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Why Do People Share Social Media Content?
Posted on April 27th 2014
Have you ever used a tool like HubSpot's Social Media Inbox or Buffer to schedule social media posts? If so, you may have noticed something interesting about the numbers for your clicks and interactions: they make no sense!
What do I mean by that? Have you ever published something and then noticed that even though no one clicked the link, two people favorited it and someone retweeted it?
There are a lot of reasons why this happens. Some are very reasonable, and some require further explanation.
It could be that someone read the content previously and your tweet was a cue to pass it along. Maybe someone favorited the tweet as a reminder to come back and read it later.
But something more interesting could be going on.
The truth is that a lot of people forward along something that looks like it might be interesting without reading it.
Last week, I tweeted a link to an article with the headline "If You're Fat, You've Only Got Yourself to Blame." I tweeted it because it is not true. I disagreed with the viewpoint and the sentiment and the way that the content of the article puts people down that do not deserve to be put down.
Someone retweeted me. But they did not click the link. I speculate that what happened was that they clicked the body of my tweet to expand it and look at the Twitter card, which offers the title and metadata for the post and they drew a conclusion about the content of the article based on that. They then chose to forward it along presumably because they, like me, disagreed with the viewpoint.
Why do people share content on social media?
A professor and researcher named Jonah Berger conducted various studies about what makes people share content, which were summed up in this January New Yorker article. Berger says there are a handful of things that make people want to share an article, video, or infographic with their friends, such as:
- Social capital: You accrue authority and identity from your social group, and associating yourself with valuable content is a way to earn status and recognition.
- Memorability: Does it stay with you? Does the content connect with you on a personal level?
- Practical value: Does it help others? Does it enrich the lives of others? Does it help solve a problem?
- Quality: Is it a good story? Does it elicit an emotional response?
I've also added a handful of my own, some of which tangentially relate to the four qualities that Berger highlights:
- Anchoring: Does it relate to your community or organization directly? Forwarding along this content isn't just self-promotional, it also reinforces your personal brand, as you're tying yourself to something with an established identity.
- Reciprocity: If someone interacts with you, it's more likely that you'll interact with them. That includes sharing content, so if you like, favorite, retweet, etc. someone's post, they may do the same for you. And on Facebook, these interactions even make it more likely that another person will see your next update.
- Self-esteem: Does sharing this content somehow make you feel better about yourself or increase your self-perception? Being tied to a charitable cause, to inspirational content, or "passing it forward" helps others, but it also helps you feel good about yourself.
What other reasons can you think of for sharing social media content? What keeps you coming back to your favorite social media channel? What makes you want to pass along something you've read or retweet someone's link to an article or video?