why people share on social media

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.

Grow Twitter Followers

I love when experiments work. Back in December I made a resolution to curate as much content as possible. After all, Guy Kawasaki claims that one key to social media success is largely (80%) curation. At the end of the 30 day period (today), I discovered that my new method has helped me grow twitter followers by 100+ every single week. I don’t use ads. I didn’t buy followers. I just tweeted a lot more.

And it takes me 5-10 minutes per day.

So I challenge you to try this method, and let me know how far you’ve grown in 30 days.

How I Grow Twitter Followers Each Week

The first thing I did was identify the keywords and hashtags that I wanted to be known for. This isn’t a required step, but if you’re looking to build credibility as someone knowledgeable about certain topics, it’s an important one. The topics that interest me are: entrepreneurship, social media, content marketing, SEO, personal branding and design-thinking.

I then decided to check for hashtags around those topics, so I went to RiteTag’s Hashtag Checker to see if they were popular tags. It turned out #branding was more popular than #personalbranding and #design was more popular than #designthinking, so I changed those two in my list.

Next it was time to set up my content sources. My favorite tool for this is feedly, and I went ahead and spoiled myself with an annual Pro membership for $45 (which works out to be $3.75 per month, or “less than one trip to my favorite coffee shop” per month). You can use the free version of feedly for this, it will just about five minutes to this method each day.

grow twitter followers with feedly

Here’s what my feedly home page looks like. You can see the search bar with suggestions on the right and a list of sources I follow on the left.

Once in feedly, I searched for sources related to the hashtag topics I had decided upon. Often feedly offers curated lists around more common topics, so I made sure to add those to save time. I also looked up some experts (like Guy Kawasaki himself) so I could add his lists for certain topics. He had one for science and research that I liked a lot, so I added it! In no time at all, I had over 100 article sources in my feedly. Nice.

In feedly Pro, I’m able to share articles straight from feedly. In the free version you’ll need to click through to the original source of the article in order to share it.

Curating Content to Grow Twitter Followers

While you can absolutely do this step with free tools, I decided to try Buffer’s “awesome plan” this month for $10. This allows me to buffer up to 200 posts at a time so I don’t need to worry about scheduling Tweets every day. To be honest this really comes in handy on Monday mornings when most of the biggest stories of the week tend to break and my feedly is filled with incredible content to share. You can use a free plan with Buffer, but it limits you to ten posts per day. This is all you’ll need for Twitter, so you really could do all of this without spending a dime.

grow twitter followers with buffer

This was my month of posts on buffer. I even missed two days. The 9th was my 30th birthday though, so I’ll give that a pass.


SO. For January, whenever I saw an article I liked, I read it in my feedly and then buffered it. I set up ten different posting times a day for Twitter within the buffer app, and then five for LinkedIn. It has been a pretty easy way to grow Twitter followers and I noticed that while I didn’t gain more LinkedIn followers using this method, I certainly received more profile views and post engagement.

I also set it up within feedly Pro that whenever I shared within the app, it would automatically append the topic as a hashtag. You can do this by clicking on “More” at the bottom of the left sidebar, then clicking on “Preferences.” After that, you’ll see the option to “append hashtags” and should select “Yes.”  That means any tweets from articles in my “Design” topic feed ended with #design. This also means everything gets a #feedly added, but I tend to delete that since I already paid them and don’t always have the space for both tags.

The “append tweets” preference saves me a step, but if you’re using free plans, remember to add the topic as a hashtag for the posts you share. This is crucial, because hashtags are how new followers find you.

The last thing I did was follow back anyone who followed me. I believe in reciprocity on Twitter, so as long as you’re not a spambot, you can connect with me follow-for-follow.

A Daily Habit

That’s it! For 5-10 minutes each morning I visit my feedly to read and share the 10 best articles of the day on Twitter to grow Twitter followers. I’m not as on top of LinkedIn right now, but every now and then I find a really top notch article I’ll share on both networks. Since my LinkedIn feed isn’t as crowded as Twitter, I’m a lot more selective about how much I post.

I began with 1297 followers, and clocked in at 1918 after six weeks. Average gain: 103 net new followers per week!

Final Thoughts

I wonder if my gain in followers may be higher than average because people who follow those hashtags are more prone to follow others. This isn’t something I’ve done regularly yet, but you could also stack the odds in your favor by following other people who are tweeting about the topics you enjoy, thereby initiating the Twitter reciprocity (follow back) principle. Try it if you don’t see results after the first three days.

“Twitter Pop” Photo credit: Jared W. Smith via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA