Please RT: About Online Sharing

Social networks make it easy to add other people’s content to your own message stream. A number of businesses are only too happy to do exactly that. How to avoid the murky waters of content theft?

A bit of psychology: why do we share other people’s content at all?

There are social as well as practical reasons to share other people’s content. Let’s take a look at this short and probably incomplete list of reasons:

  • Give and take – you can’t expect people to share your content in the long run if you stop sharing their content altogether. You need goodwill.
  • You really, really like a bit of content and want to let others know about it.
  • You don’t create the kind of content you need to attract the audience you need – but others do. If you want to be noticed on a social network it pays to be talkative.

Adding your own content

Spot your original content amidst all the retweets
Creating and sharing: mixed content

If you want to share your own views, there are several ways to come up with enough content to share it on a regular basis.

  1. Being extremely productive. Blogging full time. Experience helps. (Example: Darren Rowse – @Problogger).
  2. Having (relatively) low standards for the content you produce. If this is your approach you don’t read up much on subjects, and you don’t check your posts for typos. (no example)
  3. Producing good (or great) quality content over a longer period of time and then sharing it daily on social networks. (Example: Jeff Bullas)

If you’re still busy gaining the necessary experience and building up a treasure chest filled with heaps of great content, you will find yourself without relevant, ready-to-share content pretty often. Sharing the same 5 blog posts 40 times a day will not make you popular. And it’s a bit early to start inviting guest bloggers if you blog for the sake of sharing your own ideas.

Sharing other people’s ideas will help you AND them – if you do it right.

Basic tips for sharing other people’s content – especially if you own a business

Probably fine:

  • reblog someone else’s post on a platform you don’t own.
  • share interesting news on social media
  • post a paragraph on your own website and adding your own view (content curation)

Tip: always add a link and the author’s name (Twitter handle) and for preference mention the website where you found the information. Why? It’s not just good manners. Check the paragraph below about measuring your reach.

Posting complete blog posts on your company website is pushing it too far. Even if you add a statement on the lines of “this text was originally posted on website X” that does not tell your readers whether you have the author’s permission to fill your company website with their work.

Tip: the main question is whether or not you paid the author for contributing quality content to your website. Add a paragraph “About our authors” to avoid misunderstandings.

Once you have created a significant amount of content, the balance between home-made and other content will start to shift.

Tip: You need to monitor your content sharing mix and decide what suits you at each stage: 20/80, 60/40, 80/20?

Measured reach versus actual reach

Measuring the number of social shares your content gets gives you some idea of the reach of your message. Tools like Tweetreach list the number of mentions, the number of tweets and retweets, and the number of followers of all the sharing accounts. So you know how many people may have read your message.

A few caveats:

  • If sharers use scheduling tools, all you can do is hope they’ll mention you or use your title or hashtag so you can track their messages. This practice means that the reach you measure is lower than the actual reach. To close the gap, make sure that:
    • the sharing buttons on your site work properly – so visitors use those in stead of their own bookmarklets;
    • title, name, and hashtag combined fit quite comfortably inside a tweet when you click a sharing button.
  • Automatic reblogs and retweets are forms of automation which remove the engagement aspect altogether. This practice means that the reach you measure is (a bit) higher than the actual reach.
  • In an open platform like Twitter, the right subject (the right hashtag) may mean the number of views – and clicks – is higher than the number of any single sharer’s followers.

With so many tools around you can only hope they cancel each other out. In fact, a lot of tools exist that help you reduce the amount of guesswork by adding analytics to the links inside your messages – think Hootsuite, Buffer and the like.

How accurately do you need to measure reach?

Do you need to know who actually reads your content before sharing? In that case you need clicks combined with retweets by the same sharer. Just in case there is an automated tool running which retweets anything containing #subject.

In most cases it’s fine to have a rough estimate of your reach. Compare it to your website’s analytics – the number of clicks your content is actually getting – and you’ll have some idea of where you stand.

After all, reaching any audience is one thing – only part of that audience will engage with your content on your website. That is where the fun starts.

Please add your thoughts to my musings by commenting below; or find me on Twitter!

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A Clone War on Twitter?

Just when I was finishing my post about 4 odd follower types I had noticed on Twitter, a specific variety of zombie follower popped up among my growing number of followers.

Birds with different hues but the same shape

Clones may look different at first sight, but they follow the same instructions.

Suddenly I found I had 9 new followers on the same day, all boasting similar interests (sometimes in exactly the same words) and tweeting exactly the same messages.

You have got to be kidding me…

Clone accounts?

This naturally sparked my interest.

The question HOW something like that is possible is interesting in itself, but this is not a technical post. I’m sure many of us are aware of stuff like IFTTT which allows you to send automated thank-yous to new followers and other cool things – which I don’t use, but that’s a different subject. I’m sure it is becoming easier every day to have 9 (or more) accounts all performing the same actions. I will however include few pointers in case you would like to check your own followers:

What do these clone accounts look like?

