Why We Share: The Science And Art Of Social Sharing

On an average, 500 million tweets are sent out every day, 30 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every month and Instagram users upload close to 40 million photos every day which garner 8500 likes and 1000 comments, per second.

So, by the time you finished reading that sentence, around 1,80,000 tweets have been sent out and around 13,860 images of pouting selfies, cuddly cats and gastronomical delights have gathered roughly 30,000 comments on Instagram.

Phew. Let’s take a minute to soak in those numbers.


The trinity of social media- Facebook, Twitter and Instagram take up most of my time. As I scroll through an endlessly generated feed of stories, pictures and updates I am urged, almost moved to ‘like, share and comment.’ And even before I know it, my fingers have given the virtual nod to a bunch of posts, I’ve been enraged by an crime that occurred half way across the globe and shared it with my network, and I’ve given my opinion on an article that caught my attention.

It’s safe to say that there is a LOT going on, on the internet. We live in an age that believes and extols the ‘Share’. We’re sharing our lives, our thoughts, everything about us- online.

But what makes us do it?

This post attempts to answer 3 major questions-

  • Why do we share?
  • Is ‘what we share’ related to ‘who we are’?
  • How can brands put them together to create content that is ‘share-worthy’?

Why Do We Share?

You’re waiting in line along with five others for your dentist to arrive. She’s an hour late and everyone is pretty annoyed at having had to wait this long. That’s when one of you decides to make your displeasure known to the receptionist (poor thing). And then, the others follow suit.

What just happened there?


That’s one of the simplest examples of ‘collective behaviour’. Sociologists define the term as “relatively spontaneous and unstructured behavior by large numbers of individuals acting with or being influenced by other individuals.” And it lies at the heart of why we share on social networking sites.

Gartner studied this for a period of 10 months, analysing 200 successful social media implementations to understand how businesses can add value by enabling collective behaviour.

They put their findings into 6 simple principles, that form the core of creating share-worthy content.

  • Participation: Getting communities to work for you
    • Talk less, listen more. Instead of turning into content churners, brands should just act as initiators that act as catalysts to spark off conversations.
  • Collective: People must swarm to the effort
    • It isn’t easy to find a cause that’s big enough to affect a significant number of people and also connect with each one of them on a personal level. But that’s what brands are challenged to do, to mimic the success of the viral phenomena that we’ve witnessed over the years.
  • Transparency: The community organizes and validates content
    • Everything is out there for everyone to see on social media. So in a way, it is self governing and self regulating. This means that brands need to extend that transparency to their campaigns as well. Negative comments? Stand your ground and defend your stand instead of backing out. The Kraft Foods Gay Pride Oreo Cookie campaign is a brilliant example of how brands do this. 
  • Independance: Provides the ‘mass’ in mass collaboration
    • We like the conversations where we are able to contribute without much hassle. Aid conversations by making it easy for people to participate. This includes within it aspects of design, incorporating multiple platforms into your campaign, extending it to all devices and above all- just making it easy to have conversations.
  • Persistence: Contributions must endure for scaled value
    • Going viral is all about letting something snowball into a phenomenon. It should be easy for people to share and spread the message to others across a period of time.
  • Emergence: Communities self direct for greater productivity
    • There’s nothing controlled about social media. After the initial impetus that brands provide, whether something grows or fizzles out depends entirely on how much the content relates to the audience.

But hey, we all want to create those pieces of content that DON’T fizzle out. How do we get to doing that?


Collective behaviour is what takes an idea and turns it into a fad. It compels us to feel, to act and to ‘share’. It’s what elevates an amateur video into a viral phenomenon. But we all know it isn’t as simple as just that.

‘Coz I ‘feel’ like it

Collective behaviour only tells us how something spreads wide enough to become relevant to a large group. What sparks it off at the start, that gets it going?

It’s all about giving the ‘feels’. Yeah, pretty much.


Log into your Facebook account and it urges you to share what’s on your mind. It aids you along the process by giving you suggestions about how you could be feeling. And we duly, key them in.

As I write this post, listening to music on YouTube, I come across a small time band and their music moves me. And I can’t help sharing it on my social networks so it reaches more people.

And for every update with pictures of friday night’s party, there are pages dedicated to cancer survivors who share their lives with those coping with the disease, spreading positivity.

A Pew Research conducted in the area shows that people who tend to use social networking sites are more ‘trusting’ than those that don’t. To be precise, someone who uses Facebook multiple times a day is 43% more likely to trust others when compared to other internet users. It also contributes in making people more politically engaged and have closer relationships with those they care for.

