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A common topic of discussion we have with clients is why people share certain kinds of content.

When you are thinking about making a video or any other kind of marketing asset, and you hope that your customers will share it with their social networks, you need to start with an understanding of why people share content, and then build your asset out with that idea at the core of your strategy.

Now, this sounds like common sense – but it’s the opposite of what usually happens. Many businesses just create their content based on what they want to say – not what people want to share. And then they are disappointed when their campaign doesn’t get any traction online.

So… Why do people share? 

According the this study completed by the New York Times,  people share for five primary reasons:

  1. To bring valuable and entertaining content to others
  2. To define ourselves to others
  3. To grow and nourish our relationships
  4. Self-fulfillment
  5. To get the word out about causes and brands. 

We believe that point #2 in the list is central to points #1 and #5, so we give it more weight.

People tend to share content based on how they want others to perceive them. It says “this is the kind of person I am – I’m interested / care about this kind of idea / product / song.”

Some people in the mainstream media try to demean this as attention-seeking – which is ironic coming from people who make their living from being on TV or radio, the ultimate “look at me” exercise – but psychologists will tell you that it isn’t new. Humans are social beings. Ever since we started painting on rock walls 40,000 years ago, we have been telling stories to connect to our tribe. There are deep evolutionary biological reasons why this kind of behaviour makes a lot of sense. For example, if the other members of your tribe like you and care about you, they are more likely to defend you and look out for you and yours.

The NYT report makes some recommendations when it comes to creating content that is likely to be shared.

  1. Appeal to consumers’ motivation to connect with each other – not just with your brand. 
  2. Trust is the cost of entry for getting shared. 
  3. Keep it simple… and it will get shared… and it won’t get muddled. 
  4. Appeal to their sense of humour. 
  5. Embrace a sense of urgency. 
  6. Getting your content shared is just the beginning. 
  7. Email is still #1.