Does Social Behavior Vary By Vertical? An Analysis

Given how social continues to evolve quickly, I thought it would be interesting to look at several representative publishers leveraging our social platform and assess what’s happening in the social space overall.  To keep things simple, I’ve selected a large publisher (based on uniques) in three verticals.  Internally, our deeper analyses have shown each to be representative of the aggregate of the vertical with respect to social behaviors of their users.

Through our AddThis social platform, we empower publishers to provide and track all kinds of social activity on a site – from copy and paste of the URLs and text in page to posting to social services to printing/emailing.  We have provided these social services for five years and are now installed by publishers on 14+ million active domains touching 1.3B unique users monthly.  We are 10x our closest social tools competitor and, as a result, have an exceptional view into web-wide behaviors.

In this analysis, we assessed:

Shares – a user sending content to their friends / social graph (via sharing button, email or IM)
Clicks – a user shares, then another user that sees that share clicks on the link (or, if you prefer, a clickback)
Profile of Action – a breakdown of service or share type of the social behavior.

Here are some topline insights from the analysis…

-News sites see the highest virality (as measured by clicks over shares), then e-commerce and food.  News sites tend to have short shelf life, highly viral content, such as articles around Frankenstorm, crimes or Olympic victories.

-The e-commerce site exhibited lower virality than the news site, but greater proportion of emailing and printing.  We didn’t reflect it in the analysis but the shelf life of the content was longer. This is likely because this site had more expensive, considered purchases.  The food site exhibited greater pinning but the lowest virality overall.  The content shared were recipes and exhibited the longest shelf life.

What is interesting is not only how much users are sharing but how they share, and how the preferred mechanism for sharing changes by vertical.  Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic touched on this in his piece called Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong.  While his title implies something ominous, it’s a scientific reference to dark matter being all around us.  In our analysis, users are clearly aware of how public/private they are, why they share and what social brands or tools satisfies their need(s) based on their current task.  Facebook is the mental anchor for social, but user behavior varies, and is both locked-in and evolving.

Learned behavior – The simple act of copying and pasting an URL drives significant traffic across all categories.  It also remains one of the most impactful sharing mechanisms (as measured by virality, e.g., URLs shared by copy/paste exhibit the highest clickback). This behavior is different by medium (mobile vs PC) but is ingrained into consumer behavior.  The profile of copy/pasters varies greatly (it’s exhibited, for example, by casual up thru heavy users) and has become a habitual behavior that isn’t changing over time.

Evolving – Pinterest’s growth has been extraordinary.  As Pinterest adoption grows across categories of publishers, we are seeing specific verticals adapt faster to quickly changing user behavior.   Pinterest has been working to enable easy pinning, and AddThis rolled a pinning tool back in July.  We continue to see social behavior evolving, and Pinterest won’t be the last.  Sites and technologies that solve a pain point or make actions easier will be adopted.  Innovative companies like Sulia recognize that social is maturing and are attempting to build mass niche social communities.

There are interesting implications of this changing consumer behavior.  On the one hand, consumer habits are hard to change.  On the other, social activity is maturing and fragmenting rapidly.  If you look at AddThis global stats, Facebook represents ~50 percent of social activity to 3rd-party social services.  However, when you include social activity such as copy/paste of the URL, the percentage decreases significantly.

Stay tuned, we’ll touch more on questions this raises next . . .