Why Do People Share Online – Science Behind Social Sharing

Why do people share content online? Would they share as much as they do today if there was no social media or email around?

Something to think about, right? But you see, here’s the thing – sharing content is nothing new, rather it is human nature.

Bet you didn’t think of it that way!

We, humans, LOVE to share. Remember the times when you saw something funny or interesting and wished you could call your friend or your mom right away to tell her about it (yeah, I’m talking about the days when there were no cellphones or the internet for that matter).

So you see, sharing always existed in our system but it is only now that social media marketers are concentrating more on this aspect of human behavior and trying to understand what motivates consumers to share content online.

If marketers are able to grasp the underlying principle as to why their target audience share things online – it would become so much easier for them to always share the right kind of stuff!

And this understanding doesn’t only apply to large scale marketers and advertisers. If you run a small business and blog about related content from time to time, you obviously use the various social channels at your disposal to get the word out.

But if no one shares your content online, you will not able to reach out far and wide to all the people who might be interested in your business and love to read what you have to say.

So, how do you get people to hit that “Share” button on Facebook so that their friends see your post? How do you understand your audience and why they share things online so that you can better assess your content?

Fortunately for us, a study conducted by The New York Times Consumer Insight Group reveals the reasons and motivations as to why people share content online plus some key guidelines for getting MORE shares.

Here are my takeaways from their report.

What has changed in the way people share information


We live in an e-age where most of the information we give out or receive happens online.

Needless to say, when it comes to sharing, we now share more content, from MORE sources, with MORE people, MORE often and MORE quickly.

Reasons? Because we almost always have social media and email at our disposal. The waiting period between receiving and redistributing information is almost nil. Sharing happens instantaneously.


What are the primary motivations for sharing


Here are the 5 reasons as to why people share things online. You can refer and download the infographic at the end of the post.


1. To provide useful and entertaining information to their recipients.

Most people choose to share something which will provide value or entertainment to the lives of those around them.

In fact, 94% of the people carefully consider if the information they are sharing will be useful to their recipients. 49% of the people like to share to let others know of the products they care about.


2. To define themselves to others.

One of the reasons people share things online is to provide others with a visual reflection of their personalities – social, political and religious beliefs, personal tastes and preferences and so on and so forth.

68% of the people share to let others know what they are like as a person and the causes and beliefs they care deeply about.


3. To grow and nurture their relationships.

Most people have a social pool they like to connect with because they share similar interests and this makes it easy for them to strike up a conversation. 73% of the people in this category share things based on their interests because it helps them stay in touch with that pool.

78% of the people share information online because it helps them to stay in touch with people they may not otherwise stay in touch with. For example, friends and family members whom they really enjoy talking to but are hard to get in touch with sometimes because they live in different continents…perhaps?


4. To feel self-fulfilled and valued.

69% of the people like to share useful information online because it makes them feel valuable and more involved with the world at large.

They feel encouraged when their friends comment saying how much they enjoyed reading their shared posts and forward it to their friends because they’re so helpful.


5. To get the word out.

84% of the people share on social because they want others to know about the specific brands and causes they like and support.

Think of it this way, you were recently at that cozy corner cafe in your neighborhood and you absolutely LOVED it! You want to share that information with your friends, so you use social media. And just like that…the word gets out.


Summing it up, sharing is all about “relationships” and “information management”. 73% of the people process information more deeply, thoroughly and thoughtfully when they share it.

What types of people share content online – Personas of online sharers


The study concludes that there are 6 personas of online sharers based on their emotional motivations, desired representation of themselves, the role of sharing in life and how important it is for them to share something first.


1. Altruists

Altruists are helpful, reliable and thoughtful and use email to share information. For example, a person who sends out a relevant medical article to a friend or family member with health issues is an altruist.


2. Careerists

Careerists are intelligent individuals who primarily share information related to business and networking. They use professional networks such as LinkedIn to stay connected and share content.


3. Hipsters

Hipsters are young, popular and creative individuals who are less likely to use email for sharing content. They are always up to date with the latest technologies and mostly use social media and apps for sharing.


4. Boomerangs

Boomerangs share information to get reactions and feel validated. They are empowered by social media and use sites such as Facebook and Twitter to share engaging and thought-provoking content.


5. Connectors

Connectors are creative, relaxed, thoughtful and like making plans. They use both email and Facebook for sharing information. An example of a connector would be someone who likes to share deals and discounts with their friends.


6. Selectives

Selectives are resourceful, careful, thoughtful and informative. They only share things with specific people via email or a private message.


Okay, so now you know WHY and WHAT types of people share things online. But WHAT do you do with all the data presented above and HOW do you apply it towards your content? Read on.

The online sharing persona of your audience could broadly fall into one or more of these six categories or even be a mix of any of the above. What you need to determine are the types (or a mix of types) your current (and target) audience fall under and offer them related content to encourage online sharing.

It sure sounds a little complicated at first but there is no need to go very deep into the underlying math behind all of it.

Things you could do to gather data are analyzed past shares (using available tools such as Facebook Insights, Pinterest Analytics, Google Analytics, etc.) – how did they perform on socialdid one social network outperform the others and whydid more people share your content via email rather than socialthe demographics of your audience and so on.

Once you have a fair amount of data you will be able to feed the right kind of stories to your audience and consequently increase your online shares.


Lastly, the New York Times lists these 7 key factors to keep in mind while crafting content for your audience which could influence your online shares.

1. Create content which enables your customers to connect with each other, not with your brand.

Let’s take the example of Facebook shares. When do you hit the share button to share a post with your friends?

When you find something relevant, interesting or funny that you know your recipients will appreciate. You usually don’t share something if you want to just connect with the company or brand. You share something when you want to provide value to the people around you.

Takeaway – focus on creating shareable content which encourages your readers to share it with others.


2. Establish a sense of trust within your audience.

If your audience views you as an authority they can trust they will likely share more of your content with others. People don’t want to share something with their family and friends if they don’t feel confident that the information they are willing to share comes from a trusted source.


3. Keep it simple and focused.

If you run a business blog to reach out to your audience, keep your blog posts simple and to the point to communicate with them. Don’t address too many topics in one post, rather break it down into several shorter posts to help your readers understand better.


4. Use some humor in your content.

People like a little laugh here and there to get them through the day! And if you can provide them with that, they are more likely to share your stories online.

5. Add an element of urgency to your content.

People share time-sensitive content immediately because they consider it valuable information they wouldn’t want their recipients to miss out on.


6. Engage with your readers after sharing.

Getting your content shared is the first step in the sharing cycle. Once your content gets shared, engage with your audience.

Listen to what they have to say in their comments and updates and respond to their questions if any. Even a simple “thank you for sharing” will make your audience feel loved and valued and they will be more likely to share your content again.


7. Make it easy for your readers to share via email.

Email is still at the #1 spot when it comes to sharing information. We rave so much about social shares but clearly overlook sharing via email! Make sure you include an email button to enable your readers to share your posts with just a click.


Hope this breakdown of the study helped you to get an idea of the WHAT’s and WHY’s of online sharing. What did you think about this study?

What kinds of content do you usually share with your audience? Would love to know your inputs. Let me know in the comments below.