To share or not to share? That is the question

Coren Hanley

02 December 2013

How many times have you, as a social media user, read, watched or heard something, gone to share it with your army of followers, and then had second thoughts? I have this trivial “do I, don’t I” dilemma with myself every day.

The internet is filled with content and brands are fighting a constant battle to cut through the noise with compelling, unique content which tells the audience something they don’t already know, gives a new angle on a topic, or entertains. Something that is “shareworthy”.

From the content creation side, a company might have it spot on. Content might have entertainment or factual value, might be nicely viewable on a mobile device and have all the necessary social sharing buttons. But there are several underlying factors which brands have less influence over – the more psychological factors.

Our motives

A lot of it comes down to vanity - how we want to be perceived. Online, people make judgements about who we are and what we’re interested in based on what we share. A study by the New York Times found that 68% of us share to give people a better sense of who they are, and 49% of us share to inform others of products which interest us. Identifying and engaging with this group of sharers is essential for brands as these users have potential to become brand advocates.

Sharing content also helps us join conversations within online communities. The New York Times found 73% of us share information to connect with others who share similar interests. Thanks to social media, we’re able to start conversations with people all over the world who share similar interests. This endless process of content sharing and knowledge exchange can help build lasting relationships.

There are also sharing motives which brands should be more wary of. Share-to-win competitions are a growing fad on social media, and are very easy to enter – one click and you’re done. Some “serial entrants” set up Twitter accounts for the sole purpose of entering competitions. While these competitions are the Holy Grail for consumers, brands must tread carefully. They might be great for getting their content or message out there, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the people sharing the content are the intended audience.


As threatening as it sounds, everyone has a motive on social media. It may be a professional purpose, to socialise with friends, or to photograph their dinner. Previous research identifies 6 key social media personas:
•Alturists – share to help others
•Selectives – share because it’s relevant to friends
•Passionates – share because they share a passion with someone else
•Connectors – share to inspire socialising
•Trendspotters – share to show others they’re on top of the latest news
•Provocateurs – share to get a reaction
•Careerists – share because it helps them in business

It’s important that brands recognise the persona their target audience is likely to adopt as this can help tailor content correctly and encourage sharing. Each persona is also likely to have a preference towards different platforms. For instance, ‘selectives’ might stick to Facebook to share content with their network of real-life friends, while careerists might prefer LinkedIn for networking. Being present on the correct platform is fundamental for any brand wanting to connect with their target audience.

The science behind why we share content can be difficult to grasp, but it’s essential brands understand it. They must get into the shoes of their target audience and try to appeal to their interests and emotions. Content should be developed with the target audience at the core. It’s more likely to get shared this way, than if you build the content andthentry to get the audience interested afterwards.