Shared but not seen, retweeted but not read

4254188666_1e3f7f3221_oIf you came to this post by way of Twitter, and you are actually reading this sentence, then consider yourself among the elite minority of social media users who actually click through to an article that has been shared.

According to a recent study about how news is shared on social media, 59 percent of links shared on Twitter never get clicked. “In other words,” writes Caitlin Dewey in the Washington Post, “most people appear to retweet news without ever reading it.”

(Disclosure: I clicked on the link to the entire research report but only skimmed part of it; instead, I relied on the Washington Post’s coverage of the research, which it calls “a new, depressing study.” And I learned about the Post story the old-fashioned way, via email from the media outlet itself.)

Even though the study focuses on how news is shared, the results have implications for content marketers as well. Since the ascent of social media, there’s been a lot of discussion among marketers about how to create sharable content for social media that will drive traffic to our websites or generate some sort of action by the reader or viewer. This has led many of us to think more about what makes people want to share content (such as catchy clickbait or sharebait headlines), but perhaps at the expense of creating content work actually reading or viewing.

Or perhaps not. Maybe the thoughtless sharing of links is just part of the social media culture.

“[Y]our thoughtless retweets, and those of your friends, are actually shaping our shared political and cultural agendas,” Dewey writes. Her conclusion is bolstered by study co-author Arnaul Legout, who says:

People are more willing to share an article than read it. This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.

It’s indicative of what Dewey calls “the oft-demoralizing cesspool that is internet culture.”

Despite the gloomy overtones, the study offers a ray of hope for resourceful content marketers. The researchers found that most clicks to news stories were made on links shared by regular Twitter users, not the media organization. So having a strong pool of followers who will share your stuff could result in more clicks back to your articles than trying to do all the promotion yourself.

Still, if we’re serious about creating sharable content, we should continue to focus on creating content that is worth sharing, and hope than occasionally, more than four out of every 10 social media users will take the time to read it.

Photo via Pingdom (Flickr). 


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

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