I always call this the age of technology, but truly it’s more like the age of information. We go about our days revolving around it. We create information to share with others, we take in information shared by others. We read, post, and watch daily. More sources, to more people, more often and quickly.
Just consider your possible morning routine: you probably wake up, check your notifications, then get ready for the day. Over breakfast, you probably check your feeds, or post something. And right before you start off work, you check it one last time before lunch, during which you’ll check it again. You know that.
But have you ever thought why? Why do we feel the need to post our meals, our friends and partners, our pets? Why do we insist on someone taking a picture of us in front of an interesting background?
As it turns out, there’s five key reasons, as found by a New York Times study: for self-fulfillment, to bring awareness to causes or brands, to grow and nourish relationships, to define ourselves and others, and finally, to entertain others while also providing something of value.
Self-Fulfillment, The Great Motivator
According to 69% of the survey-takers, sharing content online makes them feel valuable, and like they’re more involved with the world. More than just a few platforms, or “stages” to perform on, they see social media as a way to reassure themselves.
Think of it in terms of a very lonely person. Let’s call him Bill. Bill was born and raised in L.A. and never left. Why would he? He knows where the best food trucks part, he knows all the hot spots, he’s where many people would want to live, and there’s plenty of opportunity all around him. If he can’t make it in Los Angeles, then he can’t make it anywhere…
Well, Bill’s friends have all moved away. Growing up, anyone he once hung out with is long gone. All he has is family, but they’re already planning their retirement down south. What’s Bill to do? He doesn’t want to move, but he does feel like he struggles with self-esteem. He has no one around him, he feels disconnected despite being in one of the most entertaining areas in the States, and he has never really seen much outside of sunny California, so he’s filled with doubt.
That’s right, Bill turns to social media for validation. Online, he can be anything he wants to be. When he misses a casting call, when he doesn’t get a callback, he has Instagram to model for. When his family and friends aren’t there to pick up the phone, he has his followers to talk to. They don’t care if he’s never really seen much outside of California. That’s his whole persona online, the Cali guy with the dark sunglasses, and style of the ages. Yes, online he’s everything he always wanted to be.
Now, there’s six types of personas, according to the New York Times study: altruists, hipsters, careerists, boomerangs, connectors and selectives. We’ll touch base on each one in this guide. For now, let it be known that most people who post for self-fulfillment tend to fall in the hipster and boomerang categories.
Hipsters are the creative, young, popular types with an obsession for all things Snapchat and Instagram. They are likely Millennials, or Gen Z, and spend more time checking their feeds than their email.
Meanwhile, Boomerangs feel empowered when people react to their posts. They love Facebook and Twitter more than anything, because it allows them to start the conversation on some pretty high profile topics. The more they stir the pot, if you will, the more validated they feel.
Remember, self-fulfillment is all about feeling reassured. It’s about getting some sort of calming feeling that says “you are enough, people love you.” It makes them feel like they are always within seconds of a meaningful conversation. Someone is always ready to listen and talk. So, anything that allows one to creatively cause people to engage is key here.
Brand & Cause Awareness
A whopping 84% of survey-takers said sharing content online gives them a way to support causes or issues that they care about.
They lump brands in there as well, being able to share them with others as a way to get their opinions, interests, beliefs and hobbies out there, center stage.
We all have at least one friend like this, surely. You know, the one who’s always getting people to sign petitions to save wildlife, or to fight global warming, for instance. They often share special codes for brands that raise awareness, or that say something meaningful, such as graphic t-shirts and thought-provoking tote bags. For Christmas, they often ask people to donate to causes in their name, rather than give them any material goods.
These people thrive on being able to make a difference, however small it may be. And they are very vocal about what they believe in. Even their hobbies have a lot to do with their identities of caring game-changers. Just check their Netflix queue and you’ll find documentaries and moving movies that focus on social causes.
Most of the people who post for the sake of brand and cause awareness tend to be altruists, which are described as helpful, reliable, and thoughtful people. They are well-informed, since most of their interests revolve around whatever it is they actively post about. That being said, altruists tend to prefer email over any other form of content sharing.
Some of these people tend to be described as selectives as well, meaning that they only share their content with those who deem it relevant. They see no point in sharing it with people who will essentially do nothing with the information given, hence, they don’t care about attention from millions of followers.
Growing & Nourishing Relationships
78% of survey-takers said they share information online because it helps them stay in touch with people that they would otherwise not really stay in touch with as easily, if at all. This is something we can all relate to in one way or another, right?
