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The Key to Getting Your Content Shared: Understanding Human Motivations

Why do people share?

It’s a simple question, but one that’s crossed the minds of so many social media and digital communications consultants as they seek to understand the key to powerful, shareable content. Just recently, I started asking myself this question as I noticed more than 1,000 people had shared a Starbucks Singapore coupon on Facebook . There was no incentive tied to doing so – that is, they didn’t have to bring a friend or share the coupon in order to claim their free Starbucks frappe. So why did they share it?

Digging a little deeper, I found this New York Times study which touched on the human psychology of sharing. Interestingly, most of the study’s respondents noted that sharing isn’t a new behavior born out of the explosion of social media; it’s something people have been doing since well before the birth of the Internet. The only difference between now and then is that today, technology empowers us to share like never before. Where previously we would share a joke with a group of friends, for example, the Internet has widened our reach. I can now share that same joke on my Facebook page and have it (potentially) reach my 800-or-so friends.
The study noted a couple of main reasons or motivations behind sharing behavior:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to others
  • To define oneself
  • To grow and nourish relationships
  • Self-fulfillment (or in other words, to gain attention)
  • To support a cause or an organization one strongly believes in

When I think about it, most of the content I share falls in line with one or more of these motivations. Why would I share a joke? Most likely it’s to entertain my friends, and to also feel good about myself. Or if I share a more serious post, such as something about the state of social media right now, it’s likely because it’s something that helps me define who I am – a PR consultant who is interested in digital communications.

So we’ve got a good idea about why people share. But how can businesses and organizations take this knowledge to the next level to motivate their customers and communities to share their content? Rather than ask “How is this relevant to my audience?” when planning your content, take it one step further and ask, “What can my followers or audience do with the content I share?”  Can they use it to entertain or enrich others? Can they build stronger connections with their friends using my content? This second layer of consideration will help you determine if your content can address one of the five motivations above, and if so, it’s more likely to get passed on by your followers, gaining you wider reach and virality.

To bring your content to the next level and go beyond gaining comments, likes and replies, brands and organizations must consider how their content will help people connect with one another. In essence, it’s about community building. Consider gaming brands like Starcraft or Diablo III, which have interest groups dedicated to strategy discussion, or Apple, which has iPhone fans flocking together to discuss the latest app updates. Figure out what about your product or service gets people talking – and run with it.

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