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How gift giving is like forwarding content

December 23, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about Viral lately. This post by Ilya was turned into an internal EMA post about how to make something viral. Which got me thinking about why people share, and how to design for sharing, when something occurred to me.

The sharing of content is like the giving of a gift.

Christmas gifts.
Image via Wikipedia

Gift giving is about trying to think of the thing someone will like, and then getting it for them. The wrapping of the thing is a custom to create built-in tension. Everyone is smiling, but it can be an uncomfortable smile as the person opens the present. There’s history built into it of good and bad gifts. Then, there’s the “do you like it?”. Which is really another way to ask, “do you like me?”.

That’s gift giving.

On a much smaller scale, the sharing or forwarding of an idea is the same thing.

Indeed, people share content because they like the content, but they it mostly because they like their friend. So before sharing something, they think about who in their network will like it. Then they think about why. They might write a personal note like: “Knowing your sense of humor, I thought this would make you laugh”. Or, “I know you like this [product], here’s how to get a coupon”.

It’s personal to forward something. At least, that’s what we should think when designing messages or ideas that could get forwarded. We should think that for a person to forward our idea, they are giving their friend a gift. It might be the gift of information. It might be the gift of a laugh. It might be the gift of insider-only information.

But if it doesn’t feel like a gift, it won’t be shared.

Oh, and enjoy your gifts this holiday season.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 23, 2009 3:37 pm

    You might like this piece about viral (or “spreadable”) and the “gift economy” — an academic take on a very similar idea:

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