Sharing Is Not Stealing – How Germans Fail At Social Media

by Susanna Gebauer (@dreckbaerfrau)

I recently was told about an incident in a Facebook group that totally surprised me and to say the least shocked me. And it proves again, that Germans do not understand Social Media – and maybe never will (I am German btw).

Someone was banned from a (German) Facebook group and attacked/trolled massively because he or she shared other peoples’ or companies’ posts (pictures, links, videos) on their Facebook fanpage.

And no, we are not talking about stealing content, we are talking about sharing with the Facebook-Share-Button.

I love when my/our posts get shared. That is one reason for doing what I do. What the … is going on here?

Next to the clicks on the links I share in social media, shares (or retweets) of my updates is the second most important metric I monitor (depending on what I am working on, it can be the most important metric). Isn’t that what we are all looking for? Shares of others give my posts and content an additional audience. Posts getting viral (meaning an endless number of people share our post) is the ultimate success in social media – or isn’t it?


The question of how to get more and hopefully influential people to share your posts is covered in an endless line of blog posts.

People put a huge amount of work into trying to get influencers and people with a large following to share their tweets, updates or blog posts. Since I have a huge Twitter account and am mentioned in various influencer lists for content marketing, I get emails asking me to tweet or share blogs, infographics or videos.How to get more and hopefully influential people to share your posts is covered in an endless line of blog posts. Why should you be angry if people share?

I myself have been a victim of stolen content (a blog post re-published somewhere without naming me as author or mentioning the source where it was taken from). No fun! But that is a totally different story. Stealing content without naming the author means taking something, which does not belong to you. Sharing content with your own audience is giving something: It is giving an additional visibility to someone else’s content or update. I admit that the motive behind a share usually is not primarily charity, still it is a win-win situation for both sides.

One of the basic metrics to show the success of a Blog, a Tweet or a Facebook post is the number of retweets or shares the post gets. If you want to grow in social media, you have to get yourself and your content in front of a larger audience. One legitimate way to achieve this success is to get your content shared by third parties. Otherwise, you will always and forever be talking to yourself and already existing friends and family.

So how can anyone possibly be angry because someone shares a Facebook update? The only reason I can think of for the above-stated incident and the verbal attack against someone sharing updates,is total lack of understanding of the way social media for business works.

This case might be drastic, but it is common in Germany to complain about the sharing economy in social networks. Germans want the audience without the implications. They want social media traffic without interaction. They want the results without learning. They want to take without giving.

The win-win situation of sharing content on social media seems completely out of their intellectual grasp.  Or do we simply don’t like the idea of somebody else winning – even if we do, too.

  • scamo

    I think you are schering everyone in Germany with the same comb here. LOL! There are a ton of Germans who understand social media. Even you! There might be a lot of Germans who still don’t understand it and certainly don’t understand its potential for business. But, that certainly goes for all kinds of people all over the world too. It isn’t a German phenomenon.

    Hehe… I don’t believe it. I am an American defending Germans against a German.


    • seokungfu

      Of course he is not, apart from the fact that there is a bit of generalization; and that’s OK 🙂

    • TheSocialMarketers

      Of course I have been exaggerating a tiny bit in this article. But working with social media for the past few years, this is actually the impression of a wide spread attitude of Germans towards social media. A simple example: I have been guest-posting for quite a while. In the English speaking market, I simply send a post suggestion to a blog and even a Forbes listed blog simply publishes the post sometimes within the next 24 hours. In Germany it took 6 weeks to get a post published after the blog agreed on publishing the post, because I had to sign and mail a written agreement that I agreed to posting, sharing and whatever might happen to my post after publishing.
      The discussion about social mediaermany is so much about Facebook, Google etc. being the “bad guys” that we seem to forget to talk about best practices, great ideas to leverage social and how to be more successful. Instead I get attacked on Twitter because I dared to follow someone…
      But you are right, there are other Germans, too 🙂
      – Susanna –

  • seokungfu

    They need to be specifically and terribly wrongly indoctrinated to even think it is stealing, though…And BTW, negative social indoctrination does not necessarily mean “high culture”, too…

  • Quentin

    Thank you for this article ! I had great interest in reading it, as I have recently moved to Germany (Munich), and I’m looking for a position related to those very Social Media.
    I happened, sometimes, to be surprised by some opening internship positions that could literally be ones as “Full-time Social Media Planner” regarding the missions. I even stumbled across an offer as “Voluntär – Head of Social Media”, with all that it means…

    After reading your article, I’m starting to understand the context of Social Media in Germany, although they’re obviously companies who understood the potential of those latter and are not afraid to embrace them. This might be different as well from one city to another.

