If social media is a cocktail party, then all the great gossip, funny stories and interesting tidbits you hear at that party are the kinds of content we’re all striving to create.
People share information online for the same reasons they share in real life. The good news? That makes us all experts in creating content that spreads, just by being human. All it takes to draw some inspiration, then, is a little self-reflection. Here are nine reasons people share in real life, and some tips for using those sharing impulses to create shareable online content.
1. It Helps Us Connect
Have you had the experience of hearing or reading something and knowing exactly the person you can’t wait to share it with? Whether it’s a band, a book or some hot gossip, the most basic reason we share any information is to connect. We’re driven by our desire to create or strengthen relationships with other people.
But if sharing is a way to let someone know you’re thinking about them, it has to be specific. This means it’s important to think beyond your brand to appeal to your users’ relationships. What kind of content will help them strengthen a personal or professional relationship?
2. It’s Useful
It’s in our nature (and maybe even our biology) to share what’s helpful: coupons to a restaurant, a better way to get your carpet clean, a cool craft project. It doesn’t matter whether we’re passing something along out of the goodness of our hearts, to look like we know more than others or because we expect our friends will return the favor eventually — the more useful, the more it gets shared.
The lesson here? Don’t just create helpful content. Create the most helpful content. Do the research no one else wants (or has time) to do. Compile the most comprehensive resource. Take the time to do it right. One immensely useful blog post will do 10 times more for your brand than 50 mediocre ones your users can find elsewhere.
3. It Starts A Conversation
It can be fun and healthy to argue, debate and disagree. More importantly, hearing from others on a complicated or controversial topic can help us figure out or refine how we feel. That’s true online, too. In a 2011 New York Times study on The Psychology of Sharing, 85% of participants said reading other people’s responses helps them understand and process information and events.
And some of us (you know who you are) share things just to get a reaction, whether it’s good or bad. The lesson here is that you don’t always have to shy away from provocative content, as long as you’re ready for a potentially strong reaction. Create content designed to spark a conversation, and listen to the conversation going on around you to find sparks for future ideas.
4. It Strikes An Emotional Chord
When you feel something deeply, it’s hard not to talk about it. A study done by the University of Pennsylvania focusing on virality of New York Times articles showed that content that evokes emotion is more viral, even if the emotion is negative, like anxiety or anger.
Tap into this urge to share by being a tough editor. Continually ask yourself whether what you’re writing, reading or seeing makes you feel something, and if it’s worth sharing.
The flip side of the emotional coin is that anger spreads really fast — and that can be bad for a brand on the receiving end of it. In the same survey, people reported that they would be more likely to share an advertisement when it evoked more amusement — and more likely to share a customer service experience when it evoked more anger. Be prepared.
5. It Helps Define Us
When we share information about the places we shop, the music we listen to or the books we read, what we’re really doing is sending cues to the people around us about who we are and what we’re like.
We share to define ourselves to others. Online, this kind of sharing impulse is even stronger because there’s an accompanying digital footprint.
Each piece of content we share adds a new layer to the persona we’re creating. When you know your customers deeply, you can create the kind of content they’ll want to use to help define themselves. Show these sharers a version or part of themselves as they want to be seen and they’ll be more likely to pass it along.
6. It’s Funny
In my real-life social circle, the stuff that gets repeated over and over tend to be funny stories. And humor can works even better online. Funny things are most shared when your audience identifies with them — think “What People Think I Do/What I Really Do” meme or S%#t People Say” videos.
Humor, done well, can be a strong starter when it comes to upping shares.
7. It Makes Us Look Smart
But it’s not all jokes and LOLcats. Some people focus their sharing on more business-minded pursuits. In real life, these are the people who are often found at networking events or seminars.
Online, you can engage them by bringing thought leadership in your area. Focus on studies, statistics, infographics, research and actionable content that provides practical value and simple takeaways these sharers can implement right away. Provide a significant benefit to this group and they’ll pass it along.
8. It Makes Us Feel Part Of Something Bigger
Some news just feels good to share. Sixty-eight percent of people surveyed by the New York Times said they “share to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about.”
Philanthropic and non-profit brands can benefit from this type of online sharing, and even those who don’t have philanthropy at their core can play up any cause they support. Those who share in order to support causes or issues are already motivated. They need only a slight incentive to pass along related content.
9. It’s Juicy
This is the gossip of real-world sharing. So why do people gossip in their daily life? Because the information is simply too good not to share! Surprisingly and interesting content is highly viral.
This kind of sharing pulls a little from humor, a little from emotion and a little from the self-definition categories. And while we may not always be able to define it, we know it when we see it. Within your niche, keep an eye on the cool, unique stuff you see being shared. Note common themes and executions that can help you create your own future zeitgeist.
(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.