Social Media and the ‘cost of caring’

We share, because we care.

Sheryl Sandberg recently shared a very moving post on her Facebook page. Dedicated to her late husband, she wrote it to mark the end of sheloism or ‘period of intense mourning’. It has been read, shared and commented on, countless times. It touched people across the globe, and moved them to tears. The words and the emotion they held within them impacted thousands of people and by sharing her post- they too shared her grief in a way.

This is what Pew Research has found in their recent report and they’ve termed it the ‘cost of sharing’. Because it turns out, contrary to the popular belief that social networking sites add stress to a person’s life, in reality- they don’t. Frequent social media users do not report higher levels of stress when compared to their ‘less active’ counterparts.What it does increase though, is ‘the awareness’ of stressful events in the lives of others. With every share, we carry a little bit of the other person’s emotion- be it joy or pain.

Empathy lies at the heart of social media connections and conversations. We discuss the matters that touch us, we share the stories that feel ‘real’, we build conversations about the things that matter to us.
Which brings us to the second part of this article-

Sharing and ‘Sharers’

In the span of an hour, my ‘newsfeed’ across networks is replenished with honeymoon pictures, new born babies, marketing messages, social issues and a whole lot of other content. But that doesn’t mean that I react to each and every one of them. The ones that I notice, that get me to stop that passive scrolling as I glance at my screen, are the ones that speak to me.

That’s pretty much the case with everyone isn’t it? What matters to us is directly linked to who we are.

An interesting study done in the area by NY Times classifies sharers into 6 types. But just knowing the kind of sharer persona’s is just half the story. What about the ‘content’ of the content?

The following infographic created by StatPro, combines both these attributes together.


We took this a bit further to find out whether the campaigns that rocked the internet over the last couple of years, followed these principles.

Here we bring you some brands that created successful campaigns by putting the sharer personas of their audience and their motivational triggers to share, together.


  • Campaign: The ScareCrow
  • What was it: http://www.scarecrowgame.com/
  • Why Share: Value/ Entertainment/ Identity building
  • Targeted Persona: Hipsters
  • Why it worked: The campaign appealed to a growing population of urban eaters who are looking for healthy/ organic alternatives to the usual ‘fast food’ options. The short film was well directed with a tight storyline, engaging music and a clear message.
  • How well did it do?
    • Over 14 Million views on Youtube
    • Won the Grand Prix at Cannes Lions 2014
    • Daytime Emmy for Outstanding New Approaches – Original Daytime Program or Series and for Outstanding Directing in an Animated Program


  • Campaign: Dove Real Beauty sketches
  • What was it: http://realbeautysketches.dove.com/
  • Why Share: Promote causes
  • Targeted Persona: Boomerangs
  • Why it worked: Most beauty products feed off the insecurities that women have about their appearance. Dove decided to go the opposite way by building a campaign that brought out the perceived flaws that women end up believing about themselves leading to a negative body image. It was aimed at inspiring confidence and positive self image among women of varied ages.
  • How well did it do?
    • Over 66 Million views on Youtube
    • 2 Cannes Lions Grand Prix Awards


  • Campaign: Like A Girl
  • What was it: http://www.always.com/en-us/likeagirl.aspx
  • Why Share: Promote causes
  • Targeted Persona: Boomerangs
  • Why it worked: Built around all the negative connotations that are associated with being ‘like a girl’, this campaign was a big hit because of the message of confidence that it sent out to girls across the world. It showed how such misconceptions around gender are built over a period of time and was targeted at correcting such commonly held gender stereotypes.
  • How well did it do?
    • Over 58 Million views on Youtube
    • Over 15,000 shares on Facebook


  • Campaign: Ice Bucket Challenge
  • What was it: http://www.alsa.org/fight-als/ice-bucket-challenge.html
  • Why Share: Involvement/ Self fulfillment
  • Targeted Persona: Boomerangs
  • Why it worked: One of the biggest cause marketing campaigns to go viral in recent times, it was targeted at raising donations to increase awareness about ALS or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It was especially successful because of the level of celebrity interest in the campaign which added to its popularity on social media.
  • How well did it do?
    • The campaign raised over $100 million which was 3500% higher than the $2.8 million that they raised during the same period of the previous year.
    • Over 2.4 million videos tagged on Facebook


  • Campaign: Princess Machine
  • What was it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIGyVa5Xftw
  • Why Share: Identity building
  • Targeted Persona: Boomerangs
  • Why it worked: The campaign was directed at the gender stereotypes that exist in the toy industry. With an aim to inspire the future female engineers, the simple advert caught everyone’s attention after it won a free 30 second spot at Super Bowl XLVIII that catapulted the brand to the big league.
  • How well did it do?
    • Over 2.5 million views on Youtube

