Now that two-thirds of adult Internet users are members of a social network; roughly half of all American adults, it is probably time to understand who shares and why.
Sharing has become a dominant theme and meme in social networking. For some it’s the raison d’etre for signing up. For others it’s the power behind voyeuristic thrills. Some analysts believe that the propensity to share is gender-based. They argue that women, who are natural networkers and nurturers, are much more likely to share than men. Yet others, citing the preponderance of men passing along images and links, argue that beyond gender; a psychological dimension separates the sharers from the pack.
Fortunately the New York Times, eager to monetize its content and promote viral activity, commissioned Latitude Research to figure all this out. The resulting study titled “The Psychology of Sharing” was presented at the ANA Digital and Social Media Conference and the slides are available, but not downloadable, on Slideshare.
The survey and ethnographic study of 2500 medium to heavy online users found that sharing is an act of friendship, consideration and self-fulfillment for most people. 84% of sharers spread the word about favorite causes or brands. 73% say that they process information more deeply in the process of sharing it with others.
The act of transmission or re-transmission allows 68% to feel more involved in the world and enables 68%to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about. Sharing is simultaneously philanthropic and self-revelatory. Sharing also nourishes relationships and brings entertaining or informative content to others.
Evidently sharing is caring, though the preferred medium for sharing, even among active social networkers, is e-mail, which is considered more serious and more private. E-mail will be seen. It is intimate, unlike one-to-many forums, and is more likely to provoke an answer or a response.
Sharers come in different shapes and flavors. This study delineates six distinct sharing personas. Altruists are mostly females wrapped up in spreading the word about favorite causes. Careerists zero-in on professional information and networking. Hipsters are the younger versions of Altruists and Careerists. Boomerangs are the nudniks of this world; the people who like to stir the pot and incite everyone around them. Connectors are would-be Careerists, who don’t share as frequently. And Selectives are would-be Altruists, who have fewer causes and fewer reasons to pass along content. In the act of sharing there’s something in it for me and for you. Dual motivations drive frequent sharers.
But for the mercenary brand seeking more than it’s fair share of sharing, the trick is to understand the motivations of sharers and design messaging and campaigns to appeal to those native instincts. According to the Times, there are five keys to success:
Appeal to the sharing motivations. Make sure that the content you present engages the likely sharer and is worthy of being passed along.
Build Trust. You can only produce content in areas that consumers perceive you to be competent and believable in. This also requires a respect for your audience and a sensibility for how the message is framed.
KISS. Simpler is better. Rarely is a complex or convoluted message passed along efficiently. Everyone has to get it and it has to be simple and motivating enough to share.
Use Humor. Notice that jokes and funny images get much more action that flat out statements and images. Life is tough, if you can liven or lighten things up without challenging the sensibilities of your audience, you will engender more sharing.
Create Urgency. People talk more when they perceive a need for immediacy or action. That’s why offers and deals travel as fast as they do. This is also true for trending topics. People intuitively understand news and social media cycles. They want to participate in the conversation before the topic becomes old news. If you can energize your content with a sense of urgency, it will fly farther faster.
Sharing is a psyche game. David Kaplan argues “Social media is all about serendipity, where a post can get lost in the shuffle of a Twitter or a Facebook stream.” But like most games, the rules and the parameters are beginning to emerge more clearly in ways that can help marketers use social and digital sharing to optimal effect.