Have you ever thought through the reasons why you share content? And more importantly, have you thought through how you can craft calls-to-action that get people sharing your content?

First a few findings around how people interact with content:

1. People are 8 times less likely to share content than like it (Marketo + Carter study)
For brands, sharing is viewed as a content endorsement and thus potentially more important, especially as sharing further gets the message in front of more eyeballs. A share is a lean-forward activity as opposed the lean-back click of a like button.

2. Conveying identity and feeling connected is a big part of why we share (Shutterstock research)
As social beings, we aim to project the desired version of ourselves to the communities we belong to, and doing so, maintain a valuable part of these communities. We share content to give others a better understanding of who we are and what we care about.

3. Sharing content is a way to process and integrate new information (The New York Times Customer Insight Group)
As much as 73% of people say they process information more deeply, thoroughly and thoughtfully when they share it.

4. Sharers seek to share interesting, important and funny things - in that order (Ipsos OTX poll)
And precisely why do people share these types of content? 4 in 10 do so to “let others know what I believe in and who I really am” and 3 in 10 want “to recommend a product, service, movie, book, etc”.

So, what exactly are “interesting” or “funny” things, and are there any patterns behind the types of content that is shared on social media?

Jonah Berger in his talk "Contagious: Why Things Catch On" highlights a few psychological triggers that make content spread by word of mouth: social currency, emotion, social proof, practical value, and stories.

  1. Content as social currency. Access to rare information that is available to us exclusively makes us look like insiders and smart in the eyes of others. The better something makes us look, the more likely we are to share it.
  2. Content that evokes emotions. The more emotion we feel seeing something the more likely we are to share. Emotions can be positive or negative as long as they are high arousal emotions, for example angry (not sad) and delighted (not calm).
  3. Content as social proof. Friends or family are the highest ranked information source for trustworthiness and content from these sources can influence opinions. People respond more to highly shared, liked and commented content especially from trusted sources.
  4. Content of a great practical value. We are drawn to content that is unique and useful. Consider your expertise and craft material that can be of use to others.
  5. Storytelling. Visual storytelling is about evoking feelings and emotions. When something triggers our emotions, we want to learn more about it.

Technologies and ways to share content come and go, but the principles of why we do it remain the same. The more understanding you have about the psychology behind social media engagement, the more it will help you to craft shareable content to ultimately reach your target audience.