Five Reasons People Share Content, And How You Can Harness This

Five Reasons People Share Content, And How You Can Harness This

Rather than focusing too narrowly on creating ‘shareable’ content, perhaps as marketers we should be looking to connect more deeply with people’s emotions, argues Lisa Collins, public relations manager at social media agency We Are Social.

Lisa Collins
Posted by Lisa Collins

What makes people share content?

I’m not the only person to ponder this question. The New York Times conducted a study ‘The Psychology of Sharing: Why People Share Online’ with a group of self-proclaimed heavy online sharers, who revealed what motivates them to share with others.

  • 85 per cent say reading other people’s responses helps them understand and process information and events
  • 73 per cent say they process information more deeply, thoroughly and thoughtfully when they share it

So we could conclude that as humans the act of sharing helps us to comprehend more deeply, but the question still remains…why?

The study concluded that “sharing is all about relationships” and “trust is the cost of entry for getting shared”. According to the research marketers should “appeal to consumers’ motivation to connect with each other — not just with your brand”. They recommend that we “keep it simple…and it will get shared…and it won’t get muddled” and we should “appeal to their sense of humour” and “embrace a sense of urgency”.

But how does this really help us when it comes to creating content that motivates people to hit the ‘share’ button?

Perhaps a study by the University of Pennsylvania can help unlock the puzzle. For six months researchers studied The New York Times list of most emailed articles, checking it every 15 minutes. The study revealed that readers preferred to share positive rather than negative articles and upon deeper analysis researchers concluded that there was an element of ‘awe’ that seemed to permeate the shared articles.

The Penn researchers defined the quality of awe as an “emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self”.

They used two criteria for an awe-inspiring story: Its scale is large, and it requires “mental accommodation” by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way. “It involves the opening and broadening of the mind,” writes Dr. Berger a social psychologist and a professor of marketing at Penn’s Wharton School and Dr. Milkman, who is a behavioural economist at Wharton.

So is it possible to inspire awe in our audiences? Perhaps that is a lofty ambition, however, there may be something to be learned from these studies.

In his analysis of The New York Times study social media guru Jeff Bullas claims there are five reasons that we share content with others:

1. To bring valuable and entertaining content to others

2. To define ourselves to others

3. To grow and nourish our relationships

4. Self-fulfilment

5. To get the word out about causes and brands

Rather than focusing too narrowly on creating ‘shareable’ content, perhaps as marketers we should be looking to connect more deeply with people’s emotions. If trust is indeed one of the core values we need to foster with our audience, then it makes sense to spend time developing sincere relationships with our communities.

As we know, developing trust takes time but the benefits can be huge. By helping communities develop their own sense of identity we can hope to share their emotional motivations and tap into the fundamental nature of ‘awe’ – that “feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self”. If we are less focused on ourselves and more focused on earning the respect of the group we may just become awesome and in doing so, become eminently shareable.