"It's not just social media," Kurt Abrahamson told me during this week's episode of Marketing Smarts, "it's socially engaged audiences that are important." (You can listen to the entire episode below!)

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"On sites where the audience is socially engaged at a higher level," he went on to say, "there is more responsiveness to the advertising that actually shows up on those sites. And it's the quality content that generates the user engagement."

Kurt is CEO of ShareThis, a platform that lets site owners provide visitors with a broad range of sharing options via the ShareThis button. The value of using the button to promote sharing on your site—as opposed to a Facebook or Twitter sharing button—is that ShareThis can, as Kurt puts it, "measure the social activity for all the publishers in our network by percentage of their traffic that is generated from social clicks, social sharing, and social links."

This ability to measure social activity, something that ShareThis does via its "Social Quality Index," has two specific implications for businesses:

  • On the one hand, it helps content publishers quantify the impact of their content on the social Web. By doing so, they can, ideally, charge a premium for ad space associated with the content that is getting shared the most.
  • On the other hand, Kurt says, such measurement gives media buyers a "much more realistic look into how engaged a given publisher's audience is with the content being generated."

One reason that sharing can be such a valuable indicator of engagement—and more useful to publishers and advertisers than the traditional demographic and "reach" metrics upon which they normally rely—is that sharing is "a pretty high value activity in terms of the funnel."

To illustrate, Kurt cited his own sharing behaviors. First of all, he said, he tended to share with people he knew personally, via networks such as LinkedIn. Since people tend to be more influenced by recommendations coming from people they know, this personal aspect of sharing automatically gives it a special weight.

Second, Kurt said he shared things fairly selectively. Since we are disinclined to fill the streams and feeds of friends with boring stuff, and strongly inclined to share things that we think will interest them and, ideally, reflect well on us (by showing how cool, connected, and smart we are), we act as value-adding filters to content.

And finally, Kurt explained that he shared things he was excited about. In other words, the act of sharing indicates an emotional engagement with content: We care enough to share. Moreover, it also highlights that we think this content is something others in our network or community will get excited about as well.

Of course, to claim that "sharing is valuable" is neither groundbreaking nor controversial. We all have an intuitive sense that it is valuable. However, until now it has been difficult to effectively measure sharing activities across multiple networks, and to do so in a way that helps publishers both identify their most engaging content and communicate levels of engagement in a meaningful way to potential advertisers.

By enabling site owners to offer visitors multiple sharing options in one button, and by aggregating sharing activity across all the sites using the button, ShareThis appears to have taken a big step toward solving the problem of effectively measuring sharing activity.

Does your site use the ShareThis button? What's been your experience with it and the insights that it can provide?

If you'd like to listen to my entire conversation with Kurt, you may do so above or download the mp3. You can also subscribe to Marketing Smarts in iTunes and never miss an episode!