The psychology of sharing

There’s a lot of hype about what makes content work in a way that people want to share it. Instead of buying into the hype, let’s focus on reliable research that can provide accurate insight and even competitive advantage as you seek to overcome passivity and build shareability into every piece of content.

If there is any organization on earth that wants to attract page views, it’s a newspaper, so let’s pay attention to what one of the most important newspapers in the world has to say. The New York Times sponsored research that determined there are five powerful reasons people overcome apathy and share content:

  • To be useful. The number one reason people share content is to bring valuable and entertaining content to others. More than 90 percent of study participants said they carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient.
  • To define ourselves to others. Nearly 70 percent of participants said they share content to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about. One respondent said, “I try to share information that will reinforce the image I’d like to present—thoughtful, reasoned, kind, interested, and passionate about certain things.”
  • To grow and nourish relationships. About 80 percent of participants share information online because it lets them stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with. A little over 70 percent share content to help connect them to new people who share common interests.
  • Self-fulfillment. About 70 percent of participants share content because it allows them to feel more involved in the world. The act of getting positive feedback on shares makes people feel valued.
  • To get the word out about causes and brands. More than 80 percent of participants said they share content to rally others around a cause, company, or idea they believe in.

As you read this list, it probably occurs to you that sharing content is a meaningful act, a very personal, intimate, and important gesture. It’s not at all trivial. The decision to share content is often a sign of a relationship. A relationship with the source, a relationship with a network… even a relationship between the person and the content! Igniting content is a symbol of kindness and caring and a reflection of who we are. Pretty deep stuff.

– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer