Visual creative content is a useful communication tool for many reasons. It uses the brain’s visual processing centers to instantly communicate information. It helps brands communicate in a more engaging way. It helps publishers enhance their content. But perhaps what is most enticing about creative content is that it is so shareable. An infographic pinned on Pinterest can generate major traffic, a viral video can garner millions of views, a popular interactive can help you engage with the public. The more content is shared, the better you generate awareness and build a relationship with people.
But, remember, people don’t want to share everything; they only want to share creative content that is valuable to them in one way or the other. So, to create truly interesting, share-worthy creative content, you need to know why people share. Only then can you use that knowledge to create something that motivates them to share.
That’s the million-dollar question. Luckily, we know more about our behavior than ever. The New York Times/CIG study The Psychology of Sharing reveals some particularly fascinating insights. Although many people believe people mostly share on social media or online for attention, that’s really only one part of it. From attention-seekers to altruistic sharers, there are many types of people who share—and each have their own motivation.
In general, there are five main motivators for online sharing. Many people fall into several of these categories. You’ll probably recognize your own motivations here, too.
1) To bring valuable, enlightening, and entertaining content into the lives of people they care about: They want content that will help them improve in some way or enrich life.
In fact, 94% of study respondents said they consider the value the information will have to the recipient; 90% said they share to help someone have a positive experience or avoid a negative one.
2) To define themselves: They want to share content that reflects who they are, what they’re interested in, or who they aspire to be.
Not everyone is in this camp, but 68% admit they do share to define themselves both to others and to themselves.
3) To grow and nourish their relationships: They want to create stronger bonds and community; 73% of respondents say they share online to help them connect with others who share their interests.
4) Self-fulfillment: They want to feel acknowledged and valuable, so they disseminate valuable information—and want be acknowledged for it. (Interestingly, the study found that people enjoy content more when they share it—and when it is shared with them.)
5) To get the word out about causes they believe in: They share content that empowers themselves or others to affect change.
But what does that mean for your content? The number one rule of content marketing, sales, and life is that you need to know your audience. If you want to guarantee shares (and all the traffic and glory that comes from those shares), you need to know who they are and what their motivations are.
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There’s no reason to go nuts pitching ideas in your creative brainstorm if you don’t have an understanding of the people you’re trying to reach. You want to know as much about them as possible so that you can deliver content of value to them. As such, it’s important to understand their motivations.
Luckily, when it comes to online sharing, most people fall into a particular group. As outlined in the study, there are six personas that behave differently online—and share for very different motivations.
1) Altruists: These are people who want to share valuable content with people they love and care about. For them, sharing is a demonstration of that affection. These are also people who feel strongly about the causes and brands they believe in. They’re not necessarily about attention, but they do like to know that what they share is received and appreciated.
2) Careerists: These are people who are all about personal and professional networking. They like to share content that brings people together. (This also gets them a reputation for doing so.) Because these people are all about engaging and connecting, they both share and engage with things that are shared.
3) Hipsters: For this group, sharing is all about their connection through identity. They might share stuff that starts a conversation or controversy—and they love to be the first to share to establish their identity. They actually seek stuff to share to expand that identity.
4) Boomerangs: This crew is all about the likes. They share to get a reaction, whether comments or likes, mostly for validation (even if it’s a negative response). They’re also big on being first to share.
5) Connectors: These people cultivate community through sharing—especially through entertaining content. They share anything that brings people together or creates experiences, like coupons, deals, or events.
6) Selectives: This is the most reticent group. They share things only if they think it’s relevant to someone—and if they think that person hasn’t already found it. Accordingly, they expect a reaction and appreciation from the person they shared it with.
Your job is not to tell the story you want to tell. (When brands do this, they usually alienate people with overly sales-y creative content.) Your job is to come up with ideas that actually help or interest your audience. This is what triggers their motivations for sharing.
But it actually goes a step further. Ultimately, the biggest motivation to share something comes down to both who your audience is and how they relate to the people around them. This means that if you want to build your relationship with your audience, consider how they function in their own relationships. How do they relate to others, and how might your brand or story might fit into that narrative? Any time you have a creative content idea, make sure to vet it through this framework. Ask yourself:
- Who is your audience? What do they value? What do they do? What do they aspire to be or appear to be?
- Where do they live online? Instagram? Facebook? LinkedIn? How does your audience use these platforms to connect with others?
- What would the benefit be of sharing your creative content? Does it make them look smart, intelligent, helpful, or in the know?
- How does your product or service fit into their lives or relationships? Does it solve a problem? Enhance an experience? Help them save money or time?
The answers to these questions can guide your ideation and get you closer to that holy grail: great content that everyone can’t wait to share. If you’re not sure what the answers are, it’s time to start talking, emailing, and chatting with the people you’re trying to reach. Remember: The more you know about them, the better content you’ll create for them.