Go Pro

  • Campaign: User’s GoPro footage- ‘Video of the day’
  • What was it: https://www.youtube.com/user/GoProCamera
  • Why Share: Value/ Entertainment & Identity building
  • Targeted Persona: Hipsters
  • Why it worked: One of the greatest branded content creators of this age, GoPro checks all the right boxes when it comes to creating what their audience wants. Their campaigns are all centered around user generated content that are created by GoPro users, using their cameras. It showcases the product, has the right levels of adrenalin and makes for engaging/ entertaining content.
  • How well did it do?
    • Youtube channel has over 3 million subscribers
    • 1.42 million followers on Twitter
    • Over 8 million likes on Facebook
    • 5.5 million followers on Instagram


  • Campaign: Epic Split
  • What was it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7FIvfx5J10
  • Why Share: Value/ Entertainment
  • Targeted Persona: Hipsters
  • Why it worked: The campaign not only appealed to truckers who would be in awe of the Dynamic steering without which the feat would be impossible, but it was also entertaining to a broader audience. It was different, adrenalin filled and kept you gripped right till the very end. Almost like watching a Van Damme movie- for 2 minutes!
  • How well did it do?
    • 79 million views on Youtube
    • 6 million shares on social networks
    • 3,96,000 results on Google search

Coca Cola

  • Campaign: Open happiness
  • What was it: http://us.coca-cola.com/happiness/
  • Why Share: Involvement & Self fulfillment
  • Targeted Persona: Boomerangs
  • Why it worked: Happiness is something that is relevant to every single person across the world. The campaign looked at various aspects of spreading happiness with Coca Cola. There were various campaigns within it which included sending aid to victims of natural calamities, setting up phone booths in Dubai so people could make calls back home with as little as a bottle cap, and many more initiatives involving simple acts of happiness.
  • How well did it do?
    • Coca Cola was named Creative marketer of the year 2013 at Cannes
    • Additionally won 20 awards at Cannes Lions 2013 for the campaign

Dollar Shave Club

  • Campaign: Our blades are f***ing great
  • What was it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUG9qYTJMsI
  • Why Share: Value/ Entertainment
  • Targeted Persona:  Hipsters
  • Why it worked: In a campaign that boldly targeted big corporations with huge advertising budgets, Dollar Shave Club’s modest $4,500 video had all the ingredients of a viral hit- it spoke directly to the consumer, was hilarious and succinctly explained why their blades were a better choice over the expensive ones in the market.
  • How well did it do?
    • Over 19 million views on Youtube
    • 2 million subscribers to the service in US alone
    • Accounts for 13.3% of all razor sales in US

Tourism Queensland

  • Campaign: Best job in the world
  • What was it: An online contest inviting applicants to be the caretaker of the islands of the Great Barrier Reef for a period of 6 months. Perks included a handsome package, living in style in a multi-million dollar villa and free transportation in and around the islands whilst having, well- the ‘best job in the world’!
  • Why Share: Identity building
  • Targeted Persona:  Boomerangs/ Careerists
  • Why it worked: One of the original ‘viral marketing ideas’ that took the world by storm, this was a campaign that was unique, bold and simple. It not only appealed to the people who were interested in the job, but its unique take on recruitment was entertaining enough to catch the attention of almost everyone who heard of it.
  • How well did it do?
    • 30,000 applicants from 200 countries
    • Over 6 million new hits to the company’s website
    • The campaign itself was covered by almost every media publication on print and television

Invisible Children

  • Campaign: KONY 2012
  • What was it: http://invisiblechildren.com/kony-2012/
  • Why Share: Promote causes
  • Targeted Persona:  Altruists
  • Why it worked: The campaign focussed on increasing awareness about Joseph Kony and his crimes in Central Africa. It harnessed the power of social media in telling a story that would have otherwise never reached people across the globe and became one of the biggest cause related viral hits of all time.
  • How well did it do?
    • Over 100 million views on YouTube

