Why we share is just as important as—arguably more important than—what we share. While research that addresses the what abounds, there aren’t many studies dedicated to the why of content sharing. The New York Times teamed up with Latitude Research to fill this gap in our knowledge with a new study, The Psychology of Sharing, which combined qualitative research on heavy sharers and light sharers with a survey of 2,500 medium and heavy sharers. Brian Brett, Managing Director of The New York Times Customer Research group presented his findings yesterday to a packed room at the ANA Digital & Social Media Conference, and the top-level insights are compelling.
Why we care to share
Humans are sharing more content, with more people, more quickly than ever before. Our reasons for doing so generally fall into at least one of these five categories, the study found.
- We share to bring valuable and entertaining content to others
- We share to define ourselves to others, and to receive social validation
- We share to strengthen and nourish our relationships with one another
- We share for self-fulfillment—“We enjoy getting credit for it”
- We share to advocate for causes we believe in, and less commonly, brands we want to support
By combining the how, what, and why of our sharing habits, the Times was able to develop a typology of sorts. Sharers can be segmented into six sharing personas, but “we’re all likely to find a little of ourselves” in each of them, according to Brett. The personas, by population:
They share content to be helpful to others, and aspire to be reliable sources of information. They prefer sharing by email and Facebook.
These well-educated sharers want to earn a reputation for bringing value to their networks, preferring content that is more serious and professional in tone. LinkedIn and email are their channels of choice.
These younger sharers “have only known life in the information age.” They use Twitter and Facebook to share cutting-edge and creative content, and they focus on identity-building.
Thrilled by the reaction of others to the content they share, Boomerangs are even happy with negative responses. They’re after validation, and they employ Facebook, email, Twitter, and blogs without a strong preference for any one of them.
The name says it all—this persona sees content sharing as a way to stay connected with others and make plans. Their sharing behavior is more relaxed, and they typically use email and Facebook.
Selectives put more thought into what they share and with whom they share it. Because their sharing is more personalized, they expect people to respond to and act on their content. They prefer email.
Brands that get sharing get shared
Brett ended his talk with a set of recommendations to brands. Some of the best:
“Sharing is about relationships,” he said. Content should be created with the understanding that the relationships that people value most are with one another, and not with brands.
Consumers must find content trustworthy before they will share it, said Brett. One way to get there is for a brand to encourage honest and open public dialogue without filtering out the negative.
Humor, too, is powerful, because it’s essentially a social phenomenon. The success of Volkswagen’s Cannes-winner, The Force, and its myriad parody videos, shows this phenomenon in action, he said.
Lastly, don’t discount email—it’s still the most frequent way we share content, the study found. Brett reasoned that people consider it more private, and have a higher expectation that others will respond when they send a personal email.