Psychology of sharing: Why do people share online?

If I look at my language use online over the past 12 months, there is one word that leaps out as increasing in popularity – sharing.

I use the words sharing/shared/share constantly throughout my blog and the social networks I interact with. Today I thought I’d highlight a study that was released by the New York Times Customer Insight Group and Latitude Research which focuses on the motivation behind why people share content online.

According to the information in the study, there has been an abundance of research on social media, but to date, no one had asked in a comprehensive way: why do people share? The Psychology of Sharing revealed groundbreaking research that filled this knowledge gap.

The study uncovered:

  • Primary motivations for sharing
  • Six sharing personas
  • Essential steps for marketers aiming to get their content shared
  • Impact of sharing on Information Management
  • Cycle of sharing
  • Enduring role of email in the age of social media

It was the first inquiry of its kind into the motivations behind why people share and its purpose is to understand the motivational forces behind the act of sharing, to help marketers get their content shared. It’s a couple of years old now, but I think it’s worth highlighting and is a worthwhile read for communicators.

What’s in the study?
It was done in three stages: 1) Ethnographies – in-person interviews in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, 2) Immersion/Deprivation via a one-week sharing panel, 3) Quantitative survey – of 2500 medium/heavy online shares, plus segmentation to identify main types of shares.

New York Times Rachel MillerIt looked at the move from ‘broadcasters to sharecasters’ and how sharing acts as information management – with 73% of participants saying they processed information more deeply, throughly and thoughtfully when they shared it, and 85% saying reading other people’s responses helped them understand and process information and events.

Does this ring true with you?
It made me think about how I use Twitter for example when I attend conferences – I am constantly listening and thinking of how to communicate what I’m hearing and experiencing via my Tweets and Vines.

I also use it to connect with other delegates in the room, often via an event hashtag, which leads to face-to-face conversations. Often I will ask the presenters a question that I’ve been tweeted by someone who isn’t at the event and maybe on the other side of the Globe, and share their thoughts into the mix.

Post-event I then use Storify to capture all the Tweets, Vines, pictures, slide decks and blogs and collate into a resource for people who weren’t able to attend to read through, and to include in my articles. You can see some of them using the tag conference.

Feedback from readers of my blog and network demonstrates that this works well for people. It also deepens my understanding and experience of the event because I not only have my own thoughts, but can see those from others too.

How do you share information you’ve heard at conferences? Or do you keep it to yourself? Do you talk it through with your team or perhaps rewrite your notes up afterwards and circulate them?

Further reading: If you’re reading this article and looking for advice on using Twitter, see my guide to Twitter for communicators to refresh your memory or share with colleagues.

Motivations for sharing
The study by the New York Times Customer Insight Group and Latitude Research uncovered these motivations for sharing:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to others
  • To define ourselves to others
  • To grow and nourish our relationships
  • Self-fulfillment
  • To get the word out about causes or brands

It also determined six personas of online sharers and found the segments were defined by emotional motivations, desired presentation of self, role of sharing in life and value of being first to share:

  1. Altruists
  2. Careerists
  3. Hipsters
  4. Boomerangs
  5. Connectors
  6. Selectives

What do you think your sharing persona is? Have a look at the study and see what matches with your style or whether you think you’re a combination of a couple of them.

You can access the study for free here. I’m curious to know what you think of it – you’re welcome to comment below or tweet me @AllthingsIC.

You can also view it here via SlideShare:

Update: I’ve just been Tweeted by @BarracudaConect and who used this study as a basis for the infographic below:

statpro psychology social network business sharing infographic

National UK Blog Awards

P.s. After being encouraged by readers, I’ve entered this blog into the National UK Blog Awards 2014.
If you feel so inclined, please cast your vote in the public vote by clicking below. Thank you, Rachel

Vote for All Things IC in the UK Blog Awards

Post author: Rachel Miller

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