was more negative than positive. It can, however, be a powerful tool for certain brands if privacy, relevancy, utility and social context are added into this functionality.

So, what do you think of the future of “frictionless sharing”?

Comments

One Response to “Is “frictionless sharing” really frictionless?”

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