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The Psychology Of Content Sharing Online In 2021 [Research]

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[Includes research from a NY Times study on content sharing]

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The Psychology of Content Sharing

What’s common between Harry Potter, Top Gun, and Momondo’s the DNA journey advertisement?

A couple of things:

For starters, the book, the movie and the ad were all very successful in pulling our heartstrings. Secondly, irrespective of the channel and format, they all told a good story— stories that melt our heart and made us share it with others without blinking an eye. There’s a huge lesson for Marketers here, considering that the same logic can be applied to any content that we produce today.

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If the story is good, it will sell. That’s one of the key things you need to keep in mind when crafting content and stories for your online marketing efforts. 

But that’s just the surface level thing.

Despite a brilliant story, sometimes the content does not resonate with the audience the way you’d like too. Think of a movie getting a critics award, but failing to mesmerize its audience at the box-office. If you dig deeper you’ll understand that content that sells has more to it than what meets the eye.

Which brings us to an important question:

How do you ensure that more and more people share your content?

I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that we now live in the information age.

We share MORE content.

From MORE resources.

With MORE people.

MORE often.

MORE quickly.

This remixed New York Times Social Sharing Report is a great summary of what’s taking place in the world we live in today. A world where it’s more difficult for customers to discover relevant content and brands to create content worth sharing. And in this report, it breaks down the psychology behind WHY we share.

PDF Version: Why Do People Share Online: Download Free PDF With Slides Now

By knowing, how the psychology of sharing works, you can create content that not only resonates with your audience, but you’d also be able to identify gaps that have been preventing your content from being share-worthy.

In an extensive study done across New York, Chicago and San Francisco, The New York Times studied why people share what they share online and what motivates them. They also dug deep in analyzing whether these people were of distinct personalities and had distinct motivations.

In this article, we are using this study’s findings to highlight people’s online sharing habits. While doing so, we’ll also explore the personas of online shares, their preferred social sharing channels and leave you with tips on creating content that attracts clicks, likes, shares, and upvotes. Let’s get to it…

Understanding The Motivation: Why People Share Content Online

Different people share different things—there’s no debating it. But what’s interesting to know here is what drives them to share things? What is the motivation?  

The NYT study zeroed down on five key motivations.

Let’s understand them better:

To bring valuable and entertaining content to others

Online sharers want to enrich the lives of those around them. That’s why they feel motivated to share valuable and entertaining content with their network on a day to day basis.

According to the study, 49% of respondents share as it allows them to inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage actions.

However, they don’t stop here. 94% of respondents also said that they carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient.

To define themselves to others

68% of people said that they share to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about.

One of the participants said:

“I’ll try to share only 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

It may come as a surprise, but one of the key motivations for people to share online is tied to building, growing, and nourishing their relationships with others. 78% people share information online because it helps them stay connected to people they may otherwise not stay in touch with.

73% on the other hand, share information because it helps them connect with others who share their interests.

For Self- fulfillment

Sharing content online allows people to be more involved with the world—at least 69% of the survey participants agreed to it. It makes them feel valuable.

To Get The Word Out About Things They Believe In

84% of the survey takers mentioned that they share because it is a way to support causes or issues they care about.  

Now that you’ve seen what motivates people, let’s also spend some time in understanding the personas of these shares.

The Social Sharing Personas For Digital Content

The NYT study lists 6 types of personas of shares—alturists, careerists, hipsters, boomerangs, connectors and selectives. Each of these personas has a distinct personality as well as a go-to sharing channel.

PERSONA 1: Altruists

Altruists are people who are considered helpful, reliable, thoughtful and connected. It is safe to assume that these people are well informed and concerned. The NYT study found that such personas prefer to share content by forwarding emails.

PERSONA 2: Careerists

Careerists are people who are intelligent and good at networking, the study found. They love to share their opinions and are often found sharing content via LinkedIn, which is justifiable given that the platform is a great match for their interest (networking) and allows them to share content with like-minded professionals.

PERSONA 3: Hipsters

Creative, young, popular, with a strong identity—these are the key traits of a Hipster. These people are less likely to email and more likely to be on new age social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Think of Millenials and Gen Z as what make up the vast majority of this group.

PERSONA 4: Boomerangs

Boomerangs are a persona type that feels empowered, react to things and often seek validation. Such people prefer Facebook and Twitter as their platform of choice while sharing content. They have a desire to stay engaged with the people around them and often seek attention by getting people talking on high profile topics.

PERSONA 5: Connectors

It’s easy to identify the persona of a connector. These people are creative, relaxed, thoughtful and most likely to initiate plans. Their preferred sharing platforms are usually Facebook and Email.

PERSONA 6: Selectives

Selectives are resourceful, thoughtful and careful and are more likely to use emails while sharing content with others. These individuals want to keep their content to a select group and do not desire the attention of the masses.

Now that we have all the important insights, it’s time to join the dots. In other words, how can you leverage all this information and boost the visibility and likability of your content?

Thankfully you needn’t go far. The study highlights key guidelines for sharing content. Let’s evaluate what they are and how you can use it better your content marketing game:

How To Use Consumer Motivation To Connect With You Audience

While the main objective for you to create content is to get visibility for your brand/product and attract more leads, it shouldn’t just stop there. Per the NYT study, it should appeal to the consumers’ motivation to connect with each other, not just with your brand.

To understand this concept better, let’s look at a few examples from Buzzfeed—a brand that’s killing it with their viral content on social media.

What do you see apart from eye catchy headlines?

