Social SharingWhile current online marketing doesn't completely replace traditional marketing, in fact many of its tenets are still the old ones just re-imagined; there is one area where the former really diverges from the latter: the priority of the second share.

Marketing campaigns in print, television, radio, and on signs aim to make an impression on the immediate viewer. But online marketing isn't just about making an impression on the viewer. It has to urge the viewer to forward your content or advertisement to someone else, and then to send it to yet another someone else.

Share Me Once, Good for Me

Normally advertising seeks to gain the attention of a viewer and cement an opinion or belief upon them. Usually this is of a nature to purchase their product or otherwise perform a task necessary for a conversion. The route is simple and straight-forward. Once the viewer has performed their task the relationship between them and the ad is fulfilled and doesn't need to continue.

The First ShareFor instance, if somebody saw a commercial to get a pair of pants, and they bought those pants, then that same ad has little further meaning and purpose to them. The marketer has succeeded in gaining a conversion (they sold a pair of pants).

Think of this as one hop for your message. You, the marketer, have shared your campaign once to a target, and they received it. Short and sweet, yes, but still rather short...

Share Me Twice, Good for You

For as long as there has been communication there has been the recommendation. A person who bought pants may recommend those pants to their friends, who may even go out and get pants for themselves. This is a huge boon to the marketer. But it is a bonus. Their campaign was designed to get the attention of the initial viewer, persuade them to be a buyer, and that's it. Anything after is superfluous to the campaign.

But in social media marketing, that recommendation isn't a bonus. It's the entire point of the campaign. The only thing more important than getting that first viewer is getting them to share it with their peers. Arguably it is even more important.

In social media marketing, the holy grail is to go viral, and that doesn't happen when your campaign seeks only to get a conversion after the first set of eyeballs. The first viewer is but a gatekeeper, a potential curator who if satisfied with what they see will then spread it to their own personal network of affiliates.

It's not just a matter of getting somebody to like your ad, but of getting them to convince others to like your ad too. A person should feel that sharing your ad contributes to their own objectives and desires. Sharing your content should make them feel like they are presenting themselves as smart, funny, sympathetic, politically active, opinionated, passionate, etc.

A person shares something they find online either as a benefit to others (look at considerate and knowledgeable of your interests I am!) or as a form of self-expression. So give them something to express with.

This is the second hop; from marketer to target to target of the target. Online marketing doesn't just take advantage of this second share, it lives by it. Even if your ad makes an impression, even if it gets seen by 50 people and all 50 buy into it, the campaign is still a failure if none of those 50 shared it.

Share Me Three Times, I Win

The Third Share and Beyond

True viral engagement however goes just a step further. Your content must not just appeal to the first audience, but be good enough for them to share with their peers, and still be good enough to convince that second group to share it with their own peers.

By at least these three hops we can begin to count the campaign as a success.

With three levels of sharing we ideally have a large enough viewer-base that the viral snowball effect has gained enough momentum to be fairly self-inflating, that enough eyeballs have tuned in to warrant other eyeballs to look over just to see what everyone is fussing about.

After three shares the exponential rate has really taken off, and with enough individuals now vouching for this content the lingering inertia of new viewers has greatly decreased. More people are inclined to "check something out" when they see others espousing it.

Targeting the Right Audience

So the aim of a good social media marketing campaign should strive for that third hop, that third rung of shares. That's the minimum amount of reach your campaign should possess if you want the viral flames to catch. The "right" audience isn't just the immediate one, but the second audience, even the third.

So make your campaigns sharable. They should be self-contained, in terms of context, contact/source info (not too bluntly, of course), and message. The call-to-action should not exist outside of the content, as a status update or descriptor. Everything needs to be within the content itself. Images are perfect for this, especially comics or infographics, as these are accepted as containing larger amounts of information. Make sure your content is suitable and optimized for sharing on Facebook, Imgur, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr; any website designed around sharing content between users.

Overall, make your content share-friendly. Give as much implicit encourage to sharing, and if your content is good enough it will be shared without any additional urging necessary. People want to share good content; it's what social networks are all about. Remember, you're not putting up ads on social networks; you're putting up sharable content that just happens to espouse your products and calls-to-action.

Do you think the second share and the second audience are even more important than the first? Or are three not enough to go viral? Let us know in the comments.