Last year, Forrester introduced us to the Empowered Employee, who, thanks to access to mobile devices like iPads and iPhones, as well as time-saving apps and file sharing platforms, felt compelled to bring productivity and subsequent innovation into their professional lives. Similarly, a new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project suggests that individuals’ access to social media and other voluntary online group participation plays a key role in how people interact and share information with each other.

It’s not hard to understand why people feel empowered when they share information about themselves or help others. From getting attention, helping to raise money or promoting causes, participation within online social media groups provides many benefits. Human beings are deeply social creatures, with a desire to live, love and work with others whom we know and who know us. Such sociological insight can help those of us who want to harness the power of our users to better understand how to engage them so they feel empowered to share.

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Content + Interaction = Sharing

The Pew study shows that 65% of social network users say they read messages and updates on social sites about their groups, and 30% have posted news about them. This can mean exposure for brands, companies and services, provided that those commenting feel connected. But in order for users to read, update and post news, there has to be something to share in the first place.

Not surprisingly, content strategy relates to sharing information. Additionally, sharing information is more than just providing links to Facebook and Twitter. Although that helps, a company needs to interact with readers where they are most likely to cultivate interactions with others.

That means companies need to go where their users are: Facebook interest groups, LinkedIn Groups, Twitter and Quora. It doesn’t mean actively marketing yourself, but rather engaging and sharing. Presumably, increased social engagement via social networking is not limited to individuals, but can extend itself to businesses, as well.

Let Your Content Work For You

The study also indicated that social network users are also more likely to be involved in creating and expanding groups. Half of social networking users who were active in groups were shown to have used the web to invite someone to join a group, compared to 21% of non-social networkers. Additionally, 65% of Twitter users who are active in groups have sent out invitations, versus 34% of those not on Twitter.

If a company’s content is worth sharing, it can go pretty far without having to do much. But cultivating an audience that feels empowered to share your information may take a little more than just publishing compelling content. What incentive does a user have for sharing? From being retweeted or mentioned, to being sent a discount code or a free trial, to simply being valued as a loyal customer, users will feel like they matter. Setting a precedence for responding to customer feedback will help; users can see that no matter what, their insight is not only received, it helps to spearhead change within the company.

Which, ultimately begs the question: how invested are you in what your customers say about you or the things you care about? Like empowered employees before them, companies must learn to take what customers say seriously or else risk not caring at all. Innovation is no longer a top-down process. Belonging to a group helps us to thrive. Therefore it goes without saying that if you’re not listening, engaging and learning from what customers are saying, it will be hard to thrive in the marketplace.