Social Media is pretty much a requirement if you’re looking to rally support for an idea, brand or business. However, even in 2016, 70% of B2B marketers claim their biggest challenge is getting audiences to engage with their content.

And engagement is the ultimate. Shares, Re-Tweets, etc. are the way to grow on any social media platform (aside from ads, of course).

I started using social media for marketing back in 2007, so I have the unique perspective of someone who has been paid to watch how audiences adopt and adapt to the changing social networks for nearly a decade.

There are hundreds of guides on how to optimize your posts for different platforms and they’re great! I totally recommend some of them on my website. When it comes to sharing, however, I’ve found* that no matter which social network you’re trying to spread your message on, there are really just three basic reasons why people will share your content.

The 3 Reasons Why People Share on Social Media

social media sharing for definition

1. Definition. People share to define themselves to others. They want you to know they believe in something or are a part of something that defines their identity in some way. On the most superficial level, this is why social feeds can become crowded with memes like “which Walking Dead character are you?” and the recent “Be Like Bob” phenomenon. It’s fun to define ourselves to others, especially if we can hide the way we brag about ourselves behind something like a meme generator.

What can you post that will make your audience members identify with it so strongly that they share it themselves? Can you challenge influencers to join in supporting your cause (much like the ice bucket challenge)? Is there a quiz you can offer your audience that they can share? A more respectable version of that was the New York Times dialect quiz, which was their most popular post of 2013. What can you create to help your readers define themselves?

social media sharing for emotion

2. Emotion. People share because the content has triggered a strong emotional response, and/or because they want to make others feel something. Most commonly, we share what makes us smile, laugh or feel amazed or inspired.  This is why Upworthy posts (though mostly lacking in substance) get so many shares. They’re framed to spark emotional curiousity (resulting in a click) and tend to deliver a quick emotional reaction (resulting in a share).

Am I saying you should you be like Upworthy? Not exactly. However, no matter your industry, I would encourage you to dig a little deeper to find the more human, emotional side of your news. The narrative device of Upworthy headlines is to tell as much of the story as possible, except for the punchline. Is it possible to do this for your story? Try it. In fact, try it 25 times. If you force yourself to write 25 different headlines in 15 minutes, the odds are that you’ll land on something good.

social media sharing for validation

3. Validation. Finally, people share their thoughts, opinions, experiences, ideas, dinners and selfies to gain external validation. They share because they want others to comment on (or support) the new haircut, the terrible experience with the airline or the healthy choices they made.

Validation and definition may seem similar, but I’ve separated them for a reason in this list. A quiz that says you were meant to live in San Francisco, or that you’re the most like Daryl on TWD is not a true form of validation. Validation is what someone feels when they’ve been heard and when others have approved of what they’ve shared. In order to share content that provides validation, you have to turn the mic over to them.

When you use your platform to share the voice of your audience, you validate their impact on your decisions. A great example of this is the Ask Pat podcast, in which Pat Flynn features and answers one audience question per day. He plays their question on the air (usually from a recorded voicemail) and then plugs *their* brand or business before proceeding to provide a thoughtful response. Making space for the voices of your audience members to be heard is not only a great strategy, it’s your responsibility as a brand trying to stay relevant.

If you want to grow on any social network, think about what you can post that will trigger readers to define themselves, feel something or provide them with external validation. Accomplish this, and you will unlock some incredible engagement.

And on social media, engagement = growth.

One more thing…

If you’re interested in another social media tip, I have figured out a formula that works for growing a Twitter following and wrote a blog post on how I grow Twitter followers by 100 per week.

The best source I can think to cite in addition to my life experience is Camille Ricketts’ fantastic Hubspot presentation I sat in on in 2014. She included a variation on these reasons with different examples… although I’d say we differ a bit on reason number three. Still, I like to give credit where credit is due.

Dani serves as the Director of Strategy at Tytanium Ideas, Inc. a Digital Marketing Agency. You can read more from Dani by subscribing to their blog.