  • Their posts stir an emotion which amplify further conversations
  • They’ve championed the content copy which makes readers click it
  • They test different formats (look at the Quiz) eliminating monotony (chances are you’ve taken one yourself)

With these key things taken care of, most Buzzfeed content (posts/social posts) ends up receiving hundreds of comments and shares.

The bottom line is content that resonates and goes viral also has another thing in common— that it sparks conversation and allows people to engage with each other.

Create Trust Worthy Content

Content that can be trusted checks all the right boxes—it is successful in enticing the reader from the word go, is informative, is backed by the trusted sources and can be used to make decisions.

Let’s look at a few ways in which this can be achieved:

Create content alongside brands/ people who are already trusted by your audience

A simple example of this would be tying up with influencers and experts and producing content that helps your readers solve a problem or add to their existing knowledge. A few good examples of this type of content is webinars, podcasts, interviews, and a well-crafted expert round-up.

Create content that shows you to be human

If you want people to trust your brand, you need to show them your human side more often than expected. What does that mean? It means sharing with them your accomplishments, your mistakes, and your learnings time and again. The idea is to maintain it across platforms, whether it is your blog or your social media feed.

As an entrepreneur, I have reaped benefits of using this tactic numerous times. My mantra?

Brands like Buffer have been able to build this trust by sharing their personal journey on their blog, for years now. The end result? They have been able to add more authentic followers and readers successfully to their kitty. So high is the brand’s recall that if a marketer ever needs something to do with remote work or transparent salaries or how they spend their marketing budget, chances are that they’ve got it all covered.

What are some other ways to show your authentic side?

  • Engage in a meaningful way with your social media followers. Maintain a friendly voice and tone. If you don’t know where to start, check out this bookmarkable voice and tone guide by the folks at Mailchimp. 
  • Develop case studies– show how you helped another company solve a problem.
  • Use more insightful ideas and statistics from online survey sites where people are actively involved in the process and are ready to add value to your efforts.

Create free content

Free content what??

If you’re rolling your eye, hold on for a minute.

Creating value and delivering it to your audience for free is an opportunity more brands need to start capitalizing on. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C — the challenge is taking the steps toward creating a culture that embraces the idea of giving away value for free.

By sharing well-researched content pieces that are not always gated you are laying the foundation for a solid relationship with your readers. You are giving them time to savor your advice, sleep over it and then decide whether yours is a brand that aligns with them. Ungated content is powerful and if you use the strategy smartly, you can still attract quality leads.

A great way to think about this approach can be found in how Chance The Rapper has built his audience by releasing songs for FREE to his audience. Why would any artist give away their music for free in a time where they could make $$$ from streaming on Apple or Spotify? In his words

Because I thought putting a price on it put a limit on it and inhibited me from making a connection.

Your content strategy should operate the same way. Do it for the connection.

Now, you might be thinking “how are we supposed to attract leads, if we don’t make the content gated?”

Not everyone can go the Drift way of killing gated content from their strategy, I get that, but not everything that’s worth reading should require an email address. There are ways in which you can stay authentic and provide value to your users.

Add downloadable checklists to your content, provide users with templates that they can use later or share meatier extracts when sharing it on social media channels. Similar to what Chance The Rapper has done — Embrace the idea of releasing free mixtapes:

Create Simple Yet Valuable Content

When you share content online, ensure that it is simple in all respects.

What does that mean?

It means content that’s written in a simple manner and is simple to comprehend by people who are going to engage with it.

The idea is to wow them and not overwhelm, even if it is brand new information.

Always remember the simpler the copy, the better are its chances of attracting a click or share.

Bottom line: Write for a human. Write for engagement.

Appeal To Your Audiences Sense Of Humor

What does your audience prefer? Content that appeals to their sense of humor.

It is well known that posts with a higher emotional value get more shares. But do all emotions evoke the same response? Not really. If the emotion is a funny one— evokes awe, laughter, amusement or joy, it is bound to get more shares when compared to emotions that trigger anger, sadness, empathy or surprise.

Need an example? Think of the widely popular Old Spice Commercial “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”

The commercial was first launched in 2010 before the Superbowl and instantly went viral because of the humor. The results were phenomenal. Soon after the company’s sales doubled, their website traffic jumped by 300% and the YouTube channel became the #1 Most Viewed Sponsored YouTube Channel.

Lianna Patch, a conversion copywriter (with a funny bone) has tons of takeaways for brands willing to experiment with humor in this article, but the most important lesson she shares is keeping it consistent across channels.

She says:

Your brand voice should be unified. Don’t create a hilarious online presence, but act super-dry on the phone with your prospects. Don’t make awesome videos, then send emails so boring your subscribers wonder if you’ve been in a bad accident. An inconsistent brand voice confuses people. And confusion is bad for conversion.

Embrace a Sense of Urgency

This is a no-brainer. A sense of urgency adds volumes to virality as it gives reasons for people to move forward. It also induces FOMO and frankly, no one likes that space.

A couple of tactics that work while creating content that embraces a sense of urgency:

  • Stress on scarcity
  • Add deadlines
  • Highlight discounts/freebies
  • Use color and “key” words to draw attention

Pulling It All Together

When it comes to creating share-worthy content, the rules change every day, and quite frankly no one can keep pace with it. But when you know how people think, what is their real motivation and the type of personalities behind them, you can adapt faster.

The NYT study on the psychology of sharing is a great asset to get started, evaluate things and make tweaks. Now that you have all the knowledge it is time for you to test them and create content that shines brighter.

Download the study and customize it to suit your content marketing strategy.

[Why Do People Share Online: Download Free PDF With Slides Now]

Go for it!

If you’ve got any questions, feel free to add them in the comments section below.

[Updated Jan 07, 2021]

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