Closer inspection of my clone followers showed a few characteristics:

  • They all had colorful avatars;
  • Each of them had a nice-looking bio including a link to a website (subdomain) about the same subject;
  • Like I mentioned, they all sent identical tweets, frequently referring to their website.
  • They showed not a trace of interaction – but this is tricky terrain because this, too, can be simulated to an extent. Retweeting can happen without human interference – see my earlier post mentioning zombie followers. Other aspects of interaction with other people (or accounts) may soon be simulated as well.

These clones had acquired varying numbers of followers – as if some were of a more recent date than others. The ‘older’ ones had over a 1.000 followers each. Some of their followers are accounts which I in turn follow – accounts that are not noticeably ‘fake’. This means at least some of those following clone accounts are real followers.

After this I checked my fake follower score once more, only to find that it was still stuck at 1%. Which is odd to say the least. Apparently these clone accounts are made to seem real enough to fool an app.

The other question is WHY it is being done.

What purpose do clone accounts serve?

My question why anyone would do this has an obvious answer. There must be ways to make money with this kind of clone army. Someone is obviously catering to a demand on the Twitter market.

Now, when I was just starting out on Twitter – just after I hatched actually, because I spent some time as an egg – there were people who would follow me, and unless I followed them back within 24 hours they would be gone. This sort of practice might have made me anxious to follow back everyone really quickly if I wanted to grow my follower number.

Since then, I have noticed that some people I followed were quick to follow back. Which was nice for me as a newbie, though I would have kept following them if they had been slower to follow back.

My clone followers are surprisingly still following me after 48 hours, which would indicate that these accounts serve a different purpose or at the very least are directed in a different way from the quickly-gone kind. But I’ll keep an eye on them anyway.

What happens if you follow-back all the time, without checking up on your newly found followers? How does your behavior add to someone else’s income?

What does all this lead up to?

These accounts are made to attract followers, real followers like you and me, in order to sell us as ‘real human followers’ to people who want a large following overnight.

Who is buying?

Large companies are, as a rule, not interested in offers from dealers who “like beer, & offer 1000 followers just 15$$”. But there are plenty of newbies who feel intimidated by their friends’ “follower herd”, or business startups who need followers to sell their ideas or products to.

What makes followers more valuable? If they are interested in the right subjects they are more likely to read your content, click on links or listen to your sales talk – in stead of unfollowing you in a hurry.

But people who are just interested in their follower count will not want to pay for that – and they are the people the dealers are collecting followers for. Their buyers will pay for the “these people will follow you back” guarantee. After all, you’ve already proved that by following back an account designed to round up a herd of followers.

A side-effect of this practice is that we are all approached by followers who need us, not to sell to (the follower dealers do that), but to get followed back in order to earn money.

This clone army, then, is just another possible side-effect of the hunt for followers.

Businesses, including large businesses, are not blameless by the way. The primitive metrics many have used so far to figure out whether the time and money they have spent on social media has brought any tangible results (more money that is) have added to the scramble for followers.

Getting “Moo!” in stead of Milk

This may be the point where we replace “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys” with the marketing version:

  1. If you measure your success by counting clicks, you’ll end up paying to get more clicks.
  2. If you pay for clicks, you get people who will click for free vouchers.

You don’t get the most engaged kind of follower this way, and businesses have started to notice this. In fact it really helps if people start following your business because they are interested (no news there).

For any business it is high time to move beyond clicks, likes, and follower numbers – if you haven’t done so already.

Meanwhile I have taken a few pictures of my sympathetic herd – to keep in my chamber of oddities in case they move on in the next few days.

Who is selling?

Here are few quotes from my sympathetic follower dealers in case you were wondering: “Buy 10.000 Facebook fans”, “Buy followers while you sleep”, and one that is truly enlightening and reads something like: “Are you jealous of your friends’ number of followers? We can fix that.”

Enough said.

What experiences do you have with the Twitter followers, Facebook likes, or Google Plus One business? If you have your own theory, I’d love to hear it too! Use the comments section or find me on Twitter.

Other posts on this topic: Why Twitter Automation is not a matter of set and forget

Other authors on this topic:

Why Twitter Automation is Not a Matter of Set and Forget

There has been a lot of attention for fake followers on Twitter lately. A week or so ago I tried one of those tools for finding out “How many fake followers YOU have”.

It turned out I had 1% fake followers. I don’t have that many followers yet so that would have been 1.3 follower at the start of August.

Dog chasing hashtags dropped by birds

Finding followers – who’s snapping up your tweets?

