What Makes People Share?: The Science Behind Social Sharing
By Erica Dube
BREAKING NEWS: People are reading content online.
What? Not surprised? Good.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably already heard every stat I could list about the importance of creating valuable content. You’re probably even doing it - or at least trying.
But how do you know if what you’re sharing is really valuable to your readers?
One insight we use to prove the validity of our published content is engagement, or in other words, how many people are sharing, commenting, and “liking” what you’ve posted.
Having content that is shared, liked, and/or commented on is a huge advantage for a business blogger. Social sharing is no longer just a fad, it’s here to stay and gaining importance each and every day.
Why You Should Care About Social Sharing
In the past, social media was perceived primarily as a B2C space, but more recently, B2B companies have been taking advantage of the opportunities it has to offer.
As I mentioned earlier, social shares can tell you much more than just if your audience “likes” the content you’ve published. It can provide both short and long-term benefits for your Inbound program.
Here are just two of the many benefits social sharing has for your business.
You’re creating valuable content - get it noticed! Posting your content on social is one thing but if your followers are sharing then the audience for your content increases. With this share, you’re able to reach an entirely new audience with little effort and generate thought leadership across a sea of social users.
SEO and Organic Traffic to Your Website
Econsultancy’s State of Search Marketing Report 2013 tells us that 74% of companies surveyed have said that social media is either somewhat or highly integrated into their SEO strategy.
Although SEO experts will argue that social shares, followers, and activity do not directly affect your site’s rankings or authority on Google, no one can deny that social media has actually become a search engine in itself.
People are often turning to their go-to social channel to search the web for great content from their top industry influencers. In fact, according to KissMetrics, Twitter handles over 19 billion search queries a month!
As of 8/21/2015, Google began showing Twitter profiles and recent related tweets in search results. For example, if you were to google “Taylor Swift” not only would you get a plethora of content about the pop star, but you will now also see any tweets with #TaylorSwift and Taylor’s own recent tweets.
If your content is being shared to new audiences, it also opens up a new traffic source for your site. The more people who see your post, the more clicks you will receive to lead them back over to your website’s content.
But...What Makes People Share Content?
If you want your message to spread, you need to get people talking, and imitating. - Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On
In Jonah Berger’s book Contagious, we learn what makes “things catch on.”
A huge theme throughout this piece is the power of conversation and how it helps to create the “buzz” that brings people together.
In a 2015 interview with Huffington Post, Berger tells us “Humans are social animals, and sharing connects us with others. First we sat around the fire, then we stood around the water cooler, and now we forward things around on social media.”
So why do people share content specifically? What makes us want others to know about something we’ve just read?
To summarize - it’s that we simply want to help others. We share because we believe that we are giving something of value to our followers. But let’s dig into this further.
Berger tells us that we also share things that make us look good and things that are top of mind - social currency or “triggers” is how it’s discussed in his book.
In that same Huffington post interview, Berger states that the more positive a piece of content - the more likely it is to be shared. If it inspires, makes people laugh, or overall generates excitement, you’ll find it more popular.
Think about your own feed - how often do you find yourself clicking “share” or “like” on content that simply entertains or makes you laugh? When it comes to virality, laughter really can be the best medicine.
But that’s not the only reason people share. Let’s look at another example to illustrate.
The “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”, a campaign involving dumping a bucket of ice water on someone's head to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and encourage donations to research, filled up everyone’s Facebook feeds for months.
Personally, it’s the most popular meme I’ve seen on my feed since I’ve joined social media.
But what made it different from any other campaign?
According to Berger’s insights, here are some of the reasons why it took off:
We share things that make us look good - social currency (Berger)
We share things that are observable - public (Berger)
We share things that are impactful (Berger)
We share things that give people a better sense of who we are and what they care about (CoSchedule)
We share because it allows us to inform others of what we care about, potentially change opinions or encourage action (CoSchedule)
We share information because it allows us to feel more involved in the world (CoSchedule)
What Are People Sharing?
Recently, I attended an awesome Mozinar presented by BuzzSumo and Moz entitled “Content, Shares, and Links: Insights from Analyzing 1 Million Articles.”
In this webinar, the content experts analyzed articles to find a correlation between shares and links. Their results were not too surprising-- Most people share content rather than link.
They also uncovered, however, some interesting conclusions based on the data they gathered from content that was actually shared or linked to. For example, take the “Content Sweet Spot”
The “Content Sweet Spot” was how they identified the content they found to be shared the most. After a thorough analysis of the “sweet spot” and its specifics, Moz and BuzzSumo experts concluded that if you want shares and links - create research or opinion forming content.
Another interesting insight found is that long-form content receives more shares and links than shorter content, “over 85% of articles had less than 1,000 words.”
Some Actionable Takeaways:
With these valuable insights in mind, your first step to improving your content strategy should be to utilize news, data, and industry experts to develop long-form helpful content.
Create more long-form content - articles with over 1,000 words get more shares and links.
Create research backed or opinion based content
Create entertaining, positive and humorous content
Create content that gets people “involved” with a cause or opinion
Remember, humans are social creatures. Think about your audience and what they would find helpful.
Wondering where to begin?