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Why do people like to share?

July 14, 2011

Today, the New York Times is issuing a report on why people like to share. It is $400 to watch them present the report, but they put out a press release talking about four key parts, and that is free. Here they are:

#1: Sharing as Information Management – “With more content, more sources and more people to share with, many users find sharing is a useful way of managing information. 85% of respondents said that reading other people’s responses helps them understand and process information and events. 73% said they process information more deeply, thoroughly and thoughtfully when they share it.”

There is an incredible amount of information on the internet. Blog posts, videos, Powerpoint presentations on Slideshare, we are living in an age where it seems everyone is participating. Clay Shirky calls it a Cognitive Surplus, meaning we all have a lot to say, and many tools to say.

The other issue is in sharing something interesting: someone might read a blog post and think “my company should read that”. At the enterprise level, people have more than a few options for sharing content it (IM, e-mail, Intranet, Facebook, other social network). There are pros and cons with each one.

Sharing content makes people look smarter. By sharing this New York Times study, I am attempting to look smarter. Look at me, I’m saying, I know about this study, and even have some thoughts. Sharing an article or blog posts via e-mail, Facebook or Google+ is basically the same thing. But people can’t say they are sharing things for entirely selfish reasons, so they answer with “…reading other people’s responses helps them understand and process information and events”.

Maybe. Or maybe they just want their boss to say “thanks, that’s really helpful, here’s a promotion”.

#2: Motivations for Sharing – “The study identifies five primary motivations for sharing. Each of the five motivations has a common theme: sharing is motivated by the relationships users have with one another. Therefore, marketers should be focused on providing content that enhances consumers’ relationships with one another.”

(Bolding mine) I don’t share a good article with my colleagues because of the article, I share it because I think it will make my colleagues think I’m smarter. Period.

#3 Personas – “The study identifies six sharing personas. Each persona is defined by emotional motivations, desired presentation of self, role of sharing in their life, and the value of being first to share.”

There are more consumers of content than there are creators and sharers. In our communities, we have people who seem to find excellent stuff first. We also have people who take some time and post excellent original thoughts, or thoughts on the thing they are sharing (this blog post, for example).

Why do people share? We’re generally social people who like it when someone says “good job”. Our motivations for being first, interesting, or funny are interesting, but it still comes down to the pat on the back. I’ll be interested to see the six kinds of people.

#4 Getting Content Shared – “Based on the common motivations and personas, the study offers guidelines and best practices for marketers to get their content shared.”

Here’s my advice. Know your audience and be relevant. People will share information that adds value to them. People share content because the act of sharing adds value to them. It’s not just because it is their job. We can’t force people to share just like we can’t force people to know things. We need to add value, and they will engage.

It might be that the content adds value by giving someone a good laugh (check out this funny video, lol). It might be the value add is $ — hey, Nike is offering free shoes to people who click here! It might be information: if you’re looking for a great place for Date Night, look no further than Hutch’s. those are three examples of many, but understanding the value add element helps to create the right content.

Brands need to figure out what people want, and then offer content that fits those motivations.

Then they should ask people to share it.

What do you think? Why do people share?

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