Warby Parker

  • Campaign: Home Try-On Program
  • What was it: https://www.warbyparker.com/home-try-on
  • Why Share: Value/ Entertainment or Usefulness
  • Targeted Persona: Hipsters
  • Why it worked: The campaign brought together the killer combination of user generated content along with a creative way to promote their product. The idea sounds simple- get 5 chosen frames at home for free, try them on for 5 days, ask your friends what they think and pick a favorite that gets shipped to you and ship the 5 try on’s back to the store. By including the element of ‘getting your friends’ opinion Warby Parker managed to generate awareness about their brand among the audience in a natural organic way with no extra effort or money spent- just the power of social media.
  • How well did it do?
    • 71,000 followers on Twitter
    • 420,000 likes on Facebook
    • Over half a million frames sold since its launch in 2010

Ad Council

  • Campaign: Love has no labels
  • What was it: http://lovehasnolabels.com/
  • Why Share: Promote causes
  • Targeted Persona: Boomerangs
  • Why it worked: The campaign was based on the simple premise that in the presence of diversity, there also exists the sad reality of prejudice. It worked because it took a cause that is relevant across the globe and communicated it in a creative and entertaining manner.
  • How well did it do?
    • Over 52 million views on YouTube
    • 69,000 likes on Facebook
    • Over 173,000 shares across networks


  • Campaign: Scan- Ta App
  • What was it: An app that scans twitter feeds for interests and past behavior, to help identify ideal presents from a possible list of 500 gifts(available at Tesco).
  • Why Share: Relationship building
  • Targeted Persona: Connectors
  • Why it worked: It answered a question that customers face during the holiday season- ‘what can I buy that fits the budget and is liked by my friends/ family?’ It translated social media behaviour to provide genuine insight, solving a real problem for its customers.


  • Campaign: Risk Everything
  • What was it: http://riskeverything.nike.com/
  • Why Share: Entertainment
  • Targeted Persona: Hipsters
  • Why it worked: The campaign was launched during one of the biggest sports events of 2014- FIFA World Cup and had all the elements of a viral hit- an interesting storyline, good graphics and the biggest names in football.
  • How well did it do?
    • The most popular video of the campaign- ‘Winner stays’ got over 117 million views on Youtube and tops the charts of the most viral World Cup campaigns of all time.
    • It got a true reach of 122,255,733 views across networks

Understanding the Share Spiral

What could this mean for marketers and brands that are trying to create content that stands out and has the potential to make it to the big league- to go ‘viral’?

The answer to this question lies somewhere in between understanding who the audience is (their personality) and the brand identity. Jonah Berger, in his book ‘Contagious’, explains the phenomena of virality by attributing it to 6 main triggers. Translate that to the context of content and here’s what you get:

Social currency: “I share this content because it makes me ‘look good’”

Triggers: “I could relate to what they’re talking about. It spoke to me.”

Emotion: “I watched this video and felt moved. I wanted to share that experience with my friends.”

Publicity: “I think their content works because I see it everywhere, on multiple platforms. If so many people vouch for it, it has to be good.”

Practical value: “This content works for me because it solves a real problem that I’m facing.”

Stories: “That didn’t feel like staid content- it felt like I was there through the whole process. I experienced the story.”

It’s crazy to expect that you can achieve all those objectives with your content. What worked with those brands and their campaigns was that they picked the objective that was most sought after by a sizeable chunk of their audience and created content around it.

The winning formula as we see it:

Winning formula


Wondering why ‘for your content’ is in brackets up there?

Simply because, ‘audience’ here doesn’t mean the audience for your product alone, but it extends to everyone you’re targeting with your content. Evidently, virality isn’t just about relating to your target audience. If so, Volvo’s Epic Split would have just been discussed by truckers and gadget lovers. It’s about creating content that is inherently about the product but also relatable to the wider audience because none of our purchase decisions are made in silos.

Which is why campaigns like Urban Hilton Weiner’s ‘Pay with a selfie’ are nothing short of sheer genius. It speaks to the narcissist hidden behind every single selfie taker. Because let’s face it- we like looking good and we like being complimented for looking good. Attach that to your brand, harness the ‘magnanimity’ of social media and include the incentive of getting a discount based on how popular your selfie gets- you have a winner on your hands!

Irrespective of what triggers you choose to build your content around, the one thing that is constant across all those viral hits we’ve witnessed is that they answered a specific need- they entertained us, they made us ‘feel’, they solved a genuine problem. And just like the products that they attempt to market, successful content follows the very same principle.

But we know it isn’t as easy as all that. Excluding a few viral ‘hits’ that can be attributed to sheer luck, all the other campaigns that went viral have been astounding in their creativity. They have been unique and have managed to stand out from the rest of the clutter. While that is what lies at the heart of successful, great content- knowing the science behind it and understanding the cues that they give us, can make it a tad bit easier to get there.


So go on, go forth and be viral! 😉


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