The Psychology of Social Sharing

Contentworks Agency
5 min readOct 24, 2018

Why do people share content on social media? Why and how does some content go viral? What makes a post drum up a million likes in a matter of hours? The psychology of social sharing is one of those mind-blowing topics which can really get your head spinning.

While there are many potential answers to these questions, the famous Hierarchy of Needs proposed by Abraham Maslow seems to address some important issues stating that human behavior is guided by 5 basic needs. If marketers are able to understand what leads to the fulfillment of these needs, they will be able to create content that will strike a chord with the audience. This is the content that people will eventually share on social media.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow created a pyramid that depicted a hierarchy. This hierarchy defines the most fundamental form of human behaviour. Starting at the base of the pyramid, we have Physiological Needs, which Maslow stated were the most basic human needs of all. Without these needs being fulfilled, we cannot move forward to achieving anything else in life, especially the top-most need of Self Actualisation.

1. Physiological Needs

The most basic needs of humankind include food, clothing, shelter and sleep, all of which slot into the ‘Physiological’ category at the bottom of the pyramid. A product or service that fulfills such basic needs is likely to get shared online. For example, if Sarah sees a restaurant promoting delicious food, her senses will most probably be stimulated prompting her to share the link with fellow foodies. Indeed, 49% of people say that sharing allows them to inform others about a particular product or service, which could be beneficial to friends and family.

2. Safety

One of Maslow’s basic human needs that should be carefully considered throughout life is safety. Interestingly, content related to health, employment, physical safety and such like is shared regularly on social sites. In fact, those from the Generation X category who precede Millennials and are aged between 39 and 53, often share topics on healthy living between 8pm and 12 midnight says an infographic on Smarp.

Facebook effectively leverages this through its feature, “Safety Check,” which is used by people to mark themselves safe during periods of natural and manmade disasters. This update is then shared on their timelines for friends to see and comment on.

Source: Why and What People Share on Social Media — Infographic (

3. Love/Belongingness

Humans need to feel a sense of belongingness and acceptance and this explains why people share images and write statuses in order to get ‘likes’. The higher number of likes people get, the more valued, worthwhile and accepted they feel. Sadly this also has a downside as if a post flops then it can spark negative feelings.

Of course, marketers can use this strong need to be loved and accepted to their advantage by responding to consumers and making them feel important. A simple re-tweet or announcement such as ‘XXX has won our recent competition’ can also increase engagement with consumers longing to be mentioned on the social channels of their favourite brands.

4. Esteem

The desire to be recognised and rewarded for achievements is a primal instinct for humans. Marketers tend to tap into this emotion through social media sharing campaigns. Research reveals that more than 50% tweets on Twitter are “me” focused. People love to talk about themselves. The reward-seeking part of our brain gets activated when we share our feelings and experiences on social media. Why else do we see so many vacation photos on different platforms? Why such detailed depiction of marriages and relationships?

5. Self-Actualisation

At the top comes the desire of humans to reach their full potential. This could mean acing a particular sport or perfecting a difficult craft. It could also mean passing an exam. Of the topmost 10,000 most shared articles on the web, mapped into a particular emotion, it was found that 25% of articles were shared to inspire awe, laughter and amusement, which together took up a good 32% of the pie. This is a part of self-fulfillment. We often share results of our quizzes taken online to boost our ego.

Preparing Content for Sharing on Social Media

Now that you have a fair idea about what emotions can trigger people to share things, it is time to look at what kind of content they actually share the most. Remember, different platforms call for different types of content. We share our lives and picture-perfect relationships on Facebook. On Twitter and LinkedIn, we want to appear as domain experts or thought leaders, re-tweeting important news, articles and valuable information. On platforms like Pinterest, we are able to share our inspirations and desires.

Content with Visual Impact

Pictures, slideshows, incredible images always have takers. This is because images evoke a variety of emotions in different people. Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have huge numbers of monthly online users. Probably, the most popular among them are infographics, with 30% of marketers using infographics more than any other type of visual content and 42% reporting them as content with the highest engagement metrics.

People also love seeing videos, custom graphics and charts. They are more entertaining than text and much more shareable.

Content That Stands Out

In this age of social media, where people are adding content at lightning speeds on different platforms (there are 54,000 shared links every 60 seconds on Facebook), standing out of the crowd is important. For starters, an attractive headline, which is share-worthy, can make content successful ensuring it won’t be missed. Your headline should evoke curiosity and interest.

It is important to bring value to readers with each piece of content you create. Including advice and useful information will help set you apart from the competition and make you a go-to resource in your sector. Don’t forget to add social sharing buttons at the top and bottom of articles. Your buttons could even follow the readers as they scroll.

Content Just Asking to Be Shared

Include a call to action (CTA) at the end of your content, asking readers to share and comment on your posts. This is the best way to invite engagement from the reader. For instance, the phrase “Please Re-Tweet” gets 4X more attention than just “Please RT” or nothing at all. So, CTAs do actually work.

If you want shareable content for your brand, ask our team at Contentworks for a free content audit.



Contentworks Agency

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