Why People share and how marketers can increase the shares of their content
In this article I am going to talk you through three major aspects of sharing. First looking at why people share, then looking at how you can increase the number of shares of your or your companies content. Finally I will also bring to light how all sharing isn’t necessarily public or trackable.
Here we go . . .
Over your life you will probably have heard the term ‘you are what you eat’. Well in an increasingly digital an social world we can now use the term ‘you are what you share’. Much like the original term this looks at how who you are is defined by your actions, whether it be as a company, customer, or individual.
In the original term the theory goes that those who eat healthy are healthy, and if you eat junk food you become fat and unhealthy. The theory is pretty similar for the modern digital term. The idea is that if you share pictures or articles of the latest business or financial new then people come to align you as someone who knows about business or finance. Or, if you share pictures and posts from a particular political party then people come to associate you with that ideology or belief system.
So, why do people share?
After doing some research into this and actually speaking to people I know who actively share content across various social media channels, I have concluded that there are two main reasons why people share . . .
The first reason is because of something called ‘conspicuous consumption’ and the ‘experience economy’. Now conspicuous consumption is a term introduced by the Norwegian-American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in his book “The Theory of the Leisure Class” published in 1899. The term looks at consumers who “buy expensive items to display wealth and income rather than to cover the real needs of the consumer”. Now, this is still true people do still take pictures of their latest products and goods, because they are still status symbols, I mean having a sports car still shows you have wealth.
However, in today’s world it’s not so much about the products you own, but the things you have done and the places you have been. This is known as the ‘experience economy’. This has been fuelled by social media and the digital age. Let’s turn the clocks back 15-20 years ago before the internet was everywhere, and before mobile phones were an extension of your person. If you went on holiday during this time you would of had a camera which used film, therefore, you had to be picky about what you took a picture of instead of taking as many photos as possible and hoping you have a good one. Then even when you go home you had to go to a shop to get your pictures developed, which you then put into a physical photo album. Now this photo album is a physical thing and the only people that ever saw it were the close family and friends that came over to your house. That is still conspicuous consumption but it’s on such a small scale it wasn’t particularly useful to marketers. Fast forward back to the present and photo albums are now on Facebook, and Instagram maybe even Flickr. People post their photos up, tag people and locations to show everyone they’ve ever met how amazing their experience was, whether it was a holiday, concert or just a date with their partner. People want to show off what they are doing to make their life seem really interesting. This could be to make their peers jealous or even to show their peers their interests and achievements. An example of this is gym goers. They stand in changing rooms taking selfies in the mirror, with their favourite protein brand and tag the brand in the photo. They are looking for gratification and reaction. People see that these people look they way they do and want in on the action as it’s aspirational, motivational or aligns with their own beliefs. People do not and will not share anything that doesn’t align with their own belief system. You post the picture because you think you’ve achieved/done something awesome or cool. If people align with your thoughts/feelings they will share and interact with the picture/post.
Now we’ve cleared up conspicuous consumption and the experience economy its time now to look at the other major reason people share, which is to become a knowledge source.
This is a little similar to how I finished the previous section on the experience economy and how people share posts and pictures that align with their own beliefs, but that’s more in a personal context than a professional/business context. I’m going to use myself as an example for this as I notice it a lot in what I share. I am a field hockey player and coach, but i’m also a marketer. In my personal life I share lots of articles, pictures and posts related to the sport I love ,as it relates to my life. In my professional accounts though I don’t share many hockey posts, but instead share marketing related posts. Both types of posts that I share are indeed aligned with my belief system but they way I am sharing them is directly related to the audience I want to receive them. To my friends I am a field hockey knowledge source, and to my business peers I am a source of marketing knowledge.
People share different things for different reasons. There is no definitive science behind sharing, but people are much more likely to share something that aligns with one or more of their beliefs, thoughts or feelings.
As a marketer how can I encourage and promote sharing?
So, i’ve now told you why people share,it’s time to work out how as a marketer to get those people sharing. There are a number of ways you can increase the chances of your content being shared. But, because sharing is ultimately a very personal thing it’s hard to predict the ‘virality’ of your post. Now, below I’m going to set out some of the basic guidelines to creating shareable content:
1) Headlines and Images. Headlines and images are so, so important in affecting the sharability and virality of a bit of content. In plain English you could write best post known to man on a specific topic but if your headline is naff and you have no image or a poor quality image, your content is less likely to be shared. Without a compelling title you aren’t going to hook in potential readers, if you haven’t got any readers who will share your content? This is probably common sense to most of you (or if it’s not sort it now!) but it’s still something that can always be refined and tweaked to see which headlines and titles get the biggest reactions from your audience.
2) Social listening and customer feedback. The importance of a social media listening strategy cannot be ignored. It’s easier than ever for companies to see what people are saying about their brand, but so many still ignore or don’t realise what’s going on. Listening gives you the added knowledge to be able to write blog posts and create other forms of content that directly satisfy a customers needs. If a company creates a piece or pieces of content that resonate with that individuals needs, wants, fears or emotions you are more likely to have your content shared by that person.
3) Surprises. This is more related to the company as a whole rather than a specific bit of content, but as a company if you can surprise your customers they will love you for it. I’m not talking about big things, because for me its the little things that count. It could be a small surprise in every delivery (free gift or discount code). It could be quicker delivery than expected. It could be a 5% off next order. Essentially it could be anything. If you advertise it, then it won’t be a surprise, but those customers will advertise it for you. People love to see companies doing that little bit extra!
4) Comedy. People love to share things they find funny or relatable. As i’ve said above, by creating an emotional response such as laughter you are more likely to get people to share. Memes are a great way of creating industry specific content that is funny.
5) Is it easy to share? The is probably to most common mistake people make. They make great content that’s relatable, funny and useful, but they forget to make it easy to share!!!! The more barriers you have in way of sharing the less likely people are to share. When you are creating content in whatever form make it easy to share!
Not all sharing is public sharing
It’s really important to remember that not all sharing is public, and not all sharing is directly done through social media channels either. Sure social media has made sharing more public and easier than ever but the old methods of sharing are no less active, they just aren’t as prevalent. Take for instance email sharing and sharing via messenger apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Shares through these mediums are much harder to measure but no less important, as someone has gone out of their way to directly share the article with a very specific group of individuals who are likely to want to read the article, as opposed to general sharing where only a small percentage would actually want to read the article in question.
With some social plugins you can encourage sharing through these mediums and I highly recommend that you do, because it’s the same principle as market segmentation and targeting. By that I mean you aren;t going to target everyone in a certain industry are you? No, you are going to find a niche of people or companies that are much more likely to engage and buy your goods services.
The main thing I want to get across in this post is that sharing isn’t an exact science and people share content for all manner of reasons. As an individual or company that wants to get their content shared follow the five steps above. After you do that not all sharing is public and that some shares will be much harder to track than others. Either way keep creating great content, and keep telling people about it and driving traffic to your site. If people like it they will share it!