By now, many marketers have dabbled in social media—launching contests, promotions, and branding campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs. But what many marketers fail to understand is that "social" is not the same as "sharing."

Simply slapping up social media content and hoping it works to build brand awareness and drive sales is not enough. Many brands fail to get maximum exposure for their social media campaigns because they don't take the extra step to activate viral sharing of their content. And if marketers don't identify their key influencers and motivate them to share, they're missing out on the real promise of social media: Social content works best when it's shared.

People who visit a campaign link after it's shared with them convert at up to four times the rate of those who just happen upon it, according to some industry research. So when marketers encourage sharing, they are not just increasing campaign reach—they are dramatically boosting conversion.

So how can you get your large following on Facebook and Twitter, as well as bloggers who love your brand, to start sharing your content far and wide? What policies can you put in place today to turn your "followers" into "sharers"?

Here are three tips to activating your key influencers to share more and more often, so you can move your social campaigns to the next level.

1. Identify your 1%

You've probably heard about the 1% rule: Only 1% of your brand's social media followers are responsible for the majority of sharing. These "super-influencers" share your social media campaigns with their larger social networks, passing on links to your contests, promotions, deals, and other marketing campaigns.

These influencers are more than just fans, they're brand ambassadors. In fact, some companies using software to track and quantify the impact of word-of-mouth have found that super-influencers can drive up to 70% of all visits to their campaign pages—beating out display and search advertising as the most efficient driver of traffic to their sites.

That's pretty incredible, considering you don't have to pay these influencers to advertise for you. But what's even better is that super-influencers drive a huge share of conversion—on average influencing 30% or more of all conversions on your site just by recommending your brand's products, content, or promotions to their friends, followers, and communities.

Your goal as a marketer is to find these super-influencers, then activate them to share even more by rewarding them for their efforts. If you can identify your 1% directly, reach out to them and offer special promotions, thank them for their influence, and reward them for their loyalty. They will be motivated to share often, directly driving as much as 70% of all campaign traffic.

Identifying your key influencers is fairly straightforward. There are a wealth of social media measurement tools that enable marketers to find the people who are talking most about their brand; see what type of content they're sharing and with whom, and learn how they are sharing it (email, Twitter, Facebook, their own blogs, etc.).

Once you find your influencers, the trick is activating them to share even more.

2. Activate your 1%

Once you've identified your super-influencers, it's time to directly activate them to share more. You'll need to offer them "sharing incentives" that encourage them to share and reward them for their efforts.

One of the best incentives you can provide is exclusive information. Super-influencers love to be an inside source of information for their friends and followers—sharing contests, information, or deals with their social networks before other people have heard about them. Create exclusive content you share only with your super-influencers, and let them know they're part of a select few to receive this special offer.

Other incentives you can offer include shareable friends-and-family discounts, special "brand advocate" badges to post on their blogs or Facebook pages, access to exclusive or after-hour in-store sales, VIP parties, discounts for sharing a deal with 10 friends, or previews of your company's products or brands.

You will also want to comment directly on your super-influencers' blogs, link to and promote their content whenever possible, and publicly thank them for their loyalty via email or posts.

Go the extra mile! Your top fans are so valuable that they are worth the extra effort of some special attention.

3. Measure sharing's influence

You won't know whether sharing is working to increase brand influence and drive conversion if you don't measure it. It's important to find out exactly who is sharing your content the most, who they are sharing it with, where they are sharing it (which blogs, sites, and social networks, or via email), and whether that sharing is directly resulting in clicks and conversions. You can use social media measurement tools to find out the exact impact sharing is having on bottom-line results.

For example, when MTV Networks teamed up with Subway to launch an innovative social media campaign called Fresh Buzz—a website showcasing up-and-coming musicians, comedians, and performers—the duo worked hard to activate viral sharing, encouraging influential brand advocates to share content across their social graphs. But they didn't know for sure their super-influencer activation campaign had worked until they measured it.

MTVN and Subway could see when traffic peaked on the site, but they wanted to know whether those traffic surges were a result of consumers' sharing the Fresh Buzz URL with friends via Facebook, Twitter, their blogs, or via email. MTVN and Subway used social media analysis and activation technology from Meteor Solutions to accurately identify super-influencers; what exact content these influencers shared; where the sharing took place; and how this sharing impacted overall traffic to the site, conversion, and brand recognition.

They found that just 0.4% of site visitors were responsible, through their sharing activities, for over 70% of overall site traffic. Compared with the results of banner ads, search, and other costly paid media buys, that result was nothing short of astounding—especially since the word-of-mouth marketing provided by those super-influencers was entirely free.

* * *

The bottom line is that creating and publishing social media content is not enough today. Brands that want to benefit from the real power of word-of-mouth need to find their super-influencers, and then activate them to share.

When you offer rewards in return for influence, your super-influencers—and, to a lesser-extent, your fans who share less frequently—will quickly evolve from "followers" into "sharers." In no time, such sharers will directly boost traffic to your site and drive a large increase in conversion.

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How to Activate Viral Campaigns (or Why Social and Sharing Are Not the Same)

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Ben Straley is the co-founder and CEO of Meteor Solutions; its technology and services platform increases campaign engagement, reach, and revenue via social sharing.