Ever wonder why people share content? Me too.

The web is full of great content, with more than 92,000 articles published across the web daily and millions more being shared on social media.

chartbeat infographic

Image via Chartbeat

While I think it’s important for anyone involved with digital marketing to understand what motivates people to share content, I was curious in general about what inspires us to share things online with others.

I decided to do some research and share some of the best bits I learned. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think motivates us to share so be sure to let me know in the comments.

Let’s get started!

Why Science Says People Share

Sharing at its core is not about engaging with content – it’s about engaging with other people.

There have been a number of scientific studies about why content goes viral and what motivates people to share content with others.

In 1966, Ernest Dichter’s did a study on word of mouth marketing. Take a look at the results of why people share in the following pie chart from Ignite Social Media.

As you can see, only 33% has anything to do with product experience.

The remaining 64% of sharing is about the sharer wanting to:

  • Gain attention
  • Show they’ve got inside info
  • Reach out
  • Help someone
  • Show friendship
  • Share humor
  • Provide information

An in-depth research study published by The New York Times Customer Insight Group (which is definitely worth the download) determined that sharing is part self-fulfillment and part relationship building.

The study claimed sharing motivations were divided into 5 main groups:

  • 94% share valuable or entertaining content with others.
  • 68% share to give people a better idea of who they are.
  • 78% share to stay in touch or connect with people.
  • 69% share to feel more involved in the world.
  • 84% share to support causes and issues they care about.

Another study at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that sharing creates an emotional transmission, which is why we tend to share more positive information than negative.

So what makes certain content more appealing?

Researchers from UCLA found that it has to do with our perception of how much others will enjoy it. According to their study, certain brain regions are associated with the successful spread of ideas.

Parts of our brain are actually activated when we decide to share something. So, we’re naturally wired to want to share information and always attuned to how things we look at can be useful or interesting to others, not just ourselves.

So: While we primarily share out of self-interest, we are more likely to share a piece of content that we think others will find appealing, enjoyable, or useful.

Who Actually Shares Content?

The same New York Times study from above also maps out 6 different types of people who share content online based on their emotional motivations, a desire to be perceived a certain way, and how important it is for them to be the first to share content.

Here are the 6 personas of those who share:

1) The Altruist: Helpful, reliable, considerate. Shares content through Facebook or email.

2) The Careerist: Intelligent, educated, business networkers. More likely to share on LinkedIn.

3) The Hipster: Young, creative, popular. Shares content with Facebook or Twitter, and less likely to use email for sharing.

4) The Boomerang: Shares content to provoke a reaction and feel validated. Shares on all networks as long as people engage.

5) The Connector: Creative, relaxed, planners. Use both email and Facebook to share information and connect with others.

6) The Selective: Resourceful, careful, thoughtful. Shares to inform others with personalized email content.

What category do you think you fall into?

What People Love to Share

Now that we know the why and the who – let’s take a look at what gets shared.

According to a survey conducted by the global market research company Ipsos, pictures make up a significant portion of the content we share on networks.

The poll was conducted in April 2013 with an international sample of 18,150 adults aged 18-64 in 24 countries around the world.

Here’s a breakdown of the results:

infogram types of content

Ipsos Study: April 2013

BuzzSumo also wrote a couple of great pieces for KISSMetrics and OkDork about shareable content. Using their own data, they’ve crawled and analyzed over 120 million articles to discover what content gets shared the most across the web.

Here were some of my favorite highlights:

  • Long form content gets more social shares, but there is 16 times more short form content being written.
  • List posts and infographics are on average shared more than other types of content.
  • Surprisingly, how-to posts and videos are shared less than the average post.
  • Quizzes are the most engaging content on Facebook with an average of 51,968 total Facebook shares.
  • The most popular emotions inspired by content were awe, laughter and amusement.
  • The top 10 publishers on Facebook have about 60% of all Facebook shares.

I highly suggest taking a closer look both of these posts – they not only had great insight about what people love to share, but there were some awesome tips about ways to make your own content more shareable!

What makes you share content online? Do you have any tips to share about how to make content more shareable? 

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