What Motivates People to Share Online?
► Monthly active users of Facebook has crossed 1 billion.
► Everyday, 340 million tweets are posted on Twitter.
► In less than two years, Pinterest has registered 25 million members.”Getting a takeout from KFC.”
“Hey, check out this funny video of Old Spice commercial.”
“The government should take concrete steps on gun-control. What do you guys think?”
Why do all of us fervently share even the minutest details of our daily activities? If we like a video, we want to make sure that our friends have a look at it too. If there is a funny commercial that is making the rounds on the Internet, we bring it to the attention of our social media circle. Sharing information online has become a routine for many of us, but have you ever given a thought as to why we indulge in this activity. Do people really share because they care, or are there some other ‘not-so-obvious’ reasons for our online activity. Eminent psychologists, social media marketers, and self-proclaimed ‘online experts’, all have something to say on why we share information online, but the most authoritative and comprehensive findings have been made by The New York Times Customer Insight Group, in collaboration with Latitude Research. In the following paragraphs, we will try to elucidate the findings of the study, and gauge the motivations behind sharing information online.
Note: Names used in the examples below are fictitious, and only for representative purposes.
Positive Motivations for Sharing Online
To bring valuable and entertaining content to others
One of the motivations for people to share information is to reach out to others with entertaining or valuable information. Often, we verbally share information with our friends in office or at home. Our intention behind sharing information is to educate, entertain, or pleasantly surprise our friends. This is true while sharing information online as well. If you look at the Facebook wall posts of your friends, you will realize that most of their status updates are usually famous quotes, entertaining videos, inspirational images, funny jokes, etc. As the New York Times study found out, 94% of the respondents said they put in a lot of thought on how the content they are sharing will be beneficial for others.
To define and present ourselves to the world
A lot of people share information online to portray their true self to the outside world. The information that they share reflects on the type of personality they are, and the things they care about. Also, many people who are not comfortable talking about their areas of interest in the presence of others, find it convenient to share that information online with like-minded individuals. According to the New York Times study, 68% of the respondents said that they shared to make people know more about them and the things they are concerned about.
To build and foster better relationships with others
A whopping 78% of the respondents in the New York Times study said they shared information online because it helps them foster better relationships. Today, a lot of people do not have the time to meet each other in person, and to fill that void, the Internet has emerged as a great substitute. A lot of people now ‘meet’ each other online, rather than in conventional places like restaurants and pubs.
To actively engage with the vast online community
When we share our thoughts online, we are actively engaging with the vast community of people who are a part of the World Wide Web. Sharing information that we think will make a difference to the viewpoint of others, or add to their perception about things, is one of the prime motives why people engage in online sharing. Also, the fact that we are appreciated for our efforts gives us a boost to share online frequently. In the New York Times study, 69% of the respondents said that they shared because it made them feel that they were more involved with the world.
To lend support to causes/brands
When people feel strongly about a cause or a brand, they are most likely to express it to the outside world. The Internet is a great medium to share information quickly and get the word out, and this is one of the primary reasons why people use it to spread information about certain causes and brands. 84% of the respondents said that they shared to lend their support to causes that they care about.
Negative Motivations for Sharing Online
Radicalization: While there are numerous advantages of the Internet and social media, it has been put to some abuse as well. There are a number of people out there who share content with an intent to radicalize young people. As terrorism today is not confined to a particular country or region, the Internet is being used to share fundamentalist ideology around the world. Over the years, considerable evidence has been found about terrorists sharing gruesome videos and images to intimidate people and glorify their acts.
Defamation: A minority of people share objectionable content to malign a person. Their intention behind sharing such information online is not to engage in any constructive work, but to carry out their personal grudges against another person. Although there is only a minuscule percentage of people who share information with negative intent, this fact cannot be overlooked while analyzing the broader picture of understanding the reasons behind sharing content online.
Proving Superiority/Wealthiness: While sharing your success with your friends is a good idea, some people go overboard and share things merely to make their friends and relatives envious. They subject their friends to a constant stream of videos and images of them enjoying a vacation, or posing cheekily with their limousine. They might get a boost by engaging in sharing their ‘achievements’ online, but according to a study conducted by Institute of Information Systems at Berlin’s Humboldt University, such content makes other dissatisfied, and triggers feelings of misery and loneliness.
Proving Intellectualism (pseudo!): A lot of people share information online because they want to be the first ones to know about something. Social media becomes a tool for them to show that they have knowledge about everything under the sun. They perceive, that by doing so, people will think highly about them, and give them more respect.
This was some information on the motivations for people to share content online. As we can see, majority of users make good use of the Internet to engage with people, and derive a sense of fulfillment. Sharing allows them to communicate effectively with the outside world, and helps them in shaping the opinion of others on issues they are concerned about. On the other hand, a few people share content online to spread hate and vitriol, but their actions should not be allowed to bring a bad name to the excellent platform that the Internet provides to all of us.