The effectiveness of social media comes from its ability to tap into the most intrinsic desire among us -- the desire to share.
People share for different reasons. Here are the specific triggers of human psyche that motivates one to do so, and how you can utilize them.
1) Social validation. There is a strong desire for approval instilled in us. We often let this need to be accepted dictate our actions, opinions and decisions. In a study titled “The Power of Likes," it was found that people were 32 percent more likely to up-vote a pre-liked comment. This need for validation makes popularity infectious. In fact, it won't be wrong to say that, in most cases, the popularity of something in a person's mind is directly proportional to the popularity of that thing among a group that person identifies with.
Takeaway: Make sharing buttons (with the share count) clearly visible around the content you publish.
2) Entertainment. In a study conducted by Jonah Berger, author of the popular book Contagious, he looked at almost 7,000 New York Times articles to assess which got shared the most. He found that positive news was more likely to go viral. Most people like to be the “bearer of the good news” rather than a “Debbie downer.” He also found that content that elicited high-arousal emotions such as delight, astonishment, excitement, awe, anger, frustration or anxiety got shared more than one that evoked low-arousal or deactivating emotions such as sadness.
Another study conducted by Ipsos showed that 61 percent of online sharers share interesting things; 43 percent share funny things and 29 percent share content that is unique.
Takeaway: Create reactive content. Write content that triggers positive high arousal emotions. Make sure that your headlines evoke curiosity and awe. Include stories as they can make any piece of content engaging, memorable and shareable.
3) Practical value. Berger also found that the articles that were most shared were not only interesting and surprising, but also informative. In another study by the NYT Insight Group, it was found that 94 percent assessed the usefulness of the content to the recipient before sharing. One reason people share is to enrich the lives of others.
Takeaway: Create “how-to” type content that specifically addresses the most asked questions among your target audience, and share tips to make a complex process/concept easier to implement/understand. This will help generate more organic traffic from search engines as well.
4) Beliefs and causes. People are more likely to share content that will help define themselves to others, with 68 percent of people share to show who they are and what they care about, according to Berger. They share content that closely mirrors their image, with 84 percent stating that they shared to show support to causes and issues they care about.
Takeaway: Share your content in a way that truly resonates with who your readers are. For example, if your audience consists of visual artists -- creative and novel images might trigger sharing. Research your demographics to understand their needs and desire so you can create content that relates to them.
5) Interest. The beauty of social media lies in the opportunity it gives the users to connect with like-minded people. Content is a tool that helps people engage with others. By just tweeting or sharing a piece of content, the user can rekindle an old companionship or make new connections with people who share the same interests as them. According to the NYT Insight Group, 73 percent share to nourish and grow relationships.
Takeaway: Share content related to trending topics in your industry or ones that might inspire discussion or debate among the users.
6) Incentive. In operant conditioning, a response is generated to either earn reinforcement or to avoid punishment. Incentive theory proposes something similar. It states that your actions are driven by rewards.
Takeaway: When it comes to increasing sharing, incentives could include recognition for the top sharer, discounts or access to exclusive content. You can even give an official shout out to your sharers, or enter them in your next random giveaway, sweepstakes, promotions or content.
7) Aesthetics. Looks matter, even when it comes to content. Organizing your content in such a way where it's easily scannable and has a clear eye path will increase engagement. If users are presented with big blocks of text, chances are they will click out. Visual hierarchy is very important in helping people to comprehend information easily. The same goes for web design, typography, pictures and colors. Each element should work well together, making the whole process enjoyable.
Takeaway: Use subheads and bullets. Break big blocks of texts into smaller paragraphs. Pick a font that makes text easy to read, so that people spend time comprehending the actual message rather than trying to read the words.
If you get stuck, just remember that people want to use your content to better the lives of others. Your job should be to make that process as easy as possible.