Since I make a point of checking new followers’ bio and tweets before following them back, I knew which follower it was. You might describe this particular follower as “one of those companies that have heard they should be on Twitter but don’t know what to do there, apart from putting up a poster in their shop window”. Calling it a fake follower is going too far in my view. It’s just not a very desirable follower.

If (?) you’re on Twitter you may have noticed some pretty odd accounts popping up among your own new followers – if you’ve taken a closer look at their accounts and tweets. Have you?

Check if these 4 types of followers sound familiar – and what to do if YOU’RE that follower!

4 fake, fraud and odd follower types on Twitter

  1. The unlikely follower.First up are followers who have absolutely nothing in their description or tweets that matches anything you do. This type of follower isn’t a problem unless any of the following points also apply. They may be looking for information about a topic and find YOU. Lucky you.
  2. The absent follower. Followers who have 4000 tweets but the last one is over 100 days old. Is this someone who got tired of Twitter? Or did their spouse grow tired first? Perhaps a sabbatical… I hope.
  3. The silent follower. These followers literally have NO tweets at all. Just a link to a website, and possibly a description of the amazing products or services they offer on that website. Selling stuff the lazy way is not against the law. Is it?
  4. The zombie follower. These followers do in fact tweet on a regular basis. But something is wrong with those tweets, especially if you look back over a couple of weeks. They may:
    • Retweet from a limited number of other accounts. As you review those retweets you may wonder why on earth anyone would want to retweet these particular tweets.
    • Share information from some news website that add a flavour of relevance. But if a news item is too long it lacks a link to the website. The text just stops mid-sentence.
    • Tweet highly similar messages that link to a website that promotes a product or service.

What to do if you have the nagging feeling your Twitter account resembles any of the above – which you never intended when you first started your Twitter adventure?

#1. Are you someone’s unlikely groupie?

If you want to be followed back – if your goal is to find readers and sharers for your content, consider updating your profile regularly to reflect shifts in interest. Show your interest in the topic by (re)tweeting or replying. If you’re just looking for information, being tolerated on general principles may be all you need. Otherwise make sure you don’t end up either without new followers, or hidden behind a filter.

#2 Are you still active on Twitter without realizing it?

Are you all right? If so, you need to assess why you’re on Twitter since the only thing that is still happening is your little tool finding interesting accounts for you.

  • Is it time to delete your account because you’re not even reading your tweets anymore?
  • Are you following people who have little to say about topics that interest you? In that case, start following people based on your interests. Put them in a couple of lists so you can check up on your favorite subjects anytime.
  • Can’t think of anything to say? Somehow if you managed to get to 4000 tweets I can’t imagine how this could happen. Perhaps you have zero followers who are interested in your tweets. Does the content of your tweets match the interests of your followers? If there is a match but nobody who replies or retweets your stuff, perhaps you need to improve your tweets. Find information on how to get your message across in 140 characters. Add links to articles about your topic. Add hashtags, 3 max. Use a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite not for scheduling, but in order to find out if anyone actually clicks on (the links in) your tweets.
  • Or perhaps you were overenthusiastic when you first started out? In that case you may have ended up spending way too much time and energy. If you’re eager to share information, consider setting up a Buffer account and set it to three tweets a day. Skip the weekend. Use your online reading time to sniff out the best content and collect it in your Buffer. When you’re on Twitter, use your time to reply, and tweet & retweet only stuff that is fresh and new in the sweet knowledge that your Buffer will do the rest.

#3 Are you quietly following people around?

Consider getting busy.  A Twitter account is NOT the same as real Twitter presence. You need to take action to earn people’s trust. Unless you are absolutely sure that your customers are looking for a lazy entrepreneur to show them how to get rich while they sleep.

#4 Are you that zombie on the hunt for followers?

People prefer to connect with people. Automation is a great way to make our social networking lives easier. But many people would like there to be a person in there with all the automated stuff.
If you don’t have time to find great stuff for sharing, consider tweeting less, like 4 times a day. Don’t inundate your followers with rubbish.

Tips to escape premature zombiehood on Twitter

You may have set up instructions to make your life on Twitter or any other social network easier and less time-consuming. Or you’re considering it.
Remember whatever you do in real life, those instructions which will keep going forever. Make sure you can stop or alter whatever you started. Start here:

  • Get organized. Document all the stuff you ever started. Social networks and apps can clutter your online desk.
  • Take control. Review your goals and decide to:
    • Get rid of social accounts you haven’t used for a while;
    • Make changes that will make those accounts valuable to you (again);
    • OR put a text in your bio or in a message that indicates you are at present busy elsewhere. If you choose to do this, be helpful and indicate how you may be contacted. Don’t just get up and leave.

Do you have more useful tips and suggestions for inactive or zombie accounts? If you do, please share them in a comment. Or find me on Twitter.

More about this subject in this article by Lisa Buyer on SearchEngineWatch.com and on Mediabistro.

