The One Thing That Really Matters for Sharing

If you’re a reader of this blog, you’re likely aware of the empathy challenge that has been given recently to all Automattic designers.

Pick a colleague’s post, and explain why you chose that one. Outline a plan for the post to get 1,000+ views. Imagine that you have a US $20 budget to work with. Spend no more than 2 hours on this task — tops.

With the limited time and budget available, my choice to go for was the most obvious one, social media. However, the cold truth about content sharing marketing is that you will most likely fail to achieve the goal unless your network is large and filled with the right target audience. Unfortunately, I fall into this category — I haven’t been very active lately in social media. Yes, you’re probably right — it’s probably a bad plan. But hey, that could be the situation where our customers who started to blog about their new passions or whatever, right? They might have jobs, they might have little kids, parents, or pets to look after. When life is busy, you’ve got to use all that you have in your hands, even that’s not a large number of people to start with. If the number isn’t on your side, you could at least try to make as many people as possible to share your content. So, now the question is what makes people share stuff online?

Soon after the two-hour limit of research had started, I stumbled upon an interesting research conducted by The New York Times Customer Insight Group, “The Psychology of Sharing: Why Do People Share Online?”. You can read the PDF for more details, but they identified in the research consumer’s 5 primary motivations for sharing content online as the following:

  • To bring valuable, enlightening and entertaining content into the lives of people they care about
  • To define themselves
  • To grow and nourish their relationships
  • To get the word out about causes they believe in
  • Self-fulfillment

The research also points out:

In all, these five motivations for sharing come down to the relationships consumers have with one another. Even more self-directed motivations, such as self-fulfillment and identity, are ultimately defined in relationship to others.

This is key, in my opinion.

When it comes to content-sharing strategies, it is important to take into account readers’ relationships with one another, not just with you. Obviously, the content has to be good, but if you share it with a simple, straightforward message that appeals to the readers’ motivations to share with each other, there might be a good chance of success. But you can’t trick them because trust is fundamental to any relationships, and it takes time to earn. This could be the hardest part of this strategy for people like me who haven’t been very active in social media or who just started to use it. Speaking of trust, another thing the research pointed out is that email is still the primary platform for sharing content, despite all the popularity of social media. One of the reasons is that email is perceived as the most private and secure way of sharing content online — also, not everyone actively uses social media 🙂 This helps understand why collecting email addresses on websites to send newsletters is hugely popular for site owners.

Anyway, with that in mind, if I was picking a colleague’s post to share it would probably be this Gareth’s post:

A Designer’s (mini) Guide to Basic Developing by Gareth Allison

In my early days as a designer, I found this kind of article about tools and setups from other designers useful and helpful, and I still do. Especially, when I read articles that showed me something new and cool, there was no hesitation to share it with my fellow designers. I’ve often felt I wanted to be the first amongst my friends. Looking back, the rush was likely a combination of the 5 motivations. A piece like this is the kind of article that appeals to readers’ motivations for sharing.

My two-hours limit was up at this point, and I had no idea what $20 can do to drive traffic. My guess is not much. I would probably just use it to buy beer for friends 🙂

By Takashi Irie


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