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Why No One Reads the Links You Send

Brian O'Connell

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- You may be fooling some people with your highbrow, intellectual choice of shared Internet articles, photos or videos, but not 33Across, a New York City online content and discovery services provider that took a recent survey on the matter.

The firm says it wanted to take a good look at what motivates Americans to "share" online content with friends, family members and co-workers.

Left to their own devices -- and interests -- U.S. adults share science-related Web content at the highest rate (12%) of 24 online content categories identified by 33Across. So for every 100 science-related articles read by a Web user annually, that user will share 12 of those articles with someone.

No other category reached even 4%. Consumers were particularly reluctant to share men's health content (at 1%) or shopping content (such as discounts and coupons, which clocked in below 1%).

Yet according to the 33Across survey, only 9% of Web contacts actually read or view those science-related links, even though they were far and away the most favored recommendation by senders. Meanwhile, that little bit of men's health content that gets shared? That has a clickback rate of 47%, 33Across says:

To translate from geek-speak, that means while people like reading about Kim Kardashian, they really don't want to admit it, including by sharing such articles.

Instead, it's the so-called highbrow content such as science and politics that winds up on your Facebook or Twitter page or in your email box from family and friends. That's by design -- it makes the sender look good to the recipient, at least in the sender's mind.

Most people are reading People magazine online, not Popular Science. It's just that when you do read Popular Science, you're more likely to send a link to your social network, even though it's Kim Kardashian who's really on your mind.

Why would an article about Pluto being de-categorized as a planet generate significant sharing but low clickback rate? One common thread among content with high share rates but low clickbacks is a focus on esoteric topics that appeal only to a specific, highly educated minority. The fact that users share this content broadly despite the narrow target appeal suggests that the intent is more related to "personal branding" than curating helpful content. In other words, people like sharing content that identifies themselves with specific topics regardless of whether the recipients are actually interested in the topic. We call this type of behavior ego sharing.

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