Why We Share
We work in an industry where it is extremely important to understand why people talk about things, and share the things that they do. It’s essential that we develop insight into the underlying psychological mechanisms which cause people to identify with a piece of content and decide to share it with the individuals they are linked to on their respective social media platforms.
There’s a fair amount of semi-science that goes into understanding these processes, and there is also a lot of guess work. One of the more compelling explanations I’ve recently encountered comes from Johan Berger, in a book called Contagious. If this is a topic that interests you, then I recommend checking it out. In the meantime, the following is a brief summary of some of the core points Berger makes.
At the heart of his explanation lies an idea which I fully agree with. Basically, social epidemics are driven by the content itself. Sure, reaching out to key influencers and making sure you are plugging into the right networks helps, but at the core you need to be communicating content which is going to appeal to something inside your audience member, or at least communicating it in a way which does so.
So what makes content appealing, and more importantly, what makes people want to share it?
1. Social Currency: Whenever you share something on Facebook or Twitter, you’re telling everyone who follows you something about yourself. People want to be perceived in a certain way, and they will share things online to achieve that. So content that will make the viewer seem intelligent, “cool”, funny, (insert any positive human characteristic here) will increase the chances of it being shared.
2. Triggers: So, all products and ideas have things which Berger calls “habitats”, which are sets of triggers in everyday life which cause people to think about them. We see this in advertising all the time, and we need to design our messaging in such a way that it causes these triggers to be activated, and therefore for our audience to think about them more often, and therefore share them.
3. Emotion: This is a big one. People act when something makes them feel an intense emotion. Kony 2012 is a perfect example of viral content that was driven largely by a collective emotional response. Had the team behind that campaign released a set of infographics laden with statistics about child soldiers in Africa, the same emotional response would not have been activated, and it would not have been so powerful. We need to deliver messaging in a way which makes people feel something.
4. Public: Sometimes referred to as “social proof”, the basic idea is that when things exist in the public domain, they are more likely to be shared. Have you ever stumbled across something cool on the internet and neglected to share it, only to see it being shared by other people at a later stage, and then sharing it yourself. Why didn’t you share it the first time? Possibly because it lacked social proof. We are somehow drawn to share things more readily if we perceive them as already being in the public domain.
5. Practical value: This one is straight forward; we tend to share things which we see practical value in. All this means is that when we encounter content which we think may be useful to other people, often specifically our friends, we are likely to share it.
6. Stories: People love a good story. A prime example is the recent Oscar Pistorius trial, which was shared and discussed by an overwhelming number of South Africans on social media. The mainstream media made a story out of it, and hundreds of thousands of people could not resist talking about it.
Nic Simmonds -COO, Clockwork Media