Frictionless sharing – is it right for publishers?

Frictionless sharing. Have you heard these social media buzz words yet? They are becoming quite the discussion point in the publishing world.  So what does it mean?  Facebook launched frictionless sharing a couple of months ago as a way for users to share content with their friends automatically.  Anytime you read news from a social news app or listen to music from a social music app, it will automatically be shared to your Facebook page in the right-side rail and in certain promotional boxes in your timeline.  You can still manually share and Like content, in which case, it will be displayed at the top of your timeline.

Who’s in?

Several publishers are already implementing frictionless sharing. Washington Post and Yahoo both built social apps but they took different approaches.  WaPo created a news app that resides within Facebook and allows an entire body of work to move from user to user, while Yahoo is allowing links to be shared directly from its own Website.  WaPo doesn’t currently monetize the shared articles, while Yahoo protects its digital display ads by sending traffic back to its site.  We have had conversations with both companies and I can appreciate both approaches. On the one hand, WaPo is seeking a new audience and will figure out monetization later. On the other hand, Yahoo wants the audience but not without advertising to pay for it.

What’s in it for Facebook users?

For Facebook users, frictionless sharing allows for greater discovery. Facebook users can now easily see what their friends are reading or listening to.  The potential downside is that your friends will get tired of your abundance of automatic shares.  If so, users can turn off the frictionless sharing feature and just stick to sharing content on a manual basis.  Most likely, users will end up using a combination of automatic and manual sharing.

What’s in it for content producers?

A content producer can gain exposure and potentially reach a new audience.  WaPo tells me that the majority of its Facebook social readers app users are younger – which has cultivated a new audience for its brand and has resulted in millions of page views.  WaPo knows that monetization is a necessary factor, but right now it’s simply basking in the fact that a younger demographic has exposure to the brand.  Also notable – it hasn’t resulted in a negative impact on its current subscriber base.

Yahoo is also benefiting from Facebook’s frictionless sharing, but in this case the end user links back to the Yahoo website which drives up page views and thereby generates more ad impressions.  I completely understand why Yahoo is happy with this model, but at the same time WaPo is learning a lot about an audience it doesn’t typically serve.  Who’s to say that both brands aren’t correct in their pursuits?

A recent article from an exec at Next Issue Media sums up the opportunities that come from frictionless sharing, which I tend to agree with:

“Some have grumbled that ‘frictionless sharing’ is less ideal. First of all, the sender of an article might not want to automatically share that he’s reading about Snookie’s latest shenanigans and his friends might not want to know. For publishers developing news apps, they must make it transparent and easy for users to either enable or disable the ‘frictionless sharing’ function.

Second of all and perhaps even more troubling, when friends click to read one of your shares, they are forced to authenticate with the news app (and thus give up personal information) to read the article. This setup creates friction and as a result, less people will end up engaging with news apps. Publishers and Facebook jointly need to work on solutions to allow for true frictionless sharing.

With that said, the opportunity seems to outweigh the limitations. In a world of many enemies eating away at your business, Facebook seems to be on publishers’ side.”

When you weigh the risks of participating in Facebook’s social app world against the upside of obtaining a new audience, my advice is to start experimenting and above all figure out first hand what frictionless sharing means and what it can bring to your brand.

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