The Psychology of Sharing: 5 Reasons People Share Online

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Getting your content shared is all about building a relationship and trust, is the foundation of that relationship.

Your audience’s Facebook wall is becoming increasingly crowded. On average, each time you log in, your Facebook news feed has about 1,500 new stories to display. As a social media agency right in the trenches, we know too well that the fight for attention will only get harder as time goes by.

At the same time, there are over 80,000 Facebook shares every minute so people are willing to consume and promote content (want more social media statistics for Singapore?). But why?

We look to a New York Times’ study to gain some insights into that

Psychology of Sharing

A few years ago, The New York Times Customer Insights Group together with Latitude Research conducted a study with a group of ‘heavy sharers’ to determine the motivation behind their sharing.

  • They found that 85% better understand and process information and events after reading other people’s responses
  • 73% also more thoughtfully process information when they share it

This means sharing information helps people understand it better. That act of sharing ensures better processing.

The research dwells deeper into why they share and uncovers that sharing is all about relationships and “trust is the cost of entry for getting your content shared”.

There are five motivations for sharing.

  1. To provide others with entertaining and valuable content (94%). These people carefully consider how the information they share will be useful or entertaining to the recipient.
  2. To define themselves to others (68%). They share to give others a better sense of who they are and what they stand for.
  3. To grow and nourish their relationships (78%). They share because it allows them to connect and nourish relationships with those they may not otherwise stay in touch with.
  4. For self-fulfilment (69%). They share content because it helps them feel more in tuned with the world around them.
  5. To get the word out on causes they care about (84%). These people share because they care about the underlying causes or issues.

Are all these insights new? Not particularly. While the underlying technology might change, the way humans behave remain similar. In 1966, Ernest Dichter released a seminal piece of work in Harvard Business Review titled ‘How Word-of-Mouth Advertising Works’.

Granted, this was a time before Facebook, social media or even the Internet but what is online sharing but another way to facilitate word-of-mouth?

He found that 64% of sharing is about the sharer themselves.

His motivations included:

  1. Personal Experience. The sharer’s experience with the product was so good that s/he just had to share it with the world.
  2. Self-Confirmation. This is to make them feel good about themselves, to show others that they made the right choice.
  3. Being Nice. They share because they want to help. “Products serve mainly as instruments which help to express sentiments of neighborliness, care, friendship, and love.”
  4. Influenced by Advertising. The last reason was related to message involvement. The advertising message was so funny or engaging that they had to share it with their friends.

Factors to Creating Shareable Social Content

  • Keep it about your audience and never forget the What’s-in-it-for-me (WIIFM) aspect.
  • Consider how your audience wants to connect with each other and create content that facilitates this.
  • Trust is key. If they don’t trust you, then they won’t share your content.
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Ang Lai Imm

Lai Imm is a community manager at CloudRock Sdn Bhd. She frequently writes about social media-related topics.