Think of Cindy from that one art shop class you took way back in 2015. Or the high school friend you sat in the back of class with, disrupting the lectures, and getting in as much trouble as possible. You’d likely never stay in touch, because, well, you weren’t that great of friends to begin with. It wasn’t lifelong, life-altering, or deeply meaningful by any means.
It was circumstance that brought you together, like all the friends you made in college classes. Chances are you stopped hanging out with them as soon as the semesters ended. Each new wave of classes gave way to new groups of friends, but somehow, none of you really talk.
That’s okay, don’t feel bad, it’s just life. People have a lot to balance in a day, with work, education, errand runs, to-do lists, meetings, dating, etc. Time to connect with friends is limited, and mainly reserved for established, lifelong friendships.
Technically speaking, everyone falls into this category in one way or another. Even if you’re the world’s most private person, who doesn’t want anyone from high school following them, you’re likely still connected to at least one person you wouldn’t otherwise speak to.
But for the sake of study personas, most of the people who post in the name of growing and nourishing relationships are connectors. They are the creative, relaxed, and thoughtful types. You’ll likely find them initiating plans, and sharing on Facebook. They’re also fond of email.
Defining Ourselves & Others
68% of people said they share content online to give the world a better sense of who they are, and what they’re all about. They see social media as a stage where they can showcase their outfits, the brands they love, the products they swear by, the music they love, etc. Anything that resonates with who they are as people, it’s all there on their feed.
Now there’s three main reasons why anyone would do this:
To find others who relate to them.
To feel good about themselves.
And to figure out what they’re all about (self-discovery).
Those posting content to feel good about themselves fall in the self-fulfillment category, previously mentioned. But the other two are very much all about reflecting themselves as accurately as possible in the name of making new friends and self-discovery.
You see, human nature has told us since the beginning that relating to others is the key to survival. It’s why we make friends, why we stay in touch with family, and why we long for love. The more we connect with others, the better our chances are of leading long, fulfilling lives. So, by posting pictures of your shoes and handbags, you’re not really showing off as much as you are searching for people who also love that aesthetic.
People who fall in this category are running accounts filled with selfies, outfit details, hobby action shots, and endorsements for brands that they love. These accounts will often have a look and feel that they adhere to, so all the content is relevant and niche, drawing in one type of audience.
It goes without saying that most of the people posting in the name of self-definitions are hipsters. They’re young, creative, and bold. They have strong identities that they love reflecting online, which means they’re more likely to use Instagram and Snapchat. Millennials, and Gen Z are most likely in this category.
49% of people said they share content online in order to enrich the lives of those around them. All of them seek to share the products they swear by, or anything that will potentially change opinions, or even encourage action. 94% of all survey-takers, however, claimed they carefully consider how the information will be useful to the recipient.
These are the people who share things that are both engaging, yet informative. So, maybe it’s that guy you are friends with on LinkedIn who actively posts articles about the changing landscape in the tech industry. He wants people to know the details of the ever-changing dynamics and developments in that niche, which makes sense: he works in tech, and therefore networks with other people in the same line of work.
He knows that people who read it will likely learn something they can then use at work, or even to climb the career ladder. He knows this type of information sharing will encourage some type of action, or even change someone’s opinion. At the very least, it will get the conversation flowing, which is beneficial for anyone browsing their feed.
People who post in the name of valuable entertainment are typically careerists. They are highly intelligent, skilled networkers, and avid lovers of research studies and articles. They share their findings on LinkedIn, which makes sense: their audience there would be like-minded professionals.
Leverage This Information
Now that you’ve gotten all the information necessary to understand why content gets shared, and by whom, it’s time to use it to better plan our content creation strategy.
But unless you’re creating absolutely stellar content, everything you share will be just okay. It will be liked by a few, shared by some more, but then reach the end of its lifespan, which means you’ll get a little sad when you check out your Google Analytics and social media hubs later. That’s the way it goes.
So, what makes up high-quality content that gets shared over and over again, anyway? That’s the whole reason you’re reading, so let’s get to it.
Lesson #1: Encourage Engagement… Not Just With Your Brand
That’s right, you read that correctly. What have we learned?
That people love to feel validated, and thoroughly seek to find people who are like-minded enough to get value out of what they choose to share. People like to connect with others, including those they otherwise wouldn’t be able to keep in touch with outside of social media. And they really get a kick out of sharing things that promote the opinions, beliefs, and causes they stand firm on.
