Why do ReTweet on Twitter, Share things on Facebook and Repin things on Pinterest? Why is it when we watch a YouTube video we feel the need to post it to our friends on our social networks? Why do we tag each other in posts we feel the other person may be interested in?
This idea of sharing isn’t unique to social media. It’s a deep routed human behaviour. Sharing helps us maintain relationships, and provide to those who need it. The sharing of information can help us educate and inform those around us. It’s only natural that this behaviour transfers and is one the key aspects within the worlds of digital and social.
I think it’s significant to point out that our relationships play a huge part on what we share and where we share it. What someone shares on one social platform may by different to the content they share on another. For example, my friends on Facebook are different to the ones I have on Twitter, which in itself is no surprise. Facebook is better for ‘older connections’ like school/uni friends, and family. Whereas Twitter lends more to specific interests and networking within similar circles. So the content I post on Twitter is, generally speaking, more suited to my social media/political/newsy followers, rather than my friends on Facebook who aren’t particularly interested in that sort of stuff.
Our relationships on social media can be thought of as ‘ties’. Mark Granovetter’s 1973 paper titled ‘The strength of Weak Ties‘ argues that the more weak ties we have – and by this he means friends of friends, acquaintances ect. – the more open we are to differing points of views and opinions. The closer the ties – family, friends and close work colleges – the less exposed we are to different types of information. Although Granovetter wrote this in 1973, his theory resonates and reflects our social and digital lives today. We have a tendency to surround ourselves with people who share the same points of view as ourselves and so we are less likely to be exposed to differing opinions or unfamiliar pieces of information.
Weak ties can allow us to find new information, and perhaps opportunities we would not have otherwise been exposed to. But our closer ties are more likely to share similar interests and therefore, any content that is shared is likely to be happily received. We are more likely to share with these people. From the perspective of brands or political parties, it’s sometimes necessary to reach all different sorts of people, for example, people that wouldn’t usually vote for you or perhaps consider buying your product. In this instance, weak ties are more valuable than close ties.
The next point is the actual content we’re sharing; the stuff we post. It’s been established we like to share – we’re a sharing bunch. But what are we actually sharing?
List creating, GIF-making site BuzzFeed has continued to grow in size at an astounding rate. BuzzFeed creates content which has a tendency to evoke an emotional response. Cats for example, are cute and generally speaking, who doesn’t like a video of a cat hugging another cat? This is because it causes us to elicit an emotion; it’s cute, it makes us feel happy and fuzzy inside. And being the caring, sharing people that we are, we want to pass this feeling on to our nearest and dearest.
It’s not just cats that cause us to experience that sharing feeling though. Emotions in general make people want to Share, Repost and ReTweet. Nostalgia, humour and agreement with a cause, can all be reasons to share content. As can anger, or sadness. Negative emotions such as disagreement tend to have to be stronger than positive emotions for someone to act and share that particular content. People are also more likely to share content which says something about themselves as a person. Perhaps a news article about the polar icecaps melting confirms you’re a caring, environment loving, intellectual and you would quite like your friends and acquaintances to also view you in this way. We don’t consciously think this, but our sharing of such information helps build our online persona. We share because it helps us to feel connected with the world around us, and it’s one of the reason I’m so passionate and interested about the continuing developments within social media.
And here’s a pleasing infographic for your enjoyment