Sharing content is without a doubt the lifeblood of the Internet. From the early days of dial-up newsgroup servers and guestbook pages, to today’s behemoth social media platforms, the web has always offered a level of deep interaction and expression that has revolutionized the way we communicate with one another. With more companies investing in new social media platforms the barrier of entry to join in on the online conversation has never been lower.
The Forrester Research Company defines the social culture surrounding the Internet as the groundswell. The groundswell is the phenomenon where people take charge of their online interactions – sharing ideas, entertainment, information, reviews, opinions, and experiences in order to shape and influence those who come in contact with it. The groundswell affects every industry, and marketers are always looking for new ways to tap into its power.
The Root of Social Sharing
Marketing companies love to box people into convenient little categories when strategizing their social media game plan. It’s easy to assume that those who are vocal about charitable causes could be labeled “altruists”, or people who post about cool clothes and music could be called “hipsters”, but I believe that the trends surrounding social sharing run deeper than superficial demographics.
Let’s run down what we know about what motivates people to share content online:
- It’s entertaining
- It can define a desired lifestyle
- It can help to build relationships
- It’s a conversation starter
- It can spread the word of a cause or campaign effort
At the core of these motivators is the emotional state of the person updating his or her status. As previously mentioned, the Plutchik Wheel of Emotions is an apt example for covering the full spectrum of emotional reactions.
When the human brain reacts to stimuli, it will elicit a psychological response of one or more of the emotions displayed on the wheel. Minor reactions such as boredom, apprehension, and interest remain on the outside of the wheel. If the stimuli elicits a stronger emotional appeal, it will spark a reaction that falls somewhere deeper toward the middle of the wheel. This reactionary relationship can happen either instantaneously or build upon previous conceptions of associated stimuli.
Using this model as the basis for how people react and share online content, we can get a better idea of how emotions affect Internet culture.
In order to understand how emotions can elicit online trends, we first must take a look at some of the most popular social networking platforms available today. Since each network has its own unique way of distributing information, one platform may lend itself more to certain types of emotional trends than another.
Facebook is the current leading social media platform. With a base of 500 million registered users, it is the easiest and most prevalent at instantly eliciting emotional responses. Because Facebook integrates with just about every form of media, it lends itself to a variety of emotions. Content can be passed around and encourage immediate emotional stimuli from what is being shared along with the conversation it starts.
This status update perfectly encapsulates the flexibility of emotional sharing trends. On one hand, many teenage users take linkbait content at face value and “Like” things that they can immediately identify with. This status appeals to the “acceptance” emotion on the wheel. However, many users may be turned off by its frivolous nature and react with annoyance, or even anger. From there a conversation starts up, which builds on the relationship that was sparked from the initial reaction.
Twitter takes a more immediate approach to social sharing, and as a result I’ve found content to be much more observational in nature. Twitter users can only gain more followers if they produce meaningful and original content (with the exception of already established celebrities/brands). A linkbait status or meme image might not translate as well on this platform.
Because Twitter allows me to cultivate a feed of personalized people which I’ve elected to follow, I’ve found my emotional reactions tend to fall closer towards the center of the wheel. I’ve seen my relationships move from slight “interest” to deep anticipation from my favorite twitter accounts.
Reddit is a growing social community platform that builds on the emotional relationships stemmed from shared user content. The site prides itself on making the content the star rather than the user. Profile pages are very minimal which adds a layer of anonymity among its community. This allows for content to be more experimental and more hard-edged than on other social platforms.
I’ve always viewed Reddit as sort of a “social laboratory” for creating and redefining Internet culture. Memes, jokes, and breaking news are often originated here before making their way to Facebook or Twitter.
Reddit allows users to pursue thousands of niche communities, everything from politics, to religion, to dog gifs. This gives users a deeper emotional connection to the content they view because they are actively pursuing it rather than just seeing it show up on a feed somewhere.
Social media is constantly changing. Social sharing can tap into our emotions and challenge our core values. The way we engage with online content can vary drastically depending on which channel of distribution we choose to consume it. Whether its on a superficial level or hits us deep within the core center of the emotion wheel, social sharing will continue to leave its impact on us for as long as the Internet exists.