Humans have been sharing stories and ideas since the beginning of time. What’s changed is marketers have realised the power of storytelling to communicate their brand messages and win followers.
Today we call our marketing stories and ideas “content” and we harness various finely-tuned, targeted networks to encourage people to share them electronically – to give them a life of their own, replicating into infinity (we hope).
What hasn’t changed is that humans share for primal reasons, to satisfy universal needs. We’ve scoped expert opinion to come up with a digest of 17 key reasons why people share. The question is, how many of these are you hitting with your content?
1. Value and entertainment to others
If we read or watch something we think a friend, loved one or colleague might find useful, timely, interesting or funny, we share. Obvious.
Thanks to The New York Times / Latitude Research report ‘The Psychology of Sharing: Why Do People Share Online?’ described here, for this first reason, and for the next 5.
2. Promote causes, beliefs, values or brands you care about
Sharing lets us show what we care about and potentially change opinions or encourage action. Which is why it makes sense as a marketer to know what your target segments care about.
3. Grow and nourish relationships
Sharing helps us stay connected with other people we might not otherwise stay in touch with. Importantly, what we share needs to benefit our connections, or be relevant to our shared experiences.
Passing on the story or information allows us to feel more involved in the world.
5. Define your identity to others
Whether it’s political, emotional, cute or funny, what we share helps people get to know us (or at least the version of us we choose to project) – and to see what’s important to us.
6. Information Management
With so much content in our lives and so many people to share with, many users find sharing is a useful way of managing information. According to the New York Times study, “85% of respondents said that reading other people’s responses helps them understand and process information and events. 73% said they process information more deeply, thoroughly and thoughtfully when they share it.”
73% of people process information more deeply, thoroughly and thoughtfully when they share it.
7. Social currency
This is described in a LinkedIn Pulse article. The author quotes a book by Jonah Berg, called Contagious: Why things catch on and talks about “sharing things that raise your standing amongst your people and improve your image”. E.g., sharing a funny joke makes us look funnier, knowing what is happening in the city makes us look cool. Basically, this sharing is motivated by self-interest.
We like to be “aroused” – in the right way. Jonah Berg’s research is referenced again in a psychologicalscience.org article, which explains how evoking certain emotions can help increase the chance of a message being shared. Berg found that articles which evoked more positive emotions were generally more viral; some negative emotions like anxiety and anger increased transmission as well; but others, like sadness, decreased it.
9. Public Opinion – lemming mentality
If hundreds of thousands of others have liked and shared a video, for instance, we like and share too.
10. To get a laugh
Identified in a 2010 study. Fairly obvious, but getting laughs from our friends and other connections feeds into raising our status, giving entertainment to others, positive emotion, social currency and a few more of the points listed here.
11. To generate thoughtful ideas or discussion
Again, from the previous 2010 study.
12. As an ego boost
This is a great one from Psych Mechanics blog, which they explain as: ‘If I support socialism then reaffirming the awesomeness of socialism boosts my ego because when I say “Socialism is awesome”, I’m indirectly saying, “I’m awesome because I support socialism which is awesome.”
You can apply that to how you vote, your footy team, the celebrities you follow, the car you drive, the pugs you own.
13. Attention seeking
Also from Psych Mechanics blog; basically we all need to be wanted, liked and attended to, but if someone has been starved of that growing up, they might post more regularly on social media to replete their “attention tanks”. This may then results in them resorting to posting “high shock value stuff such as gory pictures, nudity”, etc.
To attract a mate, men post about cars, bike, and gadgets; women about their physical beauty or nurturing qualities.
15. For an incentive
Sometimes it’s as simple as getting a reward for sharing and/or liking, like going in the running for a prize. Thanks again to Psych Mechanics blog for this one.
16. To advocate great content
This from stock library Shutterstock. Especially if we consider ourselves to be creative people, it makes sense that we’d support high-quality videos, articles or images as a way of rewarding the creator; and of showing empathy with that creator’s quest.
17. To get a sense of belonging
For a lot of people, the more likes our share attracts, the more we feel we belong. Which we’re discovering might not be such a great way to measure our social worth…