Earned Social Media Shares Trump Owned:
What You Need To Know

Why All Social Shares Are Not Created Equal Matters

Want to increase your marketing results from your social media shares?

Of course you do—unless you’ve been living under a rock, who doesn’t?

To do so, understand that not all social media shares are created equal.


You shouldn’t be.

Trust is in extremely short supply these days, especially where businesses are concerned. This includes social media.

Fortunately for us marketers, customers do trust other people including family, friends, colleagues and other customers. (Don’t take my word for it—it’s Nielsen’s research!)

And we can tap into the power of their social media interactions.

BTW—it’s not just consumers who turn to social media for buying decisions.

B2B buyers also use social media to make purchase decisions, according to IDC research.

To determine which social media shares are most effective to achieve your marketing objectives we’ll examine recent Simply Measured data analysis. Then we’ll show you how to use these findings to maximize your marketing results.


Owned, Earned and Dark Social Media Share Findings

Recent Simply Measured analyzed their internal social media sharing data to determine key trends to help marketers.

3 Types of social media shares defined

Before diving into Simply Measured’s results, let’s define social media sharing terms. 

  1. Owned social media shares are information shared for your business or brand using your social media accounts. By association, your audience assumes your shares have a business motive.
  2. Earned social media shares are information shared through non-brand or non-business social media accounts. They’re individuals including influencers, customers and others.
  3. Dark social media shares are a form of earned social media sharing. They point to your content via a shared link without a referrer. So they appear as “direct traffic” in your analytics that’s not attributed to a specific source. These shares tend to be targeted to people further along the buying process.
Social Media Shares - Traffic Source

Traffic Source of Social Media Shares – 2017 Chart-Simply Measured


Owned, Earned and Dark Social Media Shares Findings

Simply Measured uncovered 3 key social media share findings that you can use to improve your social media results.

1. Earned social media shares perform better than owned

While this finding shouldn’t be a surprise based on Nielsen’s findings, the magnitude of the difference is significant for marketers.

Further, earned social media shares yield greater pageviews and lower bounce rates. This makes sense since the shared information is pre-screened and targeted.

Chart of Earned Social Media Shares -Simply Measured 2017


Actionable Marketing Social Media Sharing Tips:

  • Analyze your earned social media shares. Determine: What type of content is shared; who shares your content; and where they share your content (include social media platform and device)
  • Share content over a longer period of time to achieve maximum results. Co-schedule proved this tactic works.
  • Maintain consistent branding and messaging for social media messaging and landing pages and/or articles. Ensure social media visitors recognize your content on your owned media.


2. Dark social shares are a significant portion of earned social media shares

In addition to social media platforms, dark social shares are transmitted via non-social media channels such as messaging apps, email (one of my personal favorites!) and text messages.

Earned Social Media Shares-Chart-Simply Measured-2017

Dark Social Media Shares Dominant Portion of Earned Social Media Shares – Simply Measured


Actionable Marketing Social Media Sharing Tips:

  • Make it super easy for people to share your content. Offer an array of options, BUT not so many they don’t act!
  • Understand you’ll always have dark social shares. Don’t worry about it.


3. Facebook still dominates social media shares

Facebook yields the highest traffic from social shares. This is consistent with other findings.

Simply Measured data analysis confirmed other research, namely Buffer’s 2016 Social Media, that businesses need Facebook, both organic and paid.



Further, from a marketing perspective, Facebook advertising enables precision targeting with look-alike audiences.


Facebook drives most visits from social shares – SimplyMeasured -2017


Actionable Marketing Social Media Sharing Tips:

  • Allocate budget for Facebook advertising. Tap into the power of Facebook’s deep audience database.
  • Plan for organic Facebook shares and interaction. Be present and engaged on Facebook.


How To Turn These Social Sharing Findings Into Marketing Results


1. Examine your overall social media share approach

Set up your social media marketing to succeed with these 3 tactics.

  1. Track your social media share results. Don’t just use whatever content and social media marketing data is easy-to-get. Determine the information you need and figure out how to measure it or proxies for it.
  2. Build social media sharing into your content development. Beyond basic sharing icons, make your content share-friendly.
    • Make images and quotes shareable. Use PinThis and Click-To-Tweet.
    • Get increased mileage from data. Make key points tweetable.
    • Use Yoast’s plug-in to pre-format blog post shares by platform. Don’t leave social share quality to chance. (Check this detailed guide on social media metadata.)
    • Create a variety of social media shares for each element of your content. Don’t repeat yourself or spam your followers.
  3. Keep older content visible on social media when and where appropriate. To avoid “once-and-done” content. Schedule this in your editorial and social media calendars.


2. Maximize owned social sharing

Check that you’re maximizing your social media reach. Remember to be human and skip the promotion.

  • Concentrate on content topics your audience shares. Give your community more of what they want. Include information people in purchase mode actively seek.
  • Encourage employees to be social media advocates. But, don’t force employees to participate on social media on your behalf. Have a set of social media guidelines in place and distribute your content across your organization.
  • Participate on social media after publishing content. The Social Media Hat’s Mike Alton spends time on social media answering comments and social shares for his megacontent. Social Media Examiner contributors respond to comments for the first few days after posts are published.


3. Maximize earned social shares

Support your social media cheerleaders. While influencer marketing LINK is hot, don’t under-estimate the power of micro-influencers. 

  • Include customers and influencer in your content where appropriate. According to Crowdtap research, user-generated content is highly shared and is reliable.

    User generated content research

    User-generated Content Is Memorable and Trusted

  • Thank influencers, people and organization mentioned in your content. Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina says, “A partner in content creation is a partner in content distribution.” Both Content Marketing Institute’s Lisa Doughtery and Social Media Examiner’s Lisa Jenkins set up preformatted social shares and contact individuals in advance for large roundups.
  • Engage with people who share your content. Thank them for sharing. Reach out to them and engage them. Determine what they have in common.


4. Maximize dark social shares

Don’t let the dark side scare you!

Give your readers options to read and/or share your content on their terms, not yours! Where appropriate, remove barriers to content consumption and sharing.


  • Allow readers to share your content via email and text message. While most readers know how to share a URL, give them no-thought-needed options. In 2016, 9% of ShareThis shares were email.Social Media Shares
  • Let readers save your content to a mobile friendly format. When they published their book, Drift discovered nearly one-third of their downloads were EPUB/MOBI downloads (aka: mobile versions).
  • Give your content a voice. Tap into the power of audible content, especially for drive time consumption. Social Media Examiner adds an audio version to their top performing articles.Social Media Examiner Avoids Orphan ContentSocial Media Examiner Enhances Text Content With Audio
  • Make it easy to save your content for later consumption. Offer Pocket and other similar options.
  • Tap into video. Transform your content into video. Think talking head like the nightly news.
  • Offer offline sharing options. Older AddThis research showed this worked.



Social media shares drive traffic to your site and can achieve specific marketing goals.

To reap the benefits of this activity, make your content share-friendly and install analytics to track your results.

Since earned social media shares are more effective than yours, distribute your content over a longer period of time. Further, use a variety of different presentations and text to attract more engagement.

Next tap into the power of your social media community by making your content more tantalizing for sharing. This will help you broaden your social media reach.

Lastly offer dark social shares options.

Don’t wait.

Go maximize your next piece of content’s social sharability.

What’s your favorite way to increase earned social media shares?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on , Facebook and .

Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/search/share?photo=3reWf5Rp4jo

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