Social sharing and psychology: 7 levers you should push if you want more shares

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Social sharing and psychology - 7 levers you should push if you want more shares

The success or failure of a piece of content is often measured by how many shares it gets. Hopefully, those shares are also part of a content strategy that’s driven by ROI. But whether they are or not, there’s almost always a push for more shares.

Social sharing and psychology are linked: if you want to get more shares from your content, it helps to take a look at the psychological drivers behind why content gets shared. These are the motivations behind sharing that are deeper than the typical techniques to get more shares. They go beyond tricks like including an image, choosing the right time to share, and crafting a click-worthy headline.

If you want to position a piece of content to go viral, it’s important to do more than just dress it up for maximum share-ability (though that’s definitely important). You need to get into your audience’s head. You need to know why people share.

If you can reveal those underlying motivations of why people share then you’ll be positioned to get far more shares for your content than ever before. Who knows, you might even be able to make your content go viral.

If getting into peoples’ heads sounds hard, even painful, fear not. Smart marketers from many respected sources have done research about why people share. Two of my favorite studies are:

The New York Times report is probably the best known. According to that report, here’s why people share:



1. Carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient. 94%.

For decades now, we’ve had little widgets online that let us send highly relevant information to people. This started with “send to a friend” buttons. For a while, those were the only good sharing options available, and they had extremely high conversion rates. If you clicked the button you could send an email with a link to the page to anyone you liked. Fast forward to today and there are often up to 30 different buttons that let you share information across dozens of social media platforms.

How can you leverage this to your benefit? Well, one way would be to do what Derek Halpern does at the close of his emails and his videos. He asks viewers and readers if they know anyone who needs the information he provided in the video, and if they would share it with that person.

This is the best kind of targeted sharing. Instead of blasting out a tweet to their followers (which is okay, and most common) Derek is asking people to share with just one person who would benefit the most. That’s hyper-targeted sharing, and hyper-targeted marketing. And because the call to share is at the end of every video or emails, when that second person sees the message, they too will be asked to share it with someone they think would really care about it.

Here’s one of Derek’s emails with the prompt to share:


Derek Halpern gets people to share with only the people they think need his content. This targets their sharing and also makes them feel like they’re helping someone.

2. To support causes or issues they care about. 84%

This principle is why some companies partner with a nonprofit. It’s also why other companies have a well-defined mission statement that includes broader goals than just creating a profit.

If you can tie your content and social media updates to larger causes, you’re more likely to get traction. Especially if those causes resonate with your audience, like this:


Patagonia is an outdoor gear supplier, but they are also vocal advocates of protecting the environment.

The New York Times report isn’t the only study that’s found this to be a powerful reason for sharing. Social@Ogilvy and Survey Monkey’s 2014 study: Why do people share on social media? Global survey results put the motivation to promote a cause or issue as the #1 reason their audience shares content.


3. To stay connected to people they might otherwise lose touch with. 78%.

The first thing that comes to mind here is, of course, Facebook. How many of us have found long-lost friends on this platform? When you consider this motivation, it’s also no surprise why images are shared more often than text. For most of us, the updates from our daily lives are images, not long letters.


Pictures get shared online more than any other kind of content. Chart is from

Staying in contact with people also made the Social@Ogivly report. 34% of the respondents from that survey named staying in touch as one of their primary motivations for sharing content.



4. To connect with others who share their interests. 73%.

Got a really niche interest? There’s no better place to be than the Internet, and on social media especially.


Hyper-focused niche interests are completely at home on social media. Where else could planted aquarium tank enthusiasts gather to discuss the finer points of substrate preparation?

You can make this use of this principle by creating a community online, or just creating a well-defined subject area and staying true to it. Of course, Facebook and LinkedIn also offer groups. The success of those groups (and of forums) speaks to how powerful this motivation can be.


5. Because it makes them feel more involved in the world. 69%.

Want to make the most of this? Tie your content to a news story or a trending topic. This is a classic tip to get more social shares, and it still works really well.

Case in point: the Llama drama from late February of this year. Was there ever a better distraction from work than when this crazy story went viral on Twitter? I think not.


6. To express some aspect of their own self-identity. 68%.

Not really a surprise here. We share to express ourselves. The way to apply this to your social media updates is to embrace your brand’s unique identity. Your followers online (your “tribe” as some would call them) will respond if you strike the right chord.

This motivation showed up in the Social@Ogilvy study too. They just called it “personality” instead of self-identity.


All across the world, we share to express our personality.

Ipsos also found this motivation in their global survey of why people share. See column four in the table below, “To let others now what I believe in and who I really am”.


Ipsos’s 2013 global survey of why people share content found similar motivations to what the New York Times and Social@Oglivy surveys revealed.


7. To share products they care about, change opinions and encourage action. 49%.

We all want to exercise some influence. That’s why Klout scores are so very interesting. But even if we’ll never attain a high Klout score, we still share to promote things we care about.

Note how closely this is tied with #6, expressing personality. It’s also a sister idea to #2, “to support causes or issues they care about”, and #5, “because it makes them feel more involved in the world. “


Sharing is an ideal way to promote ideas, whether that’s an idea of social change, an idea about which product to buy, or anything else.


Hopefully that’s given you some insights into what’s driving the shares behind your content. While it can be hard to predict whether or not something goes viral, once you know the drivers behind why people share, you can usually look at content that’s spread like wildfire and say, “ah, I see why that took off.”

What about you? Do you think there’s anything missing in this list of why people share? Tell us about it in the comments.

For more lean content marketing tips from Mark Schaefer, Rebecca Lieb, Lee Odden, Jason Miller, Erika Heald on many other inspiring content marketing influencers, download our free ebook.
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Image by Kristina Alexanderson.

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About the Author

Pam Neely
Pam Neely has been marketing online for 17 years. She's a serial entrepreneur and an avid email and content marketing enthusiast with a background in publishing and journalism, including a New York Press Award. Her book "50 Ways to Build Your Email Marketing List" is available on Pam holds a Master's Degree in Direct and Interactive Marketing from New York University. Follow her on Twitter @pamellaneely.
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German Viera
8 years ago

Hi Pam. Great Post. I really liked the description of the leverages. In my experience with social media for business the number 7 is the most powerful lever marketers should pull. As an example i reached this blog post from Guillaume’s linked in post (which of course I shared) because I think rocks and I would like my network to try it. When creating content for my company followers and subscribers I try to promote it with social media posts that can show their networks how they care about presentations (which is the niche i work with) while they… Read more »

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