Why We Share: 3 Takeaways From the New York Times

The New York Times published a report seeking to better understand what motivates people to share content online. Examining these motivation certainly will bring to light how, and under what circumstances, people pass along news content. The report also developed specific sharing “personas”. Depth interviews, participant panels and surveys were used to collect the data.

Here are some takeaways:

Sharing as Social Currency

“49 percent say sharing allows them to inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage action”

In certain exchanges individuals communicate useful or practical information to add value to the relationship. Content is perceived to benefit the recipient. Sharers may provide useful information in the hopes that it may be reciprocated in the future, or do so purely for altruistic reasons. According to the report, those who share, carefully consider how the recipient will benefit from the content. Similarly, sharing useful content may be seen as a way to bolster one’s imagine in the mind of each recipient.

I am reminded of Dropbox’s use of easy-to-share videos. Not only were they fun (and thus, shareable), but they reduced the complexity of adoption. It made using Dropbox extremely easy when cloud storage was a new thing. Dropbox found a way to create content, that when shared, provided value for those who passed it along. I like the “secret handshake” analogy. There is an exchange of value between the person giving the handshake and the person fulfilling the delivery of the handshake. The handshake (or content in the analogy) transfers the value and meaning behind what the secret unlocks. Research done by Chiu, Chiou, Fang, Lin and Wu (2007) seem to back up this claim. They found that consumers were more willing to share a marketing message when it had utilitarian value.

See also Hyde’s work on the gift economy

Sharing to Exist 

“69 percent share information because it allows them to feel more involved in the world”

We often share to remain actors in our world. We want to remind others that we exist through participation. We want to feel that we are playing a part in the world around us. Truly viral content often scales much faster due to people wanting to share in the experience of current events. We saw this with runaway llamas, debating the color of a dress and perfecting the Kylie Jenner lip challenge. People want to play a role in “water cooler” events. We can achieve this by attaching ourselves, or by sharing, on-going memes.

Sony turned the introduction of its next generation of LCD televisions into a shareable event in Glasgow, England. The entire campaign gave people plenty of reasons, and opportunities, to show they were there and experienced the event. Sharing creating a timestamp for the sharer; marking that they participated.

 Sharing To Align

“84 percent share because it is a way to support causes or issues they care about”

Understanding how brand characteristics drive people to share remains a recent exploration in literature. Researchers Lovett, Peres and Shachar found that brand characteristics like differentiations, quality, premium (higher-value) and visibility drive sharing through our desire to signal specific components of our identity. Brands are becoming increasingly aware of the need to align business practices with a stronger sense of purpose or mission. I believe a lot of it has to do with the increasing amount of research published on the consumption habits of Millennials. While they are still status-seeking (in terms of style and luxury) in their purchase habits, Millennials continually respond that they want to know that the brands they support are socially conscious. Cause-centered content, or content that creates this association, allow sharers the chance to promote what they value through sharing. Not only do we share to signal an identity, but we share to connect with those who are similar.

Read the full report HERE


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