Put it all together and we get a solid message: people love sharing things with others. They love connecting with people, not just your brand, or brands in general. But real people connecting to other individual people.
That means your content should be…
Testing different formats/formulas to eliminate monotony (think beyond the blog post, think graphics, photography, video content, quizzes, etc.)
Stirring up emotions and opinions, leading to further conversations, especially in the comments section (tackling deeper topics in a light-hearted way, hence encouraging people to share their thoughts on the matter in a conversational manner).
Always labeled with both a compelling title, and a subtitle (of sorts) that helps further champion the content. Think “Take this quiz to find out.”
Paired with well-designed, on brand landing pages that further entice them to complete an action of some kind (usually small).
If your content isn’t encouraging human interaction in general, you may need to rethink your content strategy, because you’re missing the mark.
Lesson #2: Establish Trust
You establish trust in all areas of life. You do it with romance, friendship, family ties. You do it when you’re job hunting… What do you think an interview is really about?
So, it makes sense that you should establish trust with your audience as well. After all, they’re giving you their follows, their likes and comments. The least you can do is make your content informative, validated by trusted sources, and enticing from the start. The more you tick those boxes, the more likely you are to build trust and get shared.
Try the following tips to get started:
Create content in partnership with people who are already well-trusted by your audience. That means creating content with someone who is catering to the same people you are. Sounds strange, right? That’s your competition. Well, not exactly. Competition is always going to be fierce regardless of who you choose or don’t choose to collaborate with. The least you can do is make some friends in your niche so that you establish yourself as a community leader along with them.
Always create content that resonates with your humanity. That means sharing your accomplishments, mistakes, and lessons learned. Something they can relate to and learn from. Remember, this is personal branding 101.
Always engage with others. Comment on people’s posts, like their content back, and always hit that reply button when someone leaves a comment on your posts. This lets them know you know that they exist, and that you’re open to mutual follows, likes, and shares. It’s like being friendly in person, if you remember those days: to make a friend, you have to be a friend.
Use chatbots as a way of informing customers of business hours and other basic information at all hours of the day or night, even when you’re not available. These have become important tools in establishing trust, since customers tend to feel like there’s always someone out there ready to help them out. Some chatbots even help people out with basic tasks, and forward a ticket to you if there’s a bigger issue that it can’t resolve without you.
Lesson #3: Free Content Or Bust
Remember, people love sharing content that they deem valuable to their audience. And they love content that best connects with who they are as people. Relatable, valuable, highly-shareable content that will help them help their followers. That means that if you’re looking to really drum up the shares, you need to create some free content, that is to say, anything that isn’t gated by a form fill out, a sign up, membership, payment, or even email subscription.
It may seem counterproductive, giving away value, especially considering all of the effort, time, and dedication spent on creating it to begin with. And if you outsource it to a freelancer, even more so, because you’re paying for that content creation.
But by sharing something that isn’t gated at all, you’re giving people samples of what you have to offer. You’re the sample handout guy at your local Costco. Give them something tantalizing enough, and they’ll rush to the aisle to pick up a box of your crackers.
Only in this case, they’ll be rushing to the gated content on your website, and clamoring over your workshops, courses, ebooks, product lines, services, etc.
Plus, no one said you can’t be creative about how you go about it. Say you post an in-depth case study for free, or a well-researched article. It’s free and available for anyone to read whenever they want, wherever they want…
Well, why not add downloadable checklists to the bottom of the post? Why not give them templates they can use to do something valuable with? If your post is about closet organization, and you happen to sell closet systems, then you can offer templates to help people design their closet, measure out their available space, and then select from your product lines.
Here are some freebies (lead magnets) that are sure to cause a stir:
Lesson #4: Simply Valuable
Remember some of your old college textbooks and how they flowered up their language to come across all fancy and intellectual? Maybe you’ve stumbled on a few articles written in this manner, or even read some nonfiction books that left you scratching your head.
Well, that’s the mark of a rather poor writer. Sure, the use of language is beautifully done, and it certainly has its merits, but… it has no place in content creation. It will not help your business grow, and it certainly won’t do anything for your conversion rate. In fact, there’s no ad campaign out there, on Facebook or otherwise, that could salvage this type of content.
Because people are running around with 30 things on the mind at all times. They’re buying groceries, they’re heading home after a long day at work, they’re taking care of errands and making sure the dog has been walked. They don’t have time to appreciate, let alone try to wrap their heads around overly complicated language.
