share

Did you know that… social networks are at their busiest on Wednesday at 9.30 in the morning? … we tend to share more positive than negative content online? … the most-shared content on the web is that which provoke the strongest emotional reactions? … we share content online to connect to other people?

All of these findings come from what is now called the science of sharing, which is the scientific study of how we behave on social networks. In particular, it is the study of what we share online, or what leads us to participate actively. So, what does this new science have to tell us?

  • We tend to share positive stories rather than negative ones.

Doctor Jonah Berger, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, has examined thousands of posts online in order to determine to what extent they were shared and what kind of emotions they provoked. The first thing he found was that, in general, we share positive rather than negative items. That’s why we feel an impulse to have a look at what’s being posted- because it will have a positive bent!

 We tend to share information that produces a strong emotional reaction.

Professor Berger also looked into the emotional texture of what’s published on the web. He discovered that there was some negative content which is shared a lot- content that provoked a strong emotional response. Berger concluded that, aside from there being an overall preference to share positive information, any content which produced a strong reaction was more likely to be shared. In the case of negative content, information which provoked anger or anxiety (‘strong’ emotions which often lead to action) was more likely to be shared than content which provoked emotions such as sadness, which tends to lead to a more passive response. This would explain why we share news related to natural disasters or controversial political issues (which tend to generate anger or anxiety) rather than the news of the loss of a loved one.

In order to investigate this idea further, Doctor Berger carried out a study in which the subjects were divided into two groups. The first group remained sitting for a minute before they looked at online content, while those in the second group ran around for sixty seconds. The results showed that the simple act of running prior to looking at content increased the chances that it would be passed on. The reason is simple: a higher level of arousal. When we do physical exercise, or we are on a plane going through turbulence or watching a horror film, the emotions that we experience make us active, and increase our blood pressure and heart beat. So, both our mind and our senses are on the alert. This physical state of arousal leads us to share more content on the web… It makes sense, doesn’t it?

  • We share more content early in the morning, which is also when the number of positive messages increases.

A survey of 509 million tweets posted in the morning, carried out at Cornell University, demonstrated that there was a significantly higher number of positive tweets than at any other time of the day. This suggests the existence of a positive correlation between sharing and happiness. It would be good if more research were done into this …

  • In the end… sharing is a way of connecting with others.

A survey carried out by the New York Times and Customer Insight Group, in which 2,500 people with medium or high web activity took part, concludes that we share in order to:

Make valuable and entertaining content available to others.

Define who we are in a social group.

Increase and strengthen our circle of relationships.

Further our self-development.

Take a position on certain issues.

The survey sustains that there isn’t anything new about sharing. We’ve always done it; it’s just that the context has changed. We now share more content, from more sources, with more people, more often and more quickly.

The other side of the coin is the saturation produced by so much information being spread over so many networks. We can’t keep up, what with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Linkedin, Xing… We may find ourselves overcome by a certain feeling of impotence or fatigue before we switch on our computer or Smartphone- if, that is, we ever switch them off! Having a common sense approach to using social networks is absolutely crucial nowadays.

Take-away:

Sharing is human nature, whether it’s online content or a good meal with those close to us… but let’s do it sensibly.

Tips:

  1. Only post content which you think is vital for your network of personal contacts.
  2. Before sending something, think about the effect it will have on others and if this is what you really want.
  3. Ask your contacts if they like receiving what you send them… and respect what they tell you.

References:

The Science of Sharing (and Oversharing) Interview with Doctor Jonah Berger conducted by Sarah Green, published in 2013 in the Harvard Business Review.

The Psychology of Sharing: Why Do People Share Online? Research carried out by the New York Times and Customer Insight Group.

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