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The psychology of online sharing

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What prompts us to share on social media and why do we share the things we do? Science has started to figure this out.

Why we share

We all do it… A lot! Possibly because of it’s ease, sharing on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram has become a commonplace habit.

One of the key factors for sharing something online is having an emotional connection. Research says that experiencing a surge of emotion – positive or negative – makes us more prone to share news, stories, images or videos online, which in turn let’s others know about our feelings.

Whilst some have a tendency to overshare , for most people, sharing online is an important representation of who they are.

Six reasons for sharing

According to researchers who have tried to identify motivations of social media users, people could share an article or video for a variety of reasons:

1) Fun and entertainment:

Nearly half of all users (49%) say that they share things that they found interesting; or that they think their friends will like. They use sharing on social media as a way to connect with others by offering interesting tidbits for their friends and family.

2) Self presentation:

For a majority (68%), sharing on social media has become an effective way to tell people about who they are.  Sharing only material that is in line with personal views is a (mostly) non-confrontational way to let people know what our interests are, how we think about different issues, and what our opinions are.

3) Developing relationships: 

Nearly 80% of social media users use these platforms as a way to stay in touch with friends and family. Gone are the days when moving cities or making life changes meant that you lost touch with old friends. For those who want to (and most do want to), social media lets people maintain relationships by sharing material with people we don’t meet that often.

4) Personal satisfaction:

When we have an opinion, what can we do with it?. Many (69%) now use social media as a platform to share these opinions – whether they be about politics, social issues, or products used – with others. This often connects us to like-minded people; and interacting with them makes us feel better.

5) Demonstrating support: 

When tragedies occur, like the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, people can often feel helpless and confused. One of the ways that people respond to these types of events is via social media. Changing your profile picture or posting messages of solidarity is a way for people to express their support for friends and wider, global issues. Sometimes dubbed slacktivism, this type of support however, has its critics.

6) A memory aid:

An interesting side effect of sharing something, is that we tend to remember it better than material we read / hear but do not share. It’s likely that this happens because we pay more attention to the material we plan to share; or because the act of sharing creates a more detailed memory.

What’s your sharing personality?

Different personality types share for different reasons. Research shows that extroverts, for instance use social media to supplement their existing social networks. Introverts on the other hand use it to compensate for their difficulties in interacting with a lot of people.

With the rise of social media, a new set of personality characteristics – specific to how people use different social media platforms – have emerged. According to one study most people who share on social media fall into one of six categories based on what material they choose to share and how they go about doing it.

  • The Hipster shares material to cultivate discussion and debate, and likes to be ahead of the new topics as they come.
  • The Altruist tends to share because they want to help people stay informed about the new opportunities and ideas.
  • The Selective will share posts directly with someone who they think can profit from receiving them; and likes to receive appreciation for doing so.
  • The Careerist uses online material to build professional contacts and engages meaningfully in incoming as well as outgoing material.
  • The Connector uses social media to build and fortify relationships that they have in the physical world and tend to share more heartwarming and meaningful material.
  • Finally, the Boomerang likes to share posts that will spark a controversy or start a debate since they enjoy the attention this creates.



In an incredibly short timespan, social media has become an integral part of modern life. So it’s probably a good idea to examine our own motivations for engaging in this brave new digital world.

Is it just a bit of fun, or do our social profiles reflect an idealised image of ourselves? And what about privacy? Should we be concerned about how and where our data is stored and used,  or is the sharing culture the new norm?

Only time will provide the answers to these questions. In the meantime, feel free to share this article with all your friends, family and colleagues!