The Psychology Behind Why We Share on Social Media

It’s safe to say that we like to share content with the online world. On the off-chance that you need any convincing, take a moment to consider this: In a single minute, we send out 277,000 tweets; share 2,460,000 pieces of content on Facebook; post 216,000 new photos on Instagram; and upload 72 hours of new video on YouTube.

As always, psychology is interested in finding answers to questions of why we behave the way we do. When it comes to social-media sharing, five main explanations dominate the discussion.

1. To convey our identity

Photo by Thanthima Lim

Perhaps one of the strongest forces driving our motivation to share is based on our sense of identity — more specifically, the desired version of ourselves that we want to project onto the world.

In a social-media sharing study conducted by The New York Times, 68% of respondents said they share to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about. The psychologist Carl Rogers provided a possible explanation for this, arguing that our personalities are composed of a “Real Self” (who we really are), and an “Ideal Self” (who we want to be).

According to Rogers, we are constantly motivated to pursue behaviors that bring us closer to our Ideal Self. On this basis, the content that we share could be seen as a reflection of the person we want the world to see. For example, we might endorse a political campaign to represent our views, a funny video to convey our sense of humor, or a music video to express our musical taste.

2. To nurture relationships

Photo by View Apart

As inherently social creatures, we are naturally inclined to form and maintain social relationships. An additional motivation for sharing online may be driven by our desire to maintain and enrich these relationships. Given the busy nature of our lives and the limited time we have available to socialize, social media provides an easy and convenient way to stay in touch with friends.

Often, we stumble across content that we think will benefit a friend, so we share it with them online. Similarly, we like to share content that has a specific relevance to a relationship. For example, we often share content that captures a mutual interest, a shared experience, a private joke, or an idea for a future plan.

3. For an incentive

Photo by file404

As mundane as it may sound, sometimes we share content because we have been bribed with a tempting incentive. For example, we may “like” a page or “share” a post purely to avail ourselves of a discount or to enter a competition. Another recent study showed that 67% of users who “liked” a brand page on Facebook did so simply to become eligible for special offers.

4. To feel a sense of belonging

Photo by Syda Productions

Researchers also theorize that we are motivated to share content online in order to feel a greater sense of belonging. In a study conducted by the University of Queensland, an active group of Facebook users were told to engage in normal activity on the site. However, what they didn’t know was that they would be receiving absolutely no response or feedback for their actions. Every comment was left completely unanswered, and every shared post devoid of any “likes.” At the end of the study, participants reported experiencing significant negative effects on their self-esteem and sense of well-being.

Sharing content online often results in positive feedback from our peers, and most of us would agree that we feel happier if a post we share receives 100 “likes” as opposed to none. In effect, being engaged in an online community and receiving feedback for our actions can provide us with social validation and a greater sense of connectedness.

5. To advocate great content

Photo by Lisa A

We all appreciate really great content, and sometimes we want to share it to bring value and entertainment to others. In fact, in the New York Times study, 94% of respondents said that they carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient.

Maybe it’s a video that made us laugh, or a beautiful image that inspired us, or an interesting article that taught us something useful. Sometimes, we simply want to share content with other people because we’ve found it really enjoyable and we think they will too.

Developing an understanding of how and why people share content is really useful for helping you to create appealing content. The better you grasp the motivation behind why people share, the more effectively you’ll be able to create content that reaches, engages, and ultimately gets shared by your target audience.

Article by Leah Tierney

Did you know that users engaged at a rate 5X higher when a photo is included on your tweets? Lucas Compan can make your online presence visually attractive, and help to bring more customers. You can call me: 646.701.2712. Get in touch now.

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