Studies show that content that goes viral isn’t because there are a few big influencers that cause something to spread quickly, it’s small groups of close friends. If you have a friend that tweets out something like “Tweet #Amex1800flowers, get $10 back 1x on next $50+ online purch w/synced Amex Card! (Exp 4/30) See terms aexp.co/YMZ,” you can be confident that it’s not a sincere share, and that small group of friends will see it for what it is – junk.
According to another study by NYTimes, they discovered that the most emailed articles were long articles on intellectually challenging topics. People who share this kind of content seem to have loftier motives than trying to impress their friends, they’re seeking emotional communion, or “the feeling of awe.” You would want to proselytize and share the feeling of awe because if your friend read the article and felt the same emotion, it will bring you both closer together. That’s what people want when they share – an emotional communion with their friends. Incentives don’t tap into this at all.
As platforms try to incentivize sharing for business reasons they will run their platforms into the ground. I think Facebook is getting dangerously close to this problem. As Molly Wood says in How Facebook Is Ruining Sharing, “hurting sharing is a disaster for a social network. Sharing is the key to social networking. It’s the underlying religion that makes the whole thing work. “Viral” is the magic that every marketing exec is trying to replicate, and Facebook is seriously messing with that formula. Plus, it’s killing the possibility of viral hits by generating such an overwhelming flood of mundane shares.”
People will find ways to share what they really care about with or without Facebook or Twitter. And if brands meddle too much with the process, users will find an easier way to share what they really care about somewhere else.