Someone Figured Out the 5 Reasons People Share Content Online – and You’ll Never Look at Your Audience the Same Again

Does this sound familiar?

You get a great idea for a piece of content. A blog post, for example. It sounds so awesome, calling it “a piece of content” doesn’t even do it justice. This baby is ART.

You pour your heart into it. Spend all morning outlining, all afternoon writing, and all night whipping up gorgeous images that you just can’t WAIT to see plastered all over Pinterest. This puppy’s gonna blow people’s minds.

And then you post it, and…zip. Nothin’. Nada.

Maybe you get your usual little pop of traffic from your hardcore fans, but despite the typical influx of readers, nobody is SHARING it. Your hard work isn’t going to be seen by anyone new, because nobody is putting the word out about it to their friends.

Commence pulling out your hair and/or ugly-crying.

Why are people sharing content from literally everyone else in the world except you?

(I mean, they’re not, obviously, but it sure fricken’ FEELS that way sometimes, right?)

Well, turns out, there actually IS a reason for it!

A customer research division of The New York Times recently conducted a study into WHY people share things online. So every time somebody on your Facebook shares a link to the latest OMG-you’ll-never-believe-what-happened-next video, or whenever somebody tweets a link to some shocking statistics, there are reasons they do it – and those reasons are NOT always the same.

Now, you can read the full 46-page report here, but let’s be real, that’s a lot to digest. So I’m breaking down the report into what YOU need to know about why people share content – and how it can inform the type of content you CREATE.

So, how do people choose the things they want to share online?

  1. So they can deliver valuable and entertaining information to other people.When people share content, they do it so that they can improve the lives of other people – whether in a practical way, like providing useful information, or by other means, like making them laugh. 94% of people carefully think about how the information they share might be useful to a person reading it before they pass it along.
  2. To define themselves to other people. The things you share reflect who you are – your political beliefs, your personal taste, your interests, and so on. Almost 7 out of 10 people share things specifically for the purpose of cultivating an image and defining/reinforcing their identity.
  3. To grow and enrich existing relationships. When you and a friend or family member have similar interests, you naturally want to share things related to those interests. It’s the perfect excuse to strike up a conversation with somebody you enjoy talking to! In fact, 78% of people share online content BECAUSE it gives them a reason to stay in touch with others who they might not otherwise stay in touch with. (Awwwwww!)
  4. To feel a sense of self-fulfillment. It’s okay to admit it – it’s pretty validating to be thought of as helpful! You feel like a valuable participant in the world when you share useful information. Don’t you just get the warm-and-fuzzies all over when a friend tells you how much they LOVED that thing you sent them?
  5. To get the dang word out. Sometimes, getting the word out means sharing an article about an important election. Other times, it means making sure people know that the iced mocha you got from that new place on 5th Avenue is like,the best iced mocha ever. We all have brands and causes we like to advocate for, and 84% of people share on social specifically for that reason.

“That’s all cool,” you might be thinking, “but so what? What do I DO with that information?”

Here’s what you do now.

You’ve probably heard the term “buyer persona” before, but just in case, here’s the short version:

A buyer persona is like a template of a person – in your case, one of your business’s customers. (Hint: you probably have more than one buyer persona relevant to your biz.)

Think of that persona as like a 10-second profile of a typical customer. So for example, one buyer persona for Edgar might be, “An independent entrepreneur who doesn’t want to hand her social media over to another person, but is frustrated by how much time it takes out of her day.”

Now, that’s a pretty simplified version – these things can be craaaazy in-depth, right down to where your buyer persona lives, how much money they make in a month, whether they have a family, and so on. (But you don’t really have to worry about all that stuff right now.)

Buyer personas matter because there are ALSO certain types of people, or personas, who share stuff online.

The study found that most people who share things online fall into one (or several) categories. For example, some people are altruists, who like to be seen as well-connected and reliable, and share mainly via email. Others may be careerists, who prefer to share things that make them seem intelligent and valuable to know, orhipsters, who primarily share things that reinforce their own sense of personal identity and show off their creative interests.

What you need to do is determine which personas overlap the most with your audience, and feed them the content they’re looking for.

What type of content is getting shared, and what does it say about the people sharing it?

Is it reviews? Super-detailed guides? General advice? Reflections on current events?

So for my site, for example, I keep track every quarter of which blog posts were shared the most over the past three months, and which are the most-shared blog posts of all time. That way, I can see what those posts all have in common, and make some educated guesses about why people would share them – as well as what those reasons might indicate about the types of readers who share my posts.

Ultimately, The New York Times used their study to come up with 7 factors that can help you score more shares. Drumroll, please…

  1. Sharing is how consumers connect with each OTHER, not with YOU. When a reader wants to connect with your business, they can leave you a comment or send you an email. When they want to USE your business as a way to connect with other people, though, THAT’S when you get a share.
  2. Your audience has to trust you to want to share you. I talk alllll the time about KLT – that Know, Like, and Trust factor – and here’s one big reason that it matters. If your reader doesn’t see you as an authority they can trust, they’re not going to share your content with others.
  3. The simpler, the better. This is one of the reasons business blogging is so important – it allows you to regularly create content highly focused on a specific topic. Nobody’s gonna link to your homepage, but they WILL link to a well-written post that tackles an important subject.
  4. Have a sense of humor. This one’s not foolproof, so use your judgment, BUT people like to share content that makes others feel good. A little personality and humor can make a big difference!
  5. Embrace a sense of urgency. Timely, relevant information is highly shareable. If there’s an element of urgency to what you’re posting, people are more likely to share it, because it’s potentially VERY valuable information.
  6. Engage after the fact. Getting recognized feels good. (Remember, that’s actually one of the big reasons that people share anything at all!) When other people share your content, it’s totally cool to reach out and say thanks!
  7. Email is still king. Social media gets all the credit these days for its visibility, but don’t underestimate the value of email. Make it easy for your readers to share your content via email with a click.

Easy, right? Obviously it can get way more complicated than all that – there are a LOT of factors that go into whether or not something racks up shares. If you’re looking for a way to give yourself a little more content mojo, though, these are GREAT things to remember.

What do YOU share online?

Now that you know what this New York Times study has to say, where do YOU fall in? Is there a type of content you loooove to share, or something that you might love personally but NEVER share with your friends online? I’m curious – hit me up in the comments below with your thoughts!

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