Social Sharing Revisited

Revisiting the link between our online sharing behaviors and our offline personalities.


In 2014, we explored the motivations behind sharing based on the New York Times Consumer Insights Group’s “The Psychology of Sharing” study.  

The study’s authors suggested that while many people and organizations have studied social media, very few, in fact, had taken a deeper dive into the why behind social media’s dominance in our lives and how our offline and online behaviors were linked.  We decided to revisit this influential study two years later and see how true the insights are today, with even more social platforms at our disposal.

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The moods and motivations behind why we share have remained dominant today, with even more connections to our personality. Further, since 62% of U.S. adults get news on social media according to the Pew Research Center, the intersection of the public and private domains have continued to blur and transform. In fact, the types of social media platforms coming online reflect our need to entertain, nourish relationships and support causes we’re passionate about.

For the 94% of people looking to provide valuable content to entertain, the growth of hashtag trends within Twitter, for example, allows us to join conversations and add our own perspective to today’s issues. Take Jimmy Fallon’s nightly hashtag, which routinely becomes a trending topic in the U.S. The use of hashtags simultaneously allows us to connect and entertain, as it both engages conversation and allows users a bullhorn to broadcast their perspectives to more than just a small cohort of family and friends. With hashtags, social sharers can connect with hundreds, if not thousands of users, at once.

For the 78% of social media users who want to grow and nourish relationships, newer platforms like Snapchat allow for even closer connections. This more personal communication platform allows for more direct one-on-one contact than social media stalwarts like Facebook and Twitter and allows conversations to be more authentic and ephemeral, like they are in real life. Further, the growth of Instagram and Pinterest literally help us have a window into our worlds, with Instagram showing a slice of our world from the inside out and Pinterest showing a peek into our aspirational hopes and dreams, whether it’s our dream house or our next vacation.

The Takeaway

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For brands looking to connect, understanding the motivations behind why we share is central to making a connection with consumers. The same appeals that were recommended in 2014 are still vital today – trust, simplicity, urgency, and action. Brands should be very clear about why they are interacting with consumers in each medium and should do so in an authentic way (trust). Having a straightforward message is also one that is more likely to be engaged with and get shared (straightforward). Key to this messaging is an understanding of why a brand is engaging in that medium. Hint: it needs to be more than “we need more social.” Brands should be focused on how they will bring value to consumers in every medium they are engaged in.

Further, having a clear reason for why this engagement matters now (urgency) will help brands stand out from the pack. Asking questions like the following with help keep brands on track: What do we want users to do with this information? What are we asking them to do? Are we presenting something unique for users to engage with? Lastly, every communication from a brand in the sharing economy should have a clear call to action. The last thing a brand wants is confusion from the consumer, as in “why are they showing me that?” Understanding the motivations behind how people are using social and how they want to interact with brands will help brands connect, engage and be shareable.

As we said in 2014, “With a deeper understanding of who’s behind every computer screen and what matters most to them, you’ll be able to focus your content on the topics and personality types that provoke the loudest conversations across the web.” Today, we would add that engagement is a more important element than provoking volume through conversations. After all, would your brand rather have 500 engaging conversations or 5,000 fleeting glances?

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