I recently read a post by psychologist Paul Marsden entitled Why People Share: It’s Social Grooming Baby which describes how socially sharing may be an extension of grooming. However, the urge to share runs deeper than just social grooming. Part of it comes down to the need to be accepted by your peers.
From a purely personal and non-scientifically proven point of view, people post regular status updates firstly, in order to be seen, secondly in order to voice their opinion and thirdly to receive feedback from their social network of friends which counts for the acceptance of the person’s thoughts and feelings. Going one step further, people who are itching to make a post but actually have nothing to say actually research websites quoting the rich, the famous and the powerful in order to take a piece of the credit and attract thought provoking comments and even ‘likes’. After all why do most writers write? Obviously to be read.
What makes this behavior viral is stimulus generalization. Just like training a dog to obey specific whistle commands or the influence children receive from their parents, whether knowingly enforcing rules or unknowingly instilling fears into a child, so too is true for the viral behavior on a Social Network and the need to share. In a family where parents fear dogs, in most cases the children too will share that fear due to an embedded knowledge of the reaction of the people influencing the child’s life. It then becomes ‘normal’ behavior for the child to feel the same fear.
Basing this around the psychology of social sharing, the urge to be recognized as a source of knowledge by their peers, plus the factor that ‘everyone else is doing it’ people are actually being conditioned to share by the new rules of social networking. This is also why people would trust the reviews and recommendations of their friends above bona fide promises of great bargains directly from the mouths of big brands.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘The Tipping Point’, Gladwell describes how society is made up of certain types of people. One of these types is ‘the influencer’. He then goes on to give the example of Paul Revere’s legendary midnight ride warning people that ‘the British are coming’. Other riders whose names escape me, spread the same message that night. They have not been recorded in history in quite the same way as Revere. What made Revere different? He was an influencer! If Paul Revere would have a Facebook account today, you could pretty much guarantee that any status update would receive an array of comments, interactions and ‘likes’. This is the yearning of everyone who has ever made a post on Facebook. If you don’t believe me, check your friends’ posts and see who receives the most comments and ‘likes’ to see the ‘Influencers’ amongst your social cirlce.
The same applies to brands. Brands can have hundreds, thousands and even millions of fans following them on Facebook. But only brands that successfully manage to influence their fans will find the key to true social interaction. One recommendation to brands who want to be ‘shared’ – post something worth sharing!