Why We Share {on social media}

We find, we share, we find some more. Why? What motivates us to share? 

Sharing is human nature.

Enter Maslov’s hierarchy of needs. People whose physiological and safety-related needs are met can and do focus on their needs for love and belonging, esteem and, finally, self-actualization. And it is a hierarchy. People need love and belonging before esteem, esteem before self-actualization.

{Side note. Social media’s role in revolutionary movements, natural disasters, and humanitarian crises, seem to have created a new place in the hierarchy; one that intersects every level of the pyramid at once. But I’m a marketer, not an anthropologist. Now back to our regularly scheduled marketing chat...}

Except where noted, all of the following data comes from the NY Times study, The Psychology of Sharing

we share on social media to capture Love and Belonging

We want to connect. To be known. To be seen. Around three-quarters of people share content online to:
    •    stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with
    •    connect with others who share their interests
    •    feel more involved in the world
    •    give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about

we share on social media to build Esteem

We crave prestige and a sense of accomplishment. Not only do we want to connect, to belong, but we want to be useful to our connections. 84% of people share content to support causes or issues they care about. And…start thinking about the Ice Bucket Challenge…now. Depending on your source, that campaign either helped advance ALS research or did not help at all, in addition to helping people boost their own esteem. Less compelling but still notable: about half of people share content to inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage action. Again, that's about others holding esteem for us.

we share on social media to achieve Self-Actualization

We want to achieve our full potential. This desire drives us to want to better understand the information we’re consuming so that we might use it to help us meet our full potential. About three-quarters of people say they process information more deeply, thoroughly, and thoughtfully when they share it. And 85% say “reading other people’s responses helps them understand and process information and events.” 

Interestingly, we believe that, before we dole out that precious info, we hold ourselves accountable to understand and absorb it. And yet 60% of links shared via Twitter are not clicked. Why are we passing along content we haven’t even clicked through to see? Are our needs for Love and Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualization in this always-on world so rabid that the buzz of all those likes and shares and clicks outweighs all? Must marketers value shares as highly or even above clicks?


So move over, Maslov. Here's my hierarchy of sharing.

why we share on social media; the social media hierarchy of needs

what can this all teach us? how can we inspire people to share our own messages on social media?

  • Responding to comments and mentioning people in our social posts can help foster the feeling of connection that people crave
  • Following others and commenting on their stuff can show people that we're interested in nurturing the connections we all crave
  • Talking about our own stuff is fine, but when our messages help people feel like they're part of the larger world, part of something larger than themselves, we connect with something deeper and inspire people to help bring our message to others
  • When we share content that helps people think about themselves in new ways, connect or reconnect with things they care about, or question what they really care about most, we create content that connects with a deep driving force within us all
  • People want to be useful. So invite them to share your stuff. And be specific: "If you know someone who ______, then share this with them!"
  • The more commentary a piece of content gets, the more connections and shares it'll likely get, too. So spark commentary. If no one's commenting on your stuff, try being the first one. Or directly invite a trusted friend to help get the conversation going.

What's your take-away from all of this? how will you help inspire people to share your stuff on social media?