iAcquire EDU Lesson One: Why We Share

In our first lesson on behavioral psychology, we tackle what it means to share and how you can increase the likelihood of consumers sharing your content.

iAcquire EDU Lesson One: Why We Share

Welcome to the first lesson of iAcquire EDU! If you need a refresher about what we’ll be covering over the course of our videos or want to read some background materials check out:

Subscribe to iAcquire EDU so you don’t miss any videos! And now that you know why we share, you know what to do…

Let’s Just Go Viral

“Can’t we just make it go viral?” How often have you heard a client, at the beginning of a campaign, state something like that when asked about their goals?
The answer to that question, from any responsible marketer, should be no. In fact, we, as marketers, can’t make anything go viral. Only they, the consumers, can. And how do we influence that behavior?

As marketers, we’re obsessed with the notion of sharing and developing campaigns and products that encourage people to share content reflecting branded entities. But we have no effective or reliable model to produce the results we want. But models for human behavior do exist in the field of behavioral psychology, and they can be applied to our marketing practices to help us understand what triggers the human behavior of sharing. From that, we can better understand our users and learn how to turn them into advocates.

This is iAcquire EDU, so let’s get started.

Devin: Hi, I’m Devin Asaro, Content Strategist here at iAcquire. Welcome to the first session of iAcquire EDU. Today we are going to be talking about the human need to share and its influence on modern marketing. We’ll also be discussing a framework for creating sharable content based on BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model.

Now what do we mean when we talk about sharing? Really, for the purposes of this lesson, we’re just going to be talking about sharing via social media.

Now, when we share something online, it’s presumably because we believe that those in our networks will actually benefit from seeing that information. A study by The New York Times found that 94% of people who share content online carefully consider how the information would be useful to the recipient.

Self-Actualization vs. Perceived Common Interest

But we also share to define ourselves to those people in our networks. In that same study, they found that 68% of people share to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about, and that 69% share because it makes them feel more involved in the world. They call this self-actualization.

But what kind of content are people sharing and why? A study from the social sharing platform 33A discovered that articles about science have a higher share rate than any other type of article at 12%, meaning that your average reader will share about 12 out of every 100 articles they read about science. But these articles actually have a lower click-through rate than other types of articles. So a lot of people are sharing them, but very few people are actually clicking through and reading the things that their friends are sharing about science. So we could posit from that that the motivation behind sharing is more about self- actualization and less about actually sharing content that people think their friends would find useful.

Conversely, men’s content, your “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit issue for instance, has an incredibly low share rate at 1%, as most men don’t actually want to be seen sharing that type of content. But the click rate for the recipients of those shares is around 47%, which clearly is a case of sharing based on a perceived common interest rather than just self-actualization.

B.J. Fogg’s Behavior Model

Now let’s talk about BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model. Dr. BJ Fogg’s, founder of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, provides a basic model to explain behavior change, which includes social actions, like sharing. Fogg suggests that triggers for actions are more successful when both motivation and ability are high.


Now ability is relatively easy to explain. The opportunity to share has to be present and convenient. To do this, we can make sure that we present the user with clear calls to actions and prominent Share buttons. Usability studies have shown that users read in an F-shaped pattern. So placing Share buttons to the top left of the page will increase the likelihood of a share action being completed. The simpler we can make the consumer decision journey, the more likely the user is to actually complete the desired action.


But what about motivation? Fogg identifies three core motivators, each of which he divides into two binary sides. They are sensation, which consists of a spectrum of pleasure and pain, anticipation, which falls somewhere between hope and fear, and social cohesion, for which the extremes are social rejection and social acceptance.

Social Inclusion

Most marketers know that positive sentiments, like pleasure, hope, or social acceptance, are more likely to influence positive actions, like buying a product or signing up for an email list or, in the case of social acceptance, sharing something via social media. But how do we create an environment of social acceptance, and how do we actually use that sentiment to further our business goals?

First we have to establish a social group or tribe that is desirable for our users, and then we have we to create content that makes those users associate inclusion to that tribe with your brand. If I buy X or like X or share X, I, too, can be Y.

One of the best campaigns to utilize social acceptance as a marketing strategy is Dove’s “Real Beauty Campaign.” The recent “Real Beauty Sketches,” which has become the most watched video ad and the third most shared of all time, focuses exclusively on inclusion. The tribe presented was beautiful women. The method for inclusion, just being yourself and using Dove, of course.

Social Rejection

But what about the alternative of social rejection? Doesn’t that create action as well? It does, but it doesn’t actually create the desired actions that we generally have as marketers. So it might encourage something like actively criticizing a brand or actively choosing not to use a product.

A prime example of social rejection not working as a marketing strategy is from a campaign that Huggies ran last year, which was criticized for excluding fathers from the tribe of good parents. Huggies, in the ad, suggested that they could prove that their diapers and wipes could handle anything by putting them to the toughest test imaginable – dads alone with their babies. The fathers were shown neglecting their children, allowing them to sit with soiled diapers, and otherwise just being terrible fathers. A lot of people shared the campaign, though the sentiment of those shares was overwhelmingly negative. Huggies responded by significantly editing the more offensive elements of the ad, solidifying it as an abject failure.

But there are some instances in which social exclusion or negative messaging can actually work. Politicians, for instance, use it a lot, but they’re generally trying to encourage negative action and negative sharing, for instance, not voting for that guy or spreading bad word about him. But just as often as those type of ads and those type of messages work, they can backfire. Take Rick Perry’s 2012 campaign ad that decried a modern America where gays could serve openly in the military. The ad incited the excluded group and those that side with them to take action, surpassing Rebecca Black’s “Friday” to achieve the record of most dislikes on a single YouTube video. Positive messaging and social inclusion are almost always more effective than the alternative.

Now, today we’ve just scratched the surface of a very complicated issue. But no matter what model you’re using, it’s important to acknowledge the human need of people to share content that places them within a relevant and comfortable cultural context. We need only look as far as Facebook to see this in action. For instance, the gradual shift from neutral calls to action like share to emotional calls to action like, well, like. Sharing is, by its very nature, an emotional action, and marketers who create highly shareable content are likely engaging their users on an emotional level.

Now BJ Fogg’s model isn’t a perfect explanation of why people share, nor is it a blueprint for creating viral content. That doesn’t exist. But Fogg’s model does serve as a great frame of reference for creating content that is meant to engage users and encourage them to share.

For more information on Fogg’s Behavior Model, go to BehaviorModel.org or check out his book “Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s lesson. In our next session, we’re going to be talking about the behavior of engagement and how to create content that speaks to real people.

Have we influenced your behavior? Share this lesson, and be sure to sign up for our mailing list in the link below this video. And we’ll see you in the next session of iAcquire EDU.

responses to “iAcquire EDU Lesson One: Why We Share”

  1. […] New to the series. Check out session one: Why We Share. […]

  2. […] Asaro also did some great work surrounding the psychology behind why people share – handy reading if you want to understand the subliminal motivations behind that […]