Shared content beats paid content and what you can do about it

OK, now we have the proof of what we all thought was true in the first place.

Content delivered through social media sharing is more effective than the same content delivered through paid advertising.

A piece from Ad Age Digital summarizes a study conducted by GE using the social media site BuzzFeed and facilitated by Vizu, a digital advertising measurement firm. The “GE Show” was distributed on BuzzFeed using both paid advertising and sharing. Attitudes of those who watched it each way were tested. In addition, a control group that had not seen the online piece at all was tested.

All three groups (sharing, advertising, control) were asked the question, “”What comes to mind when you think of General Electric (GE)?” Overall, 77% of those who saw the content via sharing had positive responses to the question compared to 55% who saw it via advertising and 42% who didn’t see it all.

The study also measured something called “brand lift” by specifically measuring the number of people that responded to the question using the word “creative.” The calculation reported wasn’t clear to me but the contention is that there was a brand lift differential of 138% between those who were exposed via sharing and those not exposed at all.

So what do businesses and organizations that are just a wee bit smaller than GE do about this?

I looked at some of the content. It’s pretty slick. Great quality video combined in some cases with neat interactivity. And it’s on message. Not the kind of content that’s within the budget of most marketing departments. It makes me wonder that if the content was good but not amazing would there still be a 20 point spread in positive reaction between those who viewed it via sharing and those via advertising. Probably not but its an academic point for most of us.

The message for most businesses is don’t worry about paid advertising. Just start creating content – white papers, video testimonials, case studies, how-to guides, handy reference material. Don’t bet on your content going viral and being seen by millions (hundreds would be very good). You’re better off concentrating on developing content that is of value to your target audience and then distribute it using a well-planned social media strategy. Better yet, find ways to have your customers participate in content creation. There are tons of online resources that will help you with all of that. If that doesn’t work for you, I can connect you with a very creative marketing firm that can help.

The results of the GE study are hardly startling. Research shows that word of mouth is more effective than advertising every time. You may not be able to duplicate GE’s results but if nothing else this study should tell you that if you’re not thinking about content marketing, it’s time.

That’s my take on this research and how it relates to the majority of organizations. What’s yours?

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