Social Media: the Psychology of Sharing - Part I
Sharing content is not new - in fact, here's a cool infographic that helps you review the history of sharing and see how old this concept is. But that's not all.
Sharing in the Information Age
Information sharing has changed radically during last decade as a result of the fast growth in the popularity of social media and its profound impact on the way people communicate and share. In the past, people used to share at the dinner tables with family or close friends. Today, we still share when we find something interesting, and we just do it more - more content, from more sources, with more people, more often, and more quickly - and we do it online (by the way, sometimes more is too much! read more here after you finished this post.)
So... why do we even share?
With the rise of social media, users were transformed from being consumers of information to producers of information, and sharing became an act of "information management". The NYTimes Insights Group published a study which identifies the primary motivations for this act of "information management":
to bring valuable and entertaining content to others
Most of the people consider the usefulness of the information to the recipients. They try to bring some kind of value by the content they share. The value can have a wide range - from photos of cute kids and funny cats to a special food recipe or a tutorial video of a new solution to a popular problem. It also allows them to talk about a product or service they liked to encourage them to use that - or in some cases NOT!
to define ourselves to others
Another motivation for sharing is to define ourselves to others. About two third of people share information in order to present a better image of who they are and what they care about - passionate, thoughtful, cool and interested in certain causes.
to grow and nourish our relationships
People believe that sharing information online helps them stay in touch with people who otherwise they may not keep in touch with. It also helps them join new communities and connect with people with shared interests. Sharing [content on social media] is not exactly the same as spending time with people you care about, but it's one of the thing you do [offline of course] when you're spending them.
Another reason for sharing information is the feeling of being involved in the world. Being involved in conversations and receiving comments and seeing that others share the content you just shared with their friends usually convey the feeling of being valuable in a community to people.
to get the words out about causes or brands
The last, but not least is to share because it's a way to support a cause, a brand or an issue. It's again about trying to connect to people who care about the same causes or are interested in the same brands as you are. Also, it it can be a valuable content for people you already care about.
By studying the motivation factors, we can learn about the triggers that can help those motivations become actions. In this case, we can learn how to create content that motivates people so that they press that SHARE button ("viral effect").
Here you can read Part II: the Triggers
Cartoon by Randy Glasbergen