    I’m interested in your opinion. Do you think that this reluctance towards Social Media is due to the fact that we are still in an “evangelization process” in German business (in which case, they’re would be plenty of amazing things to do), or that it suffers from a lack of “thinking outside the box” mentality ?

  • Lukasz Marek Sielski

    Well. Yes. But article is about sharing something what is shared. If you put something on FB and get angry, that others share your status (basing on your privacy settings), then who is to blame?

  • Lukasz Marek Sielski

    This is simple example of people arrogance. If you make a post that is public and someone share it – then you are to blame – you made it public. And you’re right – in the end – that bring you public – so it’s good for you. I can show you different example of same ignorance in understanding. Companies are heavily using open source. Let’s say some CMS. If any of their workers in own time will contribute to that open source project – some companies will crucify him – because all what he does should belong to them. Gollum factor is deep in their minds.


    Dear Susanna,
    I am German too and have collected the exact same
    experiences over the years. Yes, you clearly did exaggerate a bit in
    this article. But the articles core meaning is doubtlessly true: Germany
    is far behind in terms of utilising Social Media for its own benefit.
    For example: the Small Business Sector – which I focus on as Social Media Marketing Manager – is one of Germany’s backbones.
    it is absolutely not ready for Social Media today, even though it
    should’ve been yesterday already. I adore the German professionalism and
    its strive for correctness paired with efficiency. But Social Media
    Content has too short of a lifespan to undergo the same content
    procedures as other media content. This has simply not been understood
    by a lot of German Businesses yet, especially in the Small Business
    It’s a shame really, since Small Businesses have great potential to benefit from Social Media.
    Germany is still not willing to adjust to the structures that Social
    Media demands. Crossmedia Content is the keyword: Germany still hasn’t
    understood that adjustment takes place on all sorts of media

    Give us some time. We will get there, eventually. 😉

    Thanks for a great post!

  • Alexandra G.

    IF the group rules stated that the members are not allowed to share the group’s activity in their personal timelines, then this person was in the wrong.

    I am part of two groups who have rules against sharing something on our own timelines. I mean, if we wanted to enable “sharing”, then we wouldn’t be having a group.

    And no, some people select a specific audience to share with, and I for one have zero need to share “everything” with “everyone”. “Everyone” is not my client; I target my client base.

  • Kenny

    Ok, so your post is a generalisation, but interestingly not the the first time I’ve heard this type of behaviour from Germans… being shared. And if anything, your article reflects or ought to reinforce to people the value of knowing your audience, and understanding the intricacies of culture change.

  • Peter Mellow

    I agree that ‘sharing’ on Social Media is about spreading the word. However we must remember to be clear that what we share is attributed in some way (hyperlink, quotation marks, comment, etc.) so that it is not perceived as being your own work. ????

  • Shobana Jeyakumar

    A German (Gutenberg) perfected the process of Print technology, due to which all major scientific inventions happened and also revolutionized the thinking process, as a result of which we had protestant revolution and renaissance. All for good. So I am sure that Germans very well know that sharing an idea or a product is gainful to society if it is good content. Or probably they have forgotten those old values.

    However, in any culture you will always find some people who do something dumb out of lack of understanding of reality or personal benefit due to selfish motives. Such things exist every where. Not just among the Germans.

    If people are really not aware of collaboration and working out loud, and MOOCs… they need to wake up. Things have changed. They should know that sharing their content is free advertisement in the social media. Also, they need to feel proud that someone is valuing their content or their view.

  • DrMabuse2009

    Sounds like you’re talking about the German government. Not the everyday German citizen.