The psychology of sharing: what we publish and why

The psychology of sharing: what we publish and why

21 September 2021 Off By Oscar Giacomin

With the growth of social media, the practice of sharing content with those who follow us on the various social networks is becoming more and more widespread. What we share and why depends on many factors. The type of social network, the person’s character, the things they like and the type of emotion they are experiencing at any given moment. 

In its study entitled “The Psychology of Sharing”, the ‘New York Times’ classified users into 6 categories, based on how they share. Let’s find out what they are! 

  1. Altruists: thoughtful and trustworthy people who share useful content.
  2. Boomerangs: web experts, they share anything that generates a reaction, looking for confirmation from others’ comments and shares. They often use social media for work, or are quite expert in their use. 
  3. Selectives: they share niche content and not very often. You will hardly ever see them connected, but every time they post something it will (almost) always be quality content. 
  4. Hipsters: creative and popular among their contacts, they are often very young. They give great importance to how they are seen by others, which is why they share refined contents capable of communicating their personality in the best possible way. 
  5. Careerists: they share content primarily to increase and maintain their business network
  6. Connectors: creative, thoughtful, with a ‘no stress’ lifestyle, they are inclined to share content so as to create social opportunities offline.

Emotions play a very strong role in sharing social content, and that is why anyone involved in digital marketing (and even those who are not) must take these factors into account. Abigail Posner from Google is among the many experts in the sector who underline the importance of the emotional impact that content creates on those who share it: “You need to understand the emotional appeal and key drivers behind the discovery, viewing, sharing and creation of online video, photography and visual content. When we share a video or an image, we’re not just sharing the object, but we’re sharing in the emotional response it creates.” 

Behind every share there is always some motivation. Perhaps it’s unconscious, but it’s always there. And the ‘New York Times’ study reveals that the triggers are:

  1. Identify and present ourselves to others. 68% of respondents say shared content serves to give a deeper sense of their personality to others.
  2. Foster relationships. 78% of respondents said that they share information to stay connected with people they would otherwise not be able to stay in touch with. 
  3. Self-fulfilment. 69% said they share information because it allows them to feel more part of the world and society. 
  4. Spreading the word about issues, products & brands. 84% of respondents said sharing is a great way to support causes they care about. 
  5. Delight others with valuable and/or entertaining content. 49% of ‘New York Times’ respondents say sharing means informing their contacts of something they care about to encourage action or change their mind about something. 

So what role do emotions play in sharing content online? These emotions can be grouped into 4 main categories:

  1. Happiness: in addition to making us feel good, happiness is a strong driver of action. Donald Winnicot has often spoken of the importance of the “social smile”, that is, happiness that increases only when it is shared. Sharing positive content, therefore, means sharing excitement. Working a lot on this emotion will ensure that your content is seen as a container of energy and therefore more easily viewed and shared. 
  2. Sadness: sadness creates empathy and socialisation. Sad content will bring the user closer to the content, making them identify with it personally. 
  3. Anger: anger breeds discussion. Not surprisingly, on social media, the posts with the highest number of “flames” are content created specifically to generate anger and controversy. 
  4. Fear: this stimulates attachment and the need for security. Brands often focus on this emotion. A study published by the ‘Journal of Consumer Research’ has shown how consumers, in a moment of fear, develop a strong attachment to the brand that is closest to them at the time.

One final comment: cognitive scientists use the concept of “confirmation bias” to explain what we share. In essence, we tend to share the news that in some way confirms our beliefs and prejudices, ignoring those that refute them. It is clear that this attitude, typical of human nature, can be dangerous: uncritically trusting what validates our beliefs can lead to believing fake news to be true. This is why it’s always better to check that what we are sharing is true! 


Oscar Giacomin  / General Manager, Facto Edizioni

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