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why and how people share content??
February 25, 2017

Content sharing is that – often secret – holy grail of many content marketing, social media and online marketing practitioners in general. Although content sharing is just a part of the whole content marketing story and social media marketing reality, all marketers want to see their content shared far and wide with as many people as possible. It’s a topic that lives in all forms of marketing, ever since the early days of the WWW and email marketing, and even in a broader context of storytelling.

So, why do people share content? Why do they tell stories? Why do they bother at all? The easy answer: because they want to and feel emotionally compelled to. But that’s of course too easy.

Content sharing guide

The psychology of sharing

In our customer-centric content marketing manifesto we mentioned that people are by definition self-centered (not the same as selfish). Sharing in general – and the sharing of content in particular – offers a personal benefit, even if we don’t realize it.

It involves emotions, psychology and quite some chemical processes that go hand in hand with the act of sharing. According to psychologist Jonah Berger, “the sharing of stories or information may be driven in part by arousal”. That seems pretty self-oriented.

Six personas of online sharers – from The Psychology of Sharing – New York Times
Six personas of online sharers – from The Psychology of Sharing – New York Times

Note: of course it’s always important to watch out for one of the main flaws in much scientific research: cause and consequence. Do we have a heightened level of xyz in our brains because we do something, does doing that something increase the level of xyz, which is then merely a “symptom”, or is there another explanation?

People have tried to define all the emotions and motivations of why content – and of course stories – get shared for ages. In fact, we tried to define and describe each emotion we – humans – have since a very long time.

Four fundamental human needs – in memory of Trey Pennington – storyteller and speaker at one of our first events
Four fundamental human needs – in memory of Trey Pennington – storyteller and speaker at one of our first events

And each emotion got a label so there are literally hundreds of ways of looking at emotions and motivation (from the – among marketers – oh so popular Maslow to far deeper digging psychoanalytical models and many more down-to-earth attempts).

Just as we like to label things and people (to make sense of the world around us) as in the depicted model of ‘six personas of online sharers’ on top of this article, we like to label emotions and connect them with the way we act, feel, behave and share.

The many dimensions of content sharing

Content sharing -obviously – also has a somewhat technical and more “formal” dimension.

Some examples:

  1. Is your content shareable? In plain English: is there a sharing (SWYN or Share With Your Network) button and whatnot next to the content you want shared or a FTAF (Forward to a Friend) possibility in your emails (since social virtually everyone now says SWYN)?
  2. Is your content share-worthy? That’s more than about psychology. It’s also about knowing whom your audiences are and what they value, what they deem relevant enough to share and, yes, “perceived quality” (in format, words and images) also plays a role in that (on top of “perceived sharing value”).
  3. What is the context? Sharing is done differently, depending on device, environment, contextual placement, channel, language, image, you name it. You probably read the “Top retweet tips” and similar blog posts.

Content, social, content curation and storytelling

Without content and stories, the Web and the world would be a lot less populated. We have to have something to talk about, don’t we? In the end that’s also part of what content marketing is about.

Storytelling is essential in – most forms of – content (marketing) and one of the characteristics of stories is that they get shared. Yet, again, storytelling is about much more than content marketing (just as relevant content isn’t always the same as storytelling as some claim).

Content marketing is closely related to social media marketing today, depending on the business goal and context. But it’s clear that the combination of social and content is a strong one. And, in a sense, content curation, can also be seen as a form of content sharing.

Sharing isn’t anything new, humans have always shared content in one way or the other. From oral histories around a fire to troubadours to water coolers and coffee bars, we digest content and then we want to share it and discuss it. It’s a fundamental fuel of communities offline and online.

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