Why People Share: Understanding The Psychology of Social Sharing

How do you get more people to share your content?

It’s a simple question that lacks a simple answer.

But, perhaps it’s not as complicated as you think.

In a fascinating study conducted by The New York Times Customer Insight Group, it was discovered that there are five key reasons people decide to share something with others. This study on the psychology of sharing and word-of-mouth movements uncovers an important opportunity for marketers who want to do a better job growing their audience.

By understanding why people share, you can better assess your own content, and its ability to result in sustainable growth and traffic to your blog.

These important insights may be all that you are missing in growing a high-traffic blog.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

Spoiler Alert: It’s All About Relationships

I’ve probably said it a gazillion times – people buy (and share content) from those that they know, like, and trust. Most sharing, as it turns out, is primarily dependent on the personal relationships of your readers. The data shows that the likelihood of your content being shared has more to do with your readers relationship to others than their relationship to you.

The most common reasons people share something with others are pretty surprising. Let’s look at the data.

  1. To bring valuable and entertaining content to others.  49% say sharing allows them to inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage action
  2. To define ourselves to others. 68% share to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about
  3. To grow and nourish our relationships. 78% share information online because it lets them stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with
  4. Self-fulfillment. 69% share information because it allows them to feel more involved in the world
  5. To get the word out about causes or brands. 84% share because it is a way to support causes or issues they care about

It was also found that some users share as a act of “information management.” 73% of respondents said that they process information more deeply, thoroughly and thoughtfully when they share it.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

So, what do we do with all of this? How do we actually apply it to our content? There are five big ways.

1. Bring Value To Your Readers – Every Time

If your readers are sharing content that they know, like, and trust, then one of the most important aspects of our content has to be the sheer value that it offers your readers. Ask yourself, “what are my readers really getting in exchange for their time spent consuming my content? It is worth their time?

On this blog, we frequently post content that goes well beyond the 500-600 word average that is accepted by most blogs. Sure, this is above and beyond the call of duty, but we don’t mind. Why? Because we consistently pack more information as practical advice into our posts that our competitors do. It is part of our blue ocean strategy. It is part of how we make our content more valuable to our readers.

Always remember that the value you provide and the entertainment you offer can instantly make your content more sharable.Click To Tweet

You can do this too.

Other options you might consider:

  • How can you make your content more practical and actionable for your readers. Readers love putting advice into action.
  • How you continually supply your readers with new and unique content that has never been “done” before.
  • How your content can provide more value than the next best post on the subject. (See the skyscraper technique)
  • How you can compete with everything else that your readers are doing when consuming your content.

As if that wasn’t enough, you also need to realize that good content comes with a high entertainment factor. Rather than a generic stock image, consider custom graphics or charts that present your content to readers in a brand new way. This content is easy to share and easy to love because it brings delight and surprise to your readers.

If you haven’t before, consider a video or infographic as a way to add more value, and more entertainment, to your content.

Above all, always remember that the value you provide and the entertainment you offer can instantly make your content more sharable.

2. Help Your Readers Define Themselves

I love digital books, but I frequently miss the presence of a physical book sitting on my shelf. There is something about the books that I keep and their ability to define who I am. They are important indicators of how I define myself, and in the same way, so does the content I choose to share.

This is an important reality to consider. I mean really, when is the last time you asked yourself how your content would help your readers “identify themselves.” Probably never, but yet it is one of the most common reasons people share content with their friends.

Why People Share

For example, this post by Optimizely is a great example of how users can identify themselves with your content. In the post, the author offers an opportunity for the reader to discover if they are, in-fact, a data-driven marketer.

This identity dilemma gives readers a direct opportunity to define themselves to others by reading the post, and then sharing it with their own audience. By sharing it, they very well could be defining themselves as a data-drive marketer, and if that’s the case it is good motivation for them to tell others.

Of course, to do this well you need to make sure that each piece of content you create has a single specific takeaway or point that your readers can focus on.

Without focus, it will be difficult for your audience to identify with your content in a direct way.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

3. Connect Your Readers To Others

Your readers have an instinctual need to connect with others. Just look at the success of social networks like Facebook and Twitter. People like people.

In content marketing, the fabric of these connections is directly related to the content that we consume and share with our online network.

Here’s a small example: when is the last time that you left a comment on a post without sharing the post itself? Probably never. When we attach a conversation to a piece of content, we become very likely to share that content with others.

In addition, some readers will actually share their comment with a social share. The Facebook and Google+ commenting utilities (link) prove how closely these two things that are connected.

One way that we do this here CoSchedule is to try and end as many posts as possible with a question that our readers and can answer in the comments. While they don’t always do it, the question will often get them thinking and helps them apply.

Another option is to occasionally hit on the controversial post. For example, this post about the 11 misconceptions in content marketing kicked up quite a stir in our comments section and in social media. Overall, this is a good thing and helps people connect with others.

I think there are also an option to focus our topic selection on subjects that will bring readers together, such as promoting a good cause or increasing awareness for an important event.

4. Make Them Feel More Valuable

In the New York Times study one respondent was quoted as saying that she enjoyed “getting comments that I sent great information and that my friends will forward it to their friends because it’s so helpful. It makes me feel valuable.”

This is pretty cool! Not only can your content help your readers become a subject matter expert in their field, but it can also help them look like one for their peers.

I enjoy getting comments that I sent great information and that my friends will forward it to their friends because it’s so helpful. It makes me feel valuable. – Female participantClick To Tweet

We frequently use our a custom built Click To Tweet plugin that we’ve since opened up to anyone (for free) to include useful quotes and tid-bits in our posts. This tools allows our readers to share pull quotes and statistics from our post with their audience – allowing them to come off as the expert and increasing their overall value to others.

5. To Get The Word Out About Causes Or Brands

Of course, the best reason of all for your readers to share your content is because they simply love it, and believe in what you have to say. We love having loyal readers like that here at CoSchedule.

Seshu_on_Twitter___In_my_opinion___CoSchedule’s_blog_is_one_of_the_best_in_the_business_-_http___t_co_W9N2FTK7hS_-_bookmark__visit__implement__

Of course, this type of attention has to be earned, but that doesn’t make it out of reach for anyone. We work relentlessly to make sure that our content is always of high quality. I don’t like to publish anything that doesn’t deserve a tweet like the one above. This is a tough, but good benchmark to reach for.

The truth is that one of the best ways to get people to share content is to simply produce great content time and time again. This may be a tired call, but it doesn’t make it any less important.