Research

February 24th, 2012

The Psychology of Sharing

We share a lot online, almost to the point where it feels excessive. Is it vanity, self-expression, or more?

It turns out there isn’t just one type of sharer on the Internet. People share information with others for a number of reasons, at various times during the day, and with differing intents. And people even choose not to share things they’re too embarrassed or scared to share.

To understand why people share online, we pulled up all of the latest and greatest studies on the arena. Here’s what we found.

Six Types of People That Share

There are six different personas of sharers, according to The New York Times’ “Psychology of Sharing.” These personas are defined by their emotional motivations, desired presentation of self, role of sharing in life, and how valuable it is to the individual be the first to share. These personas with some keywords to describe each are as follows:

  1. Altruist: These sharers are helpful, reliable, thoughtful, connected, and use email to share.
  2. Careerist: These sharers are intelligent business networkers and are more likely to share content on LinkedIn.
  3. Hipster: Less likely than other sharers to use email for sharing content, these sharers are creative, young and popular. They consume content that is on the cutting edge and care about defining their identity.
  4. Boomerangs: These sharers share information to get a reaction and to feel validated. They are empowered by social media and tend to use both Twitter and Facebook
  5. Connectors: creative, relaxed, thoughtful, making plans, uses both email and Facebok to share information.
  6. Selectives: These sharers are resourceful, careful, and thoughtful. They share content that is informative and also use email to share content with individuals.

This information can actually be helpful for content marketers looking to better connect with their users. Marketers should learn about their followers and understand their motivations for sharing information with their friends. With understanding, a marketer can then create content that fulfills those needs and desires.

Motivations For Sharing

The New York Times study was an intensive process done in three phases: ethnographies, an immersion/deprivation focus groups, and a quantitative survey of 2,500 medium to heaving social sharers.

The study determined that above all else, sharing is part self-fulfillment and part relationship building. People share for five total reasons:

  1. To bring valuable and entertaining content to one another. A whopping 94% of respondents carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient.
  2. To define themselves to others. A total of 68% of respondents said they share to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about.
  3. To grow and nourish our relationships. A total of 78% of respondents said they share information online because it enables them to stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with.
  4. For self-fulfillment. The majority of respondents (69%) they share information because it allows them to feel more involved in the world.
  5. To get the word out about causes they care about. A total of 84% said they share because it is a way to support causes or issues they care about.

Popular Times For Sharing

The most popular day of the week to share information via social media is Wednesday, and the most popular time of day is 9:30 a.m., according to a recent inforgraphic. Maybe people just want to beat hump day blues bright and early in the morning!

Cornell University also did a study last fall that used language software to determine that there was a higher presence of positive words in 509 million tweets early in the morning. People’s moods peaks early in the day, suggesting a correlation between sharing and happiness.

Arousing Content Goes Viral

A lot of what makes content viral is emotional valence, according to a study by The American Marketing Association.

Content that evokes high arousal, whether positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety), is more viral. In turn, content that evokes low-arousal, or is deactivating, emotions like sadness is less viral.

Arousal is the state of mobilization, and given that sharing information requires action, the activation of the content should have a similar effect. This means content like intriguing audio, video, and articles are the most engaging and most likely to be shared.

Lessons For Content Marketers

Content marketers need to understand the motivational forces behind the art of sharing. Fifty percent of people say sharing allows them to inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage action, according to the New York Times study.

Furthermore, marketers should encourage engagement with their content — 85% of people say reading other people’s responses helps them understand and process information and events.

Bottom line, people share because it makes them feel good. They want to share information in order to retain it, and because it might be useful for someone else. Positive and informative content does best, as well as content that requires an active engagement.

Now we have scientific evidence that if you share this post, it’ll make you happier.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Goiabarea


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