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What Makes People Want to Share Content to Their Friends?

In all cultures, sharing is part of being nice. We were always taught that when we shared things with those around us, we were becoming better people. In the digital era, however, the concept of sharing received a new definition. People still share material things with their loved ones. But most of all, they share content with people they know and don’t know. According to the findings of Pew Research Center, “by 202, members of Generation Y (today’s ‘digital natives’) will continue to be ambient broadcasters who disclose a great deal of personal information in order to stay connected and take advantage of social, economic, and political opportunities.” 69% of the survey participants responded that people will continue sharing information online in the future.1 People want to share content because they like to inform and entertain others, define themselves, and stay connected with the people they know; these inclinations are highly beneficial for content marketers who want to promote brands online.

The most important trigger that drives people to share is their wish to entertain and inform others. UCLA psychologists found that when people find something interesting, they want to share it so others will be entertained by the information, too. “At the first encounter with information, people are already using the brain network involved in thinking about how this can be interesting to other people.”2 This is a way for social media users to develop connections with others. They share something interesting to educate, entertain, or increase awareness of others. Through these shares, they intend to provoke discussions, attract likes and comments and connect with people who have similar interests to theirs. They also want to raise awareness about important social issues. In a study that involved over 58,000 people who made their Facebook profiles public, researchers found that sharing was closely linked to the image of virtual empathy.3

When sharing content with the intention to inform others, social media users also show that they just learned something new. They use this opportunity to inform others about their point of view, personal beliefs, interests, or sense of humor. The shares help them define the image of themselves, in a way they want others to perceive them. In the world of social media, people are allowed to create their ideal self. They capture the best moments of their days, they idealize their friendships and relationships, and they tend to present themselves as more interesting personalities than they believe they are. The trend for sharing helps them achieve that ideal version of themselves. People like to share content that makes them look smart and informed. That’s why long-form articles get the greatest number of shares and comments. Marketers can use this psychological inclination to increase the social media presence of the brand they promote. To achieve that goal, they should focus on producing highly unique content that people can relate to.

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There is another aspect of sharing that’s important for marketers to understand: people’s need to stay connected with their friends and family members. Social media affects social skills in a negative way. In an era when most of the communication is done through testing, social media gives a way to connect with friends on a deeper level. Instead of calling a friend, they lost connection to, a social media user will rather share an online article that reminded them of them. That conversation opener can restore the communication up to a certain level. Sharing content is an easy way to reach out to people we know. Social media transforms all details in human interaction. People congratulate their friends’ birthdays on Facebook. To personalize the message, they will add a photograph, infographic, or another type of content that would make the recipient smile. Content sharing is a way to reestablish lost connections and maintain the ones we have. Articles on family values and friendships are highly effective for achieving that goal.

For an online marketer, the fact that people like to share content online is highly beneficial. The marketing process is no longer brand-centered. Instead of trying to promote the brand through aggressive techniques, online marketers are trying to deliver what the audience needs. When they understand what triggers people’s instinct to share on social media, content marketers can start producing content that has the potential to go viral. People share content because they want to inform and entertain others. They want to awaken empathy, increase awareness for a cause, or simply make someone laugh. They also share to make themselves look better in the eyes of others. That’s where long-form content and articles based on facts are highly effective from a marketer’s point of view. Finally, people also share because they want to stay in touch with others. Marketers can benefit from that inclination if they produce content that connects people.

1 Pew Research Center (2010). Will Millennials Grow Out of Sharing? Retrieved from Pewinternet.org

2 Emily B. Falk and others. (2013). Creating Buzz: The Neural Correlates of Effective Message Propagation. Retrieved from Journals.Sagepub.com

3 Wu Youyou, Michael Kosinski, and David Stillwell (2015). Computer-Based Personality Judgments Are More Accurate Than Those Made by Humans. Retrieved from Pnas.org