TOP Talk

Social Media Mind Games: How “The Psychology of Sharing” Can Drive Social Influence

Posted December 11, 2014 By Stephanie Malkus

Topics: Social Media, Thought Leadership, Content


Image Credit: Created using Canva;

Why do people share stuff online? It’s a big question deeply rooted in  psychology. 

Recently, The New York Times tackled this question with its study: “The Psychology of Sharing: Why Do People Share Online?” It hoped to answer these three questions:

  • What motivates consumers to share content?
  • Are there distinct personalities with different motivations?
  • How can understanding why people share help advertisers?

It’s not a new question, it’s been asked before. In fact, in a recent blog post, a review of Jonah Berger’s book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, we outlined the six basic principles he’s found that encourage people to share information and ideas, particularly about brands. A few of the common inspirations for sharing that Berger highlighted were: sharing that is motivated by emotion, sharing that serves as a form of social currency, and sharing simply for the practical value of sharing.

But is there more to discover about the motivations behind our sharing? The New York Times sheds additional light on the topic by exploring five categories: Methodology, Motivations for Sharing, Online Sharing Personas, Key Guidelines for Getting Shared and Consumer Categories. To save you a step, we’ve outlined what’s new and noteworthy:


It turns out that sharing is human nature! As the study explains, it satisfies five basic human feelings: self-actualization, esteem, love/belonging, safety and physiological needs. But the question still remains: Why do we necessarily feel the need to share content online?

According to this study, there are five main reasons why people are motivated to share content online, reasons which were echoed in Contagious. We share to:

  • Bring valuable and entertaining content to others: 49% share to inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage actions.
  • Define ourselves to others: 68% share to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about.
  • Grow and nourish relationships: 78% share information online because it lets them stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with.
  • Self-fulfillment: 69% share because it allows them to feel more involved in the world.
  • Get the word out about causes or brands: 84% share to get others to support and contribute a cause they care about.


Each of these present a different opportunity for brands to connect with their audiences. The question you have to answer now is: How can your content fulfill these basic motivations?


Now that we know why people share, let’s dive into who is most likely to share or not share a company’s content. The study found there are six basic personas of online sharers:

  • Altruists: They want their content to be helpful, reliable, thoughtful and well connected. They typically share content via email.
  • Careerists: They want to give and receive valuable, intelligent content, and they believe in the power of networking. A Careerist would most likely share content on LinkedIn.
  • Hipsters: These personalities like content that is cutting-edge, creative, young, popular and can identify with the content.
  • Boomerangs: When they share content online they want a reaction, validation and empowerment from their network. Boomerangs will most likely relay their content on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Connectors: They want content that is creative, relaxed, thoughtful and makes it easier to make plans. Connectors will most likely share content via email and Facebook.
  • Selectives: They are resourceful, careful, thoughtful and informative when it comes to sharing content. Like Altruists, they typically share content via email.

Identifying which of these sharing personas fall within your target audience and tailoring your content accordingly is a huge first step in creating shareable content.

Influencing Sharing

That brings us to the final question: how do you get those personas to actually share your content? On this subject, the study outlines the five Key Factors to Influence Sharing:

  • Appeal to consumers’ motivation to connect with each other — not just with your brand.
  • Trust is the cost of entry for getting shared.
  • Keep your content simple and it won’t get muddled.
  • Appeal to their sense of humor.
  • Embrace a sense of urgency.

Also, don’t completely neglect more traditional avenues in pursuit of social. Email is still the #1 content user sharing platform.

Now that the findings are in, it’s clear that consumers are ready and willing to share brand content if it makes the grade. A continued understanding of the psychology of sharing will equip you with strong filters to make content more relevant and meaningful to your target audiences, and thus more sharable. By appealing to an individual’s natural inclination to share, and providing great content, you will not only expand the reach of your brand message, but also build relationships that spur advocacy (i.e. more sharing!) for years to come.

Writing Credits:
Written with help from Sarah Braunstein

Stephanie Malkus

About Stephanie Malkus

What inspires me? Unique, inspiring stories told in equally unique and inspiring ways.