The Psychology of Sharing: The Top Reasons People Hit the Social Share Button

by Josh Barney

The social media gold rush is always changing course…

…I’ve been around long enough to see MySpace dominate (remember that?), LinkedIn evolve from (basically) a job board and MSN Messenger dictate the evenings of teenagers everywhere.  

But, throughout all these fast-moving landscape shifts, one thing has never changed….the value of social sharing.

A social share is the new age of word-of-mouth and its value is (pretty much) immeasurable.

The Immeasurable Power of Sharing on Social Networks  

When somebody shares on social media it takes a message from you (a brand, business, website) to a prospect…

…and turns it into a recommendation from one friend to another.

This singular, rocket-powered factor makes social sharing an extremely sought-after commodity and something that can completely transform the fortunes of social media marketing.

Sure, a social share increases organic reach (which in itself is enough reason for marketers to get excited) as well as creating social proof and even powering campaigns to viral levels…

…but it’s the recommendation that we should all be chasing.

The reason I‘ve put so much emphasis on this one advantage is the constantly changing shape of digital.

Digital adverts are now costing more than ever, landing page conversion rates are down, fewer people are responding to emails and all the FOMO tactics in the world have already been seen a thousand times by our wary prospects (these are all industry facts).

(If you’d like to hear more about this, I’ve got an article about it coming very soon! Check on the Einstein Marketer blog!)

But, something that will never cause hesitation, distrust or uncertainty is a tip-off from somebody we love and trust.

Put plainly, Social sharing = Digitally winning

BTW: Discover the right sizes for all your images on social media including LinkedIn, in our guide to Social Media Image Sizes.

How to Harness Social Sharing

ultimate guide to facebook audiences

Hopefully that message about the changing face of digital has resonated with many of you.

BTW: Social sharing is just one (and trust me, it’s not new!) tactic that can help you overcome the digital hump. 

Now that you understand its ever-increasing importance, it’s time to figure out how we can boost your social shares and friend recommendations.

The first step in this process is understanding why people share. Because that will allow us to create social posts that tap into these reasons.

Fortunately for us, a little-known publication called The New York Times undertook a three-phase research study entitled ‘The Psychology of Sharing’.

This thoroughly conducted study revealed the top 5 reasons why people share on social media.

In just a moment I’ll reveal these (potentially) campaign-changing factors and give you a few ideas about how to use them, but before that, a quick look at the study itself.

‘The Psychology of Sharing’ was broken into three separate phases, the results were then analysed and cross-checked before a conclusion was drawn. They included:

Phase 1: In-person interviews with people who regularly shared on social media

Phase 2: A one-week sharing panel

Phase 3: A survey of 2,500 people who were known to share online

The research utilised three separate result-generating methods and as such, I trust it enough to share it with you guys as plain facts! So, let’s take a closer look at them: 

Reasons People Share on Social Media

#1: To Bring Valuable or Entertaining Content to Others

reasons people share on social

The top reason people share on social media is to provide their connections with valuable or entertaining content that they might otherwise miss.

Whilst this is very predictable (I’m sure many of you would’ve guessed this straight out of the gate) it’s not something that many marketers actually make a concerted effort to hit.

The two reasons people share (in our first case) is to provide their contacts with VALUABLE or ENTERTAINING content.

Think about those two factors and look back at your content marketing efforts (particularly your social posts), do they provide your audience with value? Are they entertaining in any way?

Every day, I see businesses pumping out as much content as possible without ever thinking about quality, or more importantly their audience.

The moral of this story is simple if your content won’t help to improve a specific audience’s life (valuable content) or brighten their day (entertaining content), you aren’t going to gain any social shares!

Before you create any piece of content, have your target audience firmly in your crosshairs.

#2: To Define Themselves to Others

reasons people share on social media

This is my favourite point in the Psychology of Sharing study. People share content to define themselves to the rest of the world!

Think about that for a second…

…do you have any friends on social networks who constantly share posts about a specific topic? These people are most likely not doing it for anybody else but themselves, but by doing it, they are hammering home the importance of their passions.

As a digital business, it’s easy to quit on this factor, but I think it’s the one you should be working hardest on.

People who share for themselves are the people who will spread your messages widest and hardest. They become brand ambassadors and their efforts to align themselves with a specific niche will reap heavy returns.

In order to tap into this market of social sharers, you’ll need to create a brand that represents (defines) a particular corner of your market. You cannot waver or attempt broad targeting methods, it requires really going after the die-hard lovers of your niche.

Learn more about this in our article, How to Create a Cult Following Around Your Brand.

#3: To Grow and Nourish Relationships

reasons share on social media

This might not mean a lot to many businesses, in fact, I’m sure there are lots of readers who would simply skip over #3, but that’s nothing more than lazy.

People share content to build relationships with others, but how?

The first thing that comes to my mind is content that brings people together, creates emotion and makes people reminisce about relationships they already share.

How can you incorporate this into your social media marketing campaigns?

A really simple way to do this (which you’ll see all the time) is posting day-relevant content, for instance, creating a post toasting Mother’s on Mother’s Day. This might sound like nothing new, but if you’re able to include your branding (and some kind of relevant message) you’ll hit those social shares, boost your brand awareness and create an impression of a caring brand.

#4: Enjoying Having Others Engage

reasons people share on social media

Just like #2 to in our list, we have another selfish reason for sharing.

People who share for this reason take satisfaction in the fact that others have responded to their re-post.

Marketers and businesses can easily join this factor up with #1 (sharing valuable or entertaining content) as a driving motivator (e.g. provoking a connection to reply with thanks/appreciation).

Another motivator that will cajole this type of sharer into action are posts that are controversial or cause emotional reactions.

Whilst being controversial isn’t always a suggested idea, it can separate you from the competition, catch-the-eye and tap into loyal corners of your market.

#5: Spread/Share Causes

reasons people share on social media

The final reason on our list (but no less important than any other) is to spread and share causes.

Causes can grow quickly on social, especially those that hit emotional triggers in your audience. Think about causes that you regularly see shared on your newsfeeds, what are they raising awareness about?

Most of these causes will be shared in an attempt to help others and the world around us. Brands that are able to align themselves with a cause like this will often see heavy sharing…

…but those businesses that align themselves with a cause that is close to their industry, can experience viral-like sharing within their target market.

This factor shouldn’t be targeted half-heartedly (this will kill your brand in the long-term) if you really are going to help a cause to boost your branding, you must commit to it.

Would you trust a brand that uses an emotional cause to help itself without following through on its promises?

I doubt it.


Those are the top 5 reasons people share on social, what are you doing to tap into the power of recommendation and digital word-of-mouth?

If it isn’t something that hones in on one of the reasons on that list, you’re chasing a much smaller percentage of social sharers and thus, making your life a lot harder.

It goes without saying that every piece of content you create should have your target audience in mind (just like this one!), but the question you should be asking yourself is, how can you angle it to create more shares?

I’ve listed a few tips and ideas under each factor, but it’s up to you to relate them to your brand.

Give it a shot. That next piece of viral content is only one moment of inspiration away.

If you enjoyed this article, check out:

Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer, best selling author and creator of the He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links so he can get back to writing as himself.

3 Responses

  1. Are you real in social media sharing, or is it a reflection of your subconscious? Experts think that individuals with mental problems can reveal their true personalities in social media.

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