Getting those sharing buttons sorted

If you love sharing other people’s content, making it easy for them to share your own content is an important step in setting up your blog. In fact it would have been #2 on my to-do list if I had bothered to make one – right after selecting a theme.

WordPress Content Sharing Buttons: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Buffer, Press This, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, and Tumblr

Sharing buttons on my WordPress.com blog.

The standard sharing buttons on a WordPress(.com) blog have two issues I noticed in particular:

  • They mentioned WordPress but no author;
  • There was no “Add to Buffer” button.

In this post you’ll find out what happened when I ran into these issues; how I fixed them; and a few examples in case you’re haven’t had a chance to look into this for your own blog. But first let’s explore why I’m calling them issues and talking of fixing them.

Why is it a problem if your name is not automatically added?

Quite a number of blogs have a “via @twittername” part in their messages. I’m so used to this I often add the Twitter name of the blog author to my tweets if they are missing. This means that I need to look them up and paste their names in, which can be more work than it is worth. Sometimes I skip the whole exercise for that reason. In fact, once or twice I gave up on sharing an article altogether. That should not happen to sound content. For that reason, make sure your name is part of the message. Anyone is free to do some editing, but the main thought here is that you make sharing as quick and easy as possible.

Another reason for including your name is that finding out how often and by whom your content is shared can be difficult if:

  • The sharer changes the title of your post – possibly optimizing it for Twitter, or for a particular audience;
  • They share your content through a scheduling tool in stead of retweeting or reblogging.

If your Twitter name is part of the message they may simply leave it in – so long as it fits. That gives you an extra option to check for tweets that link to your content.

Also, having your Twitter name shared makes it easier for readers to find you, just in case they’re not ready to follow or subscribe to your blog.

Why is the absence of a Buffer button a problem?

The Buffer app is very useful if you:

  • Check the latest developments online at a time when a large number of potentially interested people are asleep;
  • Want to share the latest without swamping followers with a dozen messages at once, and
  • Prefer a simple solution since getting the hang of a more complicated tool seems a bit premature when viewing your present number of followers.

All of the above apply to me so even before publishing my first post I tried to fix the Buffer issue. Since I didn’t like the fact that the sharing buttons were only at the bottom of the page I started by pasting some code into the top menu. That worked. Sort of. I didn’t manage to get the title of the post into the message. I looked the Buffer issue up and found an old Q&A on WordPress.com. The answer read something like: “The Buffer button isn’t in html. Sorry.”

(I published my first post.)

Then I e-mailed the guys at Buffer. First of all, they were OK with my using the link without the button since I couldn’t paste that into the menu. Second, they suggested a way to fix the title issue. It didn’t work but even so, thanks guys. Third, they said they would contact WordPress.com to see if they could fix the absence of the Buffer button. So I guess we’ll see what happens.

(At this point I started to think about writing a post about the subject.)

Then I decided to check the sharing buttons again. Meanwhile though, I had completely forgotten where to find them. After I found them (nowhere near Appearance – Widgets but in the Settings section) I noticed the link “Add new service”. Since I’d already spent some time on the link in my top menu, I pasted my code in and it worked fine. Then I tried different options until I got as close to the messages I got from other websites as I could.

Creating personalized sharing buttons

Adding a new service, as WordPress calls it, has its own issues:

  1. You can’t just edit the new button, no, you can create it or delete it. Not DIY friendly for non-techies or perfectionists!
  2. WordPress gives you a few bits of code you can paste into the sharing button but I ended up adding bits from my earlier code to complete my message. Besides, you do need to know how to glue all those bits together to make your link work.
  3. You need to get a link to really tiny icon images.
  4. Did I mention you probably started up your blog because you wanted to spend time writing?

Just in case you have considered personalizing the sharing buttons on your own blog, here is what your code might look like (in Bold are the bits you would change to your own site or Twitter name):

http://bufferapp.com/add?text=%post_title%%20yoursitename.com&url=%post_url%&via=yourtwittername

Note: %20 is for adding a space as in add%20your%20sitename%20here

Once you get one button to work the way you want it to, you may be tempted to use similar codes to personalize other buttons. I sure was! So I changed the Twitter button next and set it to include my tags as hashtags:

https://twitter.com/share?text=%post_title%%20yoursite.com&url=%post_url%&via=yourtwittername&hashtags=%post_tags%

Now I’m planning to wait and see which I like best – the one which I end up changing the least when sharing. I think I’ll like the one without hashtags best since I’ve added as many as four tags to this post! But maybe time will prove me wrong.

Let me know which you like best: adding or deleting hashtags? Use the comments section below.

P.S.: You can find the tiny icons for the sharing buttons at:

Buffer: http://static.bufferapp.com/images/logo_icon_small.png

Twitter: https://dev.twitter.com/sites/default/files/images_documentation/bird_blue_16.png