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Why Do People Share? – 5 Driving Forces of Sharing

Desmond Chua
Desmond Chua
July 24, 2018
2 min read
Why Do People Share? – 5 Driving Forces of Sharing

Why do people share? It's a more complicated than you might imagine.

As retailers and entrepreneurs, it's all-too-easy to reduce sharing to a simplistic, mechanical function that customers "will simply do". And we would be completely wrong. There's a reason why word-of-mouth marketing is the best and most trusted by consumers.

Why do people share? There are several distinct reasons

The New York Times' Customer Insight Group did a study on the Psychology of Sharing [PDF Link] and identified the 5 following motives:

1. To bring valuable and entertaining content to others
2. To define ourselves to others
3. To grow and nourish our relationships
4. Self-fulfillment
5. To get the word out about causes and brands

At ReferralCandy, we put together a SlideShare to help you think more deeply about these motivations. Keep scrolling for a textual summary!

Why Do People Share? The 5 Driving Forces

The New York Times Consumer Insight Group worked together with Latitude Research to understand why consumers share content online. The process combined in-depth interviews, a weeklong sharing panel and online surveys for quantitative analysis.

The broad conclusion? Sharing is all about relationships.

sharing is about relationships

In the modern context, there is an incredible amount of content, media sources, and distractions all competing for attention. Within this context, sharing becomes a form of information management, by curating the most valuable or relevant content, or by endorsing a particular brand or source.

word of mouth


Editor: We created an infographic with over 40+ successful examples of brands who generated effective word-of-mouth marketing. Click the thumbnail to check it out!


When the information is shared, it benefits the relationship by improving our social standing or by providing utility to the network. And, in fact, the interplay of these motivations results in six personas segmented by the New York Times research:

six personas of sharers

Why Do People Share? The Six Personas of Sharers

As a short summary:

  • Altruists and Careerists share to provide utility to social groups (friends and colleagues) and enhance relationships
  • Hipsters and Boomerangs share to build and define their self image to others, as being cutting-edge and creative or provocative and engaged
  • Connectors share to groups to provoke action, for example a restaurant or travel deal; while Selectives share with individuals because of highly-specific relevance.

Sound familiar? This has strong echoes to Jonah Berger's work on the psychology of word-of-mouth, as well as the principles behind word-of-mouth advertising and why customers talk.

Why Do People Share? Key Factors To Influence Sharing

The report concludes with recommendations and key insights for brands to influence sharing:

  1. Consumers want to connect with each other - brands can appeal to this motivation instead of being narrowly focused on pushing the brand
  2. Trust is the cost of entry
  3. Simple ideas get shared (and won't get muddled)
  4. Funny ideas get shared
  5. Urgent ideas get shared
  6. Sharing is just the beginning
  7. Email is the most powerful medium for sharing
influence sharing

Why Do People Share? To Share Is Human (and Social!)

Think of these 5 motivations, and the goal of nurturing relationships, as starting points for evaluating your customers' desires.

Your product and your content has to resonate well with at least one of these motivations before your customers will share.

An easy way to help customers share about your brand or business is to incentivise sharing with referral rewards, offering cash or discounts for purchase. Get set up in minutes a referral program for any store.

Want to know more about what gets people talking? Check out our comprehensive guide to word-of-mouth marketing, featuring 20,700 mouthwatering words, facts, infographics and slideshares!

word of mouth marketing


Desmond Chua
Desmond Chua

Desmond is the co-founder of, a fashion ecommerce brand selling witty t-shirts. He strives to design the best ReferralCandy experience to help you acquire more customers. He also practises parkour with MOVE Academy Singapore in his free time.

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