The Psychology of Sharing: A Persona-based Approach to Social Sharing

A Persona-based Approach to Sharing on Social Media

In our last , we introduced the concept of the Social K-factor as an accurate measure of the virality of your content on social media. We defined the Social K-factor as:

ks = s * c


  • c = the sharing ratio — rate at which visitors share a page, and
  • s = the Social Coefficient

The key to improving your Social K-factor is to improve your sharing ratio. This is primarily a function of your content, the ease of sharing, and the needs of your visitors. In this post, we will examine the latter — the typical personas that share content and social media, and the factors that motivate them to do so.

Humans are intrinsically inclined to share information. The New York Times conducted a study a few years ago, in which it found that nearly two in three people feel a strong urge to share valuable information when they find it. It found that people took as much pleasure in sharing information as they did in discovering and learning it.

Since the arrival of the Social Web, discovery and propagation of content has undergone a radical transformation. Social media, be it Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or the various other networks, is now the primary source of news and content. People tend to gravitate towards and trust the information shared by people that they know and trust. This recent phenomenon has not only increased reach of information, but has substantially increased the velocity with which it spreads.

But online sharing has had a tremendous impact on the sharer as well. Even as they share information, they end up processing it more thoroughly. The responses they receive from recipients not only encourage them to share more, but also helps them understand and relate to the content better.

This is of profound consequence to marketers of every stripe. Social sharing helps propagate content faster and farther. The interactions that happen on social media also help ensure that content goes deeper in the sense that the audience now understands and absorbs the content better. Therefore, marketers now have an opportunity to engage with a larger audience in a far more substantive manner. This is a win-win for all.

So, what can marketers do to leverage this new phenomenon? In our last post, we introduced the concept of the “Social K-factor,” a measure of the viral propagation of content through social sharing. To reiterate, the higher the Social K-factor, the farther and faster the content goes. One of the first steps to increasing the K-factor is to better understand the audience and tailor the content to their needs.

Six Distinct Personas

The New York Times study identified six distinct personality types among sharers, each motivated to share for a distinct set of reasons. These are:

  • Altruists: They see the act of sharing as a service to those that they care about, or to causes that they care about. While they don’t expect to get any returns from their actions, they need to know how well this information was received and appreciated.
  • Careerists: They see the act of sharing as part of their resume-building efforts. They look for content that is meaningful and actionable, and want to get credit for what they did. They want to engage with their network, and interestingly, are likely to engage with content that is shared with them too.
  • Hipsters: They share because that is what identifies them and helps connect them with the world. They want to be the first to share, and are likely to actively go looking for content to share as opposed to just sharing what they find.
  • Boomerangs: They share because they are actively seeking to engage with people. They are looking to start a conversation (or a debate) and are driven by a need for validation. They are similar to Hipsters in the sense that they want the first-mover advantage, and are actively likely to seek out new content.
  • Connectors: They share because they care about how the content can be beneficial, be it about entertainment, or coupons or shopping. The act of sharing is their way of being a part of a mutually beneficial relationship with their network.
  • Selectives: They are highly selective in the information that they share and who they share it with. They tend to focus on the value of the information as well as its exclusivity. They are more likely to use a narrow, even one-off, channel like email than the typical share button that broadcasts to their entire network.

A Persona-Based Approach to Social Sharing

For any content website, your audience comprises a subset of these personas. For sites that span interest topics, the same visitor may have different personas for different sections. Understanding these personas, especially the ones that you want to target is very important. Here are three steps to a persona-based approach to social sharing:

First, you need to study the sharing patterns on your site to understand which of these personas are visiting and sharing your content. For example, if you find that professionally-relevant information such as technology trends or product innovations are being shared more than others, there is a high likelihood that you are attracting careerists.

The social networks that your audience is sharing on is also a relevant indicator of these personas. For example, LinkedIn is likely to be favored by Careerists. Connectors are more likely to favor Facebook or Twitter. Hipsters may prefer Pinterest.

Second, you have to create content that is relevant to the personas you want to attract. For example, if you are a retail website, you may want to create content that will attract Connectors. This will allow you to get better coverage for your promotional efforts. If you are developing an innovative new product, you may want to create content that will attract Careerists, Hipsters or Boomerangs because these personas are likely to help spread your content quickly to a broader audience that you want to connect with.

Third, you need to curate your content and create a mechanism that surfaces content that will appeal to the personas on your site. This will help ensure that you maximize the reach of your content. If you have Hipsters on your site, you need to keep surfacing new content. Boomerangs may also be interested in finding trending content so that they can be the first to share that content with their network.

So, What’s Next?

To recap, your Social K-factor, a measure of the virality of your content, depends on your content, the ease of sharing, and the needs of your visitors. As we saw here, the distinct needs of each persona drives their sharing behavior. By serving appropriate content, you can tap into these needs and encourage sharing. The next step is to make it easy to share your content across networks.

In our next post, we will look into this aspect. Stay tuned.

To learn more about the Social K-factor, .

To learn more about Smart Share,


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Anand Jagannathan

Written by

Start-up Executive & Serial Entrepreneur CEO http://Engage.Social and NewzSocial. Founder/CEO Responsys (MKTG), iStorez (TheFind) Founder Banyan Systems


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