Technology is our friend: Growing your Facebook Fanpage through “passive sharing“
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October 24, 2011

Growing your Facebook Fanpage through “passive sharing“

For small Facebook fanpages, I still believe that Facebook Ads is the best way to grow their user base. But for bigger sites that grow by a three- or even four-digit-number of fans daily, ads are not really useful from a cost/effect-perspective when it comes to accelerating this growth. Therefore, many fanpages (incl. the small ones) try to publish a piece of content every once in while that will “maybe go something like viral" - meaning that they hope that some of their fans would share this content with their friends, so these friends would maybe get aware of that specific fanpage and like it. Since a few months ago the number of shares is publicly available with each Facebook post, and by that we can all see that this actually does happen (remember the “find the cat”-picture from a week ago with 200k+ shares?), but just like with viral videos, this only happens with a tiny, minimal, microscopic percentage of posts. Why? Because it is “active sharing”. It requires the user to make the decision to want to broadcast this piece of content to all of his/her friends, by this make a statement about himself/herself and then take the appropriate action: click “share” and maybe even write some smart statement about it. Most people don’t do this. Facebook of course noticed that, and they are working on changing it by enforcing "passive sharing".

One good example is a development that happened a while back: Some 18 months ago there was a Facebook “share button” that you could embed on your site, and just like with sharing a Facebook post, users would have to actively decide to share that content with their friends. Then, the “like button” came and subsequently substituted the share button. You could just “like” some piece of content anywhere in the web, and in your news feed this would appear as a report of your action. Here, Facebook posts that you like (or recommend) a piece of content - it is not you actively posting something in your feed; you leave it to a third party to report your activity.

This is “passive sharing”, and even if I failed to find reliable stats on how much the sharing of content has increased by this paradigm shift, I think that everybody can tell from experience that a) the count on “like” buttons is always significantly higher than it was on “share” buttons and b) you see this action in your newsfeed way more than you did see posts coming from that “share” feature.

The switch from active to passive sharing is a move to involve the mass beyond the few percent of hardcore power users in sharing content and giving recommendations to their friends.

With the latest changes, Facebook kept following this route. In the newly launched “ticker” on the top right, you will get notified about a friend commenting on some other friend’s post (who you might not be connected to). You will see a friend liking something within Facebook, you will see people answering some Facebook question etc. – all these examples are information that your friends passively share. By liking a friend’s post, they might be aware that someone else might notice their action, but they are not actively re-posting that content: They leave it to a third party, in this case Facebook, to report that action to others: they are passively sharing. Having introduced the ticker as a distribution channel for this kind of content, the changes Facebook did to the open graph now enable applications to let people passively share what they do – on Facebook or anywhere in the web. Let’s have a look on one example for an app that enables passive sharing: The Washington Post social reader.

Apps like these already exist for Washington Post, the Guardian, Mashable and also of a similar kind for Spotify, Rdio and other services. When you subscribe to this app, the new, enhanced permission dialog appears.

It allows you to define who you will be (passively) sharing your content with (red), who of your friends use this app (who are passively sharing with you, green) and how that will look like (blue). Now all you will do is to simply click on an article and read it, but what happens is that in the ticker (and maybe sometimes in the news feed) there would be your passive share about the fact that you read that article.

Note that it says “read” the article on Social Reader. This is a new function to the open graph: The graph connects persons and objects, and before, that relation was defined by Facebook (as “like”, “recommend”, “check in” etc.). Now, you can choose any verb within your app, like “read”, “listen to”, “eat”, “hate”, "buy", "attend", "love", "vote" or anything else). With this change, virtually any activity can be passively shared once someone is using your app. You can make people heavily distribute your content without having to motivate them each time to actively decide that they want to share your stuff. By using, they are already sharing - at the same time. Additionally, apps like these can publish to the new profile, the timeline (once this is rolled out). Besides the news feed and the ticker this is the third distribution channel for passive sharing. Spotify can publish your "most heard" songs of the month on your profile, Washington Post can publish the last 5 articles you read on their site etc., like this Netflix integration on Facebook's sample timeline.

To sum this up, the latest Facebook changes indicate that they want to strongly enable passive sharing by users. When you try to grow your fanpage (or traffic to your site), you can still try and create super-viral content to make people actively share it. But there is a second (additional) way with a higher probability of success: Create an app that enables passive sharing. If the app is somehow useful to your fans, more people will passively share more of their activities with your site/fanpage/venue whatever - because they can report their activities without any further action. If you are a football club and you offer a live “man of the match” voting app during games, you can make every participant passively share this activity. If you have an e-commerce site and make people use a social shopping app, you can make them passively share any item they bought. If you are a ticket sales site or a concert venue, you can make people passively share the fact that they will attend an event – not just stating it through the FB event application, but really confirmed because they just bought a ticket. In the end, this means that you can achieve a lot more distribution for your content, offers and products in the ticker, news feed and on people’s profiles through passive sharing, which is a great opportunity to grow your traffic or fan base as opposed to hope for active sharing - which is basically a game of luck.