Human beings are complex.

We are unique, impulsive creatures with a deep desire to be liked and accepted.

We all want to be loved and we all want to present the best version of ourselves.

And what better way to portray that idyllic image of ourselves than through social media?

Social media enables us to show other people what we’re really about.

It allows us to let other people know what we care about, our aspirations and how we live (or wish to live) our life.

Whether or not this representation is real or not is irrelevant.

Way back in 1986, psychologists Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius recognised this disparity between our real selves and our ideal selves.

They showed that people have two selves; the ‘now self’ and the ‘possible self’.

The illusion of our ‘possible self’ is the main motivation when it comes to sharing online, and it is this narcissism that marketers should attempt to appeal to in order to gain traction with creative campaigns.

Idealism – Appealing to Consumer’s Inner Narcissist

When it comes to content marketing via social media, we need to be thinking about our target consumer;

Who do they want to be?

What do they aspire to do?

What will they share which will enhance their online image?

Whether you are offering a service or a product, you must help your audience achieve their ‘possible self’ through the content you publish online.

Take a look at this Facebook post;

Converse social media

Converse is a brand which people use to heighten their own self-image and identity.

People wanted to be associated with this post because it was timely and humorous, meaning they happily shared it.

By sharing this image, people are just one step closer to achieving their aspiration of confidence, coolness and individuality.

Defining Personas – Who Actually Shares?

The New York Times identified six different types of people who share online in its in-depth research study on the ‘Psychology of Sharing’.

The study was a meticulous process involving ethnographies, focus groups and a quantitative analysis of 2,500 medium to heavy social sharers.

Here are the six personalities of those who share;

Altruist  Helpful, Dependable, Considerate and shares content via Facebook and email

Careerist  Educated, Professional, Interested in Career Advancement, Intelligent and most likely to share content on LinkedIn

Hipster  Creative, Young, Popular, Care about their identity, shares content via Facebook and Twitter but least likely to use email for sharing

Boomerangs  Likes to provoke a reaction, Seeks Validation from others, Shares Often and uses all channels to share content as long as people engage

Connectors  Relaxed, Thoughtful, Planners and uses both email and Facebook to share content to stay connected with others

Selectives  Resourceful, Vigilant, Thoughtful and shares content to inform others via email with personalised content

If you think about your friends and family, you’ll likely be able fit them into one of these categories.

What Drives These People To Share?

Everyone has different motivations because, well, we’re all different!

But for us to truly understand why content is ‘shareable’ and has the potential to become viral, we need to look at what inspires people to share online.

The New York Times study also revealed four different incentives for sharing;


When creating content, it’s essential to ask, why would people share this? Is there enough motivation to share?

The Science Behind Virality

Everyone wants to know how to make their content go viral.

Sometimes, it’s luck.

Sometimes, it’s not.

Sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed seem to have nailed viral content down to a T, so much so that the content creators at Upworthy were kind enough to give us insight into what makes content go viral in this uber-useful SlideShare.

It’s clear to see from this presentation that appealing to an audience’s emotion is key to creating viral content, and a study by The American Marketing Association backs this up by stating that content which provokes a strong reaction, whether it’s positive or negative, will be more likely to go viral.

Other People Influence Shareability Factor

As we mentioned earlier, sometimes when content goes viral, it can seem like pure luck.

However, there is actually a part of our brain which becomes activated when we decide to share something or not.

Enter the TPJ.

The Temporal Parietal Junction is the area of our brains which become activated the moment we decide to share something.

Researchers in America were interested to determine why we are compelled to pass some information on, but not others.

What makes certain content so appealing?

The crux of it lies within the perception of how much others will enjoy it.

If we think others will find a piece of content appealing, enjoyable or useful, then we are more likely to share it.

Content can’t only be interesting to ourselves, but it must also provide value to others.

This discovery is enlightening, showing that by appealing to this part of the brain, marketers are much more likely to create a hugely successful campaign.

The 6 Steps For Creating Viral Content

We’ve discussed the people and motivations behind social sharing but what about the actual process?

How do you actually create something which will go viral?

Jonah Berger wrote a highly coveted book on the matter, called ‘Contagious’, where he details six principles of viral content.


These core principles are based on a decade of research, proven to drive consumer behaviour online, across a wide variety of industries and audiences.

Here’s a quick rundown of each component;

Social Currency – This relates to our inner narcissist. What will make us look good?

Trigger – This is all about relevance. What’s on everyone’s minds?

Emotion – This is about appealing to an audience’s emotion. Why should we care?

Public – This is about conformity. Are other people doing it?

Practical Value – This is how valuable it is. Will it help others?

Stories – This is about storytelling. Does it have an interesting narrative?

If you want your content to be shared, apply these principles to every piece of content and also ensure you always consider your audience and the motivation they would have to share.

I hope I’ve enlightened you with this post so you can go off and create some amazing campaigns which have ‘viral’ written all over it!

I’m interested to know, what makes you share online?

This post originally appeared here.