Why We Share and What This Means for Content Marketers

    By Joe Wills
    Published: January 13, 2014

The New York Times Customer Insight Group recently published a study on The Psychology of Sharing, which has a lot to teach content marketers.

Unless you have a huge existing audience, you need your posts to be shared. This brings in new prospects – who trust their social networks’ recommendations more than search engines’ – and can even result in your content “going viral”.

Sharing also makes your existing readers more engaged: they’ll take more away from content that they’ve shared. (The study states that “73% say they process information more deeply, thoroughly and thoughtfully when they share it”).

But what separates a post with thousands of tweets and Facebook shares from one with just a handful? What prompts people to share – and how can you encourage them to do so?

Why People Share

The New York Times study details individuals’ motivations when sharing, breaking these down into five key categories:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to others
  • To define ourselves to others
  • To grow and nourish our relationships
  • Self-fulfillment (feeling more involved in the world, feeling valuable)
  • To get the word out about specific causes or issues

How can you tap into these? One key place to begin is simply by creating the best, most valuable content you can – content that people will be pleased to put their name alongside when sharing.

Ways to Get Your Content Shared

The New York Times report also suggests some straightforward tips like:

  • “Appeal to consumers’ motivation to connect with each other – not just with your brand”
  • “Trust is the cost of entry for getting shared”
  • “Keep it simple… and it will get shared… and it won’t get muddled”
  • “Appeal to their sense of humour”
  • “Embrace a sense of urgency”
  • Listen and respond when people share your content, especially if they do so repeatedly
  • “Email is still #1” (does your site allow people to forward an article by email?)

How can you put these into practice?

Let’s say you want to appeal to people’s motivation to connect. Let’s say you’ve put together a piece of content on tackling mild to moderate depression. Instead of saying “Please tweet this post,” you might write:

Please share this post with someone who you needs it. It only takes a moment and could change their day (or even their life).

Or how about encouraging people to trust you? Of course, putting out great content on a regular basis, providing a good product or service, and keeping your promises are all ways to do this. But it’s also important to look trustworthy: if your site is full of ads or sleazy marketing techniques like yellow highlights, readers may be reluctant to share your content – however great it is.

Instead, make sure your site builds trust from the moment a new visitor arrives, with:

  • A high-quality design that’s easy to navigate. Keeping it simple is fine, but using the default WordPress theme (for instance) really won’t make you look very professional.
  • Well-written copy that avoids jargon. Make sure you get your copy well edited and proof-read: a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half.
  • Prominent testimonials from satisfied customers: one of the best ways to boost a new visitor’s confidence in your product or service.

If your content isn’t being shared as much as you’d like, pick one tip from the study to focus on and put it into practice over the next 2 – 4 weeks. See what happens!

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