ShareThis has always been something of an enigma for me. I’ve discussed how companies like ShareThis really are the future discovery motors that will ultimately replace search engines. Google itself gets this and is doing great things with Google Now to prevent itself from being usurped as the prime player in the mobile ad ecosystem.

You might have noticed I’ve added the ShareThis functionality (and a couple of our client blogs) to this site as I’ve been making the most of their platform. It’s been an interesting test to add the type of sharing functionality that moves conversations from a blog to a social outlet the way a commenting system might have done a few years ago.

More specifically, ShareThis has just added a new backend dashboard for publishers that really makes use of their data and your site’s data in a unique way (with a tie-in to Google Analytics).

Particularly interesting is the concept of SQI that plays into the dashboard:

Social Quality Index, SQI, measures the social quality of a website against the ShareThis Publisher Network. By favoring social interaction over broad reach, SQI puts the publisher’s audience and content into the spotlight. The SQI score measures social quality on a scale of 1 to 200, with 200 representing the highest social quality. This proprietary formula evaluates social metrics such as: outbound shares, inbound clickback traffic and page views to calculate the audience engagement of your site. Social quality denotes a good match between the publisher’s audience and the content and it is directly correlated with the number of times users return to the same page and the level of interaction with other media on the page, like ads.

It’s more than a semantic difference in approaches to marketing that ShareThis is promoting with the SQI concept. Rather than focus on silos like pageviews or clicks that (in reality) measure nothing, SQI provides a metric that actually has meat on the bone. It’s not a scarecrow but a tangible measurement that advertisers and publishers should be demanding in their campaigns. In effect, SQI take us beyond links as the currency of the web and gives us good reason to do so.

I’ve been a long time advocate of the idea that HTML and the web should evolve beyond the concept of a link for traffic flow. The “social web” of the last few years has definitely made that reality more possible than ever. However, companies and advertisers (and agencies) have been slow to pick up on that trend and we’ve been focusing most of our efforts at making a linked-based web marketing approach fit into what is now a share-based network of people.

My own mistake in the past has been to think of ShareThis as mostly a way to drive traffic on Facebook based on recommendations from readers/users/consumers. However, the real beauty of ShareThis lies in the analytics suite and API that allow for some pretty interesting implementations of data analysis.

Tools like ShareThis are taking us beyond a realized version of the web that still operates on the foundation of links (as it does in the HTML I’m writing this post in or the RSS pipes that you probably used to find out about and/or read this post) and even search but puts a layer on top that advances the discovery of relevant information, products or services.

The function of discovery through shared social currency is the key benefit of betting on services such as ShareThis over traditional and limited marketing channels that rely on more costly and less targeted consumer acquisition methods.

We’ve seen our clients marvel at the real benefits of discovery marketing compared to their previous methods of siloed channels because the reach, scope and golden fleece of “social media marketing” success becomes readily apparent when you analyze the data points between these methods.

That is the transformation that is so hard to grasp for many companies. Going from a model based on having results that come from money poured into a model based on time and cultivation is difficult. ShareThis and the whole economy of “sharing” changes the conversation from intention to attention.

Traffic flows on the web and that flow is very powerful if you properly set the channels for that flow to occur rather than trying to build irrigation channels for the flow to take right angles.

ShareThis functions very much as a link, or vehicle, to get web users/interested buyers from one place to another in much the same way Google has been our chauffeur for years. Those places include the traditional Facebook and Twitter malls but increasingly Google+ (and Google Now) is making an interesting stab at becoming what the search engine could not (which is why Google is throwing the mass of its own juggernaut behind the project).

SQI could evolve into something very important for this next iteration of marketing on the web. We’ll certainly be pushing our clients towards that realization. Conversation at scale is the real ingenuity here and something to keep an eye on.

About the Author Sam Harrelson

Digital Marketing and Technology Consultant and Podcaster at Thinking.FM

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