LONDON: Consumers of online content have a plethora of sharing options available to them at the click of a mouse but most prefer to use email to forward links or content, a new study has said.

The Digital Conversations research from magazine publisher IPC Media included analysis of behaviour on selected websites as well as a panel survey of almost 500 consumers. It concluded that consumers were more likely to share by narrowcasting to acquaintances rather than disseminating widely via social media.

Thus, for example, the research found that in a typical month there were 18,908 incidents of users choosing to copy text from the Marie Claire website and share it with a friend via email. This compared to just 1,747 instances of users sharing via Facebook and Twitter. Similarly on there were 44,850 emailed shares compared with 5,674 shares via Facebook and Twitter.

"Consumers want to share content in a personal way with a specific audience who it is directly relevant to," said Andrew Sanders, brand partnerships director, IPC Advertising.

"If content partnerships are done well, people can become advocates of a brand among their peers and this is incredibly valuable for advertisers," he added.

The research also found that niche interests drove greater sharing, so that, for instance, 77% of the users of IPC's entertainment sites were more likely to recommend music, film and entertainment content, while 62% of users of its fashion and beauty site users were more likely to talk about fashion and accessories.

Additionally, the audience of IPC's premium content sites was up to four times more likely to share content than consumers of non-premium content sites: 45% of premium content users would share something that they think a friend would like, compared to 12% of non-premium content site users.

Sanders observed that the research "shows just the tip of the influence iceberg". Some 16% of premium site users shared brand links every week "and this kind of sharing activity is notoriously much harder for brands to track".

He conceded that this "dark social" presented measurement problems but maintained it should not be overlooked: "after all over 90% of conversations occur offline completely," he said.

Data sourced from IPC Media; additional content by Warc staff