Why Do People Share Content Online?

Why do people share content online?

Within minutes, Professor Robert Kelly’s live BBC interview on the impeachment of South Korean president Park Geun-hye went viral. Why? Because his two young children hilariously gatecrashed it. With more than 87 million views on Facebook alone, his family have become an overnight internet sensation reigniting the debate of why people share content online. Watch video here.

According to research by Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange in 2013, ‘funny’ ranks as one of the top three motivations for sharing (43%), along with ‘important’ (43%) and ‘interesting’ (61%). The findings are based on a poll of 12,420 global online ‘sharers’, reflecting the responses of the 71% who had shared content on social media sites at some point during the previous month.

Other reasons for sharing included ‘to let others know what I believe in and who I really am’ (37%), ‘to recommend a product, service, movie, book, etc’ (30%) and ‘to add my support to a cause, an organisation or a belief’ (29%).

At 61%, sharing content that’s interesting proved the strongest motivation across all 24 countries surveyed, except for Saudi Arabia, where respondents chose ‘to let others know what I believe in and who I really am’ (65%) as their top reason.

These findings match other research in the field. The 2011 New York Times’ The Psychology of Sharing defined five top reasons for sharing – the primary one being to improve the lives of others, with 94% of respondents considering the value and utility the information they share will have for the recipient(s) and 90% sharing to help someone have a positive experience (or avoid a negative one).

Similarly, a study in 2013 by psychologists at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) identified the brain regions associated with the successful spread of ideas, often called ‘buzz’. The study’s senior author, professor Matthew Lieberman, said: ‘At the first encounter with information, people are already using the brain network involved in thinking about how this can be helpful, amusing or interesting to other people. We’re wired to want to share information with other people.’

Two stalwarts in content virility research are Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman, both professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and authors of myriad books and research articles on the behavioural science behind sharing content and using data to improve decision-making. In their earlier research, they analysed 7,000 online articles published by the New York Times to understand the characteristics of viral content and determine whether or not these could be deliberately achieved by marketers. The results indicated that the content most widely shared is useful, surprising, positive, but above all, highly emotional.

And that really is the key. As we watched Professor Kelly’s daughter dance innocently in the background, around the globe we collectively rolled our eyes and chuckled because, let’s face it, we’ve all been there. Achieving the elusive virility in content marketing isn’t about luck, but about connecting with people. To really make a splash, your content must be interesting, useful or funny – but more than anything, it’s got to spark some emotion that will motivate others to use your content to nurture their relationships with others.

To find out more about the factors that affect social sharing, take a look at StoryScience’s white paper – The Science of Sharable Content here.

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