Two cents blog

The psychology of social media sharing

by Kevin Moreland on 23 October 2013

The holy grail for many communicators these days is getting content widely shared online. For today’s marketers it’s a constant quest to maximize engagement via likes, retweets, views etc. With such sharing comes many benefits, not least of which is the implied endorsement of the message from those sharing it, and of course, exponential audience reach.

The internet is awash with all manner of content – videos, infographics, white-papers and indeed whole websites created to ‘spread the word’, whatever that word may be. There are many well documented hits, but there is significantly more content which fails to get traction, despite the best traffic-driving and social-seeding strategies.

So why do some things meet with success whilst other stuff fails?

Yes, content is king. But the question is what motivates people to share content? It’s a critical consideration since to be successful, we must appeal to and motivate as many social media mavens and gatekeepers as possible.

In the chase for ‘virtual word of mouth’ success is all about how effectively we co-opt people to spread the word.

I came across a compelling study recently from the New York Times’ Consumer Insight Division which explores the psychology of sharing. It identified those most likely to share, how and what gets shared and importantly, why people are motivated to share in the first place.

The Psychology of Sharing from Mikhail Lomonosov


What the study highlighted for me was just how much a person’s identity is wrapped up in sharing. For example, the study indicates;

– 68% share to give people a better understanding of what they care about

– 69% share information because it helps them feel more involved in the world

– 84% share because it’s a way to support causes and issues they care about

These findings have significant implications for the importance of getting not just the strategy but indeed the narrative and execution just right. This speaks both about how deftly we tell the brand story and incorporate main messages, whilst also validating the values of the people who we want to share the content. Because what’s implicit in the the NY Times study is that when people share they are not primarily motivated by endorsing brand messages, rather they are motivated by the prospect of connecting and telling their friends and followers that your content is a reflection of their values, personality, humour, intellect, ‘hipster-rating’, or place in the world etc.

So when it comes to developing content that we want people to share it’s worth asking, does it intrinsically enhance and advance the status of the people we want to share it? If not, then make sure your efforts are supplemented with a paid media strategy.

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Kevin Moreland is a Managing Director at BCM

- Alan Kewley on October 25

Great post Kev. The New York Times study helps to answer the question that it so often boils down to..... 'What's in it for me?'

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