People want to read things that are written in a simple manner, so they can understand it without putting forth any effort. That’s the content they’re going to engage with, and certainly the content they will be sharing with others.
Lesson #5: Let Your Funny Side Show
Think about how you feel when you’re browsing social media. Maybe you’re bored, and need something to do while you wait in line for the register. Or maybe you’re at home and you’re waiting for your cookies to come out of the oven, so you have a few minutes to spare.
Or just because you want to see what other people are up to, really. Because staying in the loop of things is importantly in society. It’s how we ensure we can continue to connect with others.
Whatever the case, you’re likely using social media as a form of entertainment most of the time. Something to do while you wait on something else.
Well, studies show that our emotional states at the time dictate the kind of content that we share. And most of the shared content falls in the funny category. That means you’re much more likely to post a hilarious meme, over a sad picture taken out of a tragic news clip.
For instance, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know all about the Wendy’s Twitter account. Whoever runs it is so amazingly funny, yet on brand, that their follower count, retweets, likes and comments have skyrocketed and left other fast food accounts in the dust. Every tweet is a goldmine of roasts, jokes, and onbrand commentary that sets them center stage. More than a fast food joint, Wendy’s is now a Twitter entity.
Just adhere to the main funnyman rule: stay consistent. If you’re going to be funny, keep it funny all the time. Be funny over the phone, be funny in your blog posts, be funny over email. Don’t confuse people with different tones throughout all of your channels. If you have trouble adhering to this rule, consider hiring a consultant to set you on the straight path to success.
Lesson #6: Make It Urgent
You know the drill: “Sign up now before the deal runs out! There are only 10 spots left in this life-changing webinar you won’t want to miss!”
Not only does it give people the shove they need to move forward, it also instills in them a major case of FOMO, which everyone dreads.
Some tactics you can use are…
Emphasizing how scarce it is.
Adding a deadline (sign ups close at a specific time and date).
Using eye-catching mechanisms, such as colors and graphics, to draw attention.
Just a word of caution, however: in my recent social media browsing, I’ve come across many a comment pointing out business’s use of this tactic. They are often either on the fence on its use, or just plain against it. Whatever their opinion may be, however, there always tends to be quite a few replies chiming in, all pointing out the fact that this is an old business practice that will eventually be put to rest because no one believes it anymore. No one really believes that your webinar has a deadline, and no one is buying the “limited availability” of your product.
For this reason, although this business practice is still very much in use, successfully to a degree, it certainly is not something to heavily rely on anymore. To establish trust with your audience, which as previously mentioned, is critical to a successful digital marketing campaign, you should mean what you say. So if you claim something is limited, make it limited. If your course has a deadline, set that deadline like your life depends on it.
There’s obviously a lot that goes into content marketing. It’s much more than mindlessly creating blog posts, or outsourcing graphic design work, or even hiring a consultant to plan out your business plan for success. No, it’s all about creating content that people actually want to engage with and share with their audience.
It’s not something that happens overnight.
First, you have to understand your audience, so you know what they’re all about, and what they require from you. Keeping things relatable helps you establish trust, set the tone for your business, and connect with the right audience.
Then you need to make sure you give them what they need on the platforms that make sense. Video and photo content on Instagram. Sassy commentary and links on Twitter. Don’t worry, the right audience will already be hanging out on their favorite platforms anyway. All you need to do is be logical about what you post where.
Finally, you need to create content that is highly valuable, oftentimes free, and certainly entertaining. It’s not enough to be on brand. It’s not enough to be informative. You have to find a way to inject personality, humor, and humanity into your posts, regardless of the content type or platform.
Because as it turns out, people don’t just share anything anymore. The era of mindlessly sharing and posting things because they were available is over. In this day and age of information, we strive to find the best of the best. We only share the things we deem valuable enough to share with others. And we use information as a way to connect with others, to establish friendships, find common ground, and even define ourselves in the eyes of the masses.
If you’re looking to make a mark, and set the tone for your business, so you can really stand out from the competition, you’ll need to follow some guidelines. But lucky for you, there’s plenty of time to chip away at this goal. Don’t expect results overnight, don’t even keep tabs of the months. Focus on what you need to do, and you’ll eventually find yourself at the head of some pretty successful social media accounts.
So, which part of the New York Times study most shocked you, and why?
Remember to let me know in the comments section below! I love hearing everyone’s thoughts and experiences on these subjects.