Psychology of sharing: Brits favour visual content

Emotional validation is a key catalyst for frequent posting and sharing social media, with millennials leading the way for posting personal content, according to new research.

The study, from visual marketing platform Olapic released the results of a new survey conducted by Morar Consulting that explores the motivations and emotional responses behind sharing on social media among people in the UK.

Polling more than 1,000 respondents aged 16 through 60+ years, results show that respondents regularly share a range of content, with 33 per cent posting third party visual content at least once a week.” The poll also reveals interactions with these posts provoke positive feelings of engagement, happiness and acceptance among UK consumers.

“Why is sharing so popular? Results of this poll demonstrate engagement is a key motivation, but more often than not, sharing is strongly influenced by the positive feelings you get when someone responds to your posts: happy, engaged, loved and accepted,” said Jonathan Freeman, Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths University of London and Managing Director of i2 media research ltd, who reviewed the research independently.

Among the British, status updates and visual content rank high

Over half (54 per cent) of respondents share status updates at least once a week, while nearly half (49 per cent) do so with their own photos. Millennials (ages 19 to 29) are particularly avid sharers of their own photos, with just over half (51 per cent) doing so at least weekly, while just under half or (46 per cent of Generation X (ages 30 to 44) share their own photos at the same pace. UK consumers also share third-party visual content, such as photos or videos created by brands, media and influencers: one third (33 per cent) report sharing such content once a week or more, and 56 per cent do so at least once a month. Forty-three per cent of Millennials share this type of content once a week or more, with 10 per cent doing so multiple times a day. The figures remain high among Generation X with 40 per cent sharing third-party content at least once a week, and 9 per cent doing so more than once daily.

For the Millennial age group, Facebook and Instagram are the preferred social media platforms for photo-sharing. When asked how their use of each social media platform compares to a year ago, they reported that posting to Facebook is lower, in contrast to increased posting on Instagram.

Engagement promotes sharing and positive feelings

The survey suggests that self-expression is a key motivation for sharing content among the British. When asked why they share on social media, UK consumers say they post to let people know how they feel or what they have been doing (44 per cent), because they think others would find their posts interesting (37 per cent), and to be supportive of their friends and connections by posting things they care about (32 per cent). Twelve per cent said they post to specifically share purchases and lifestyle content with their networks. In contrast, only 6 per cent of respondents indicated they share content online with the intent to ‘influence other people’s opinions’ of them.

“These results are something of a paradox,” continued Freeman. “It seems many people are unaware of or unable to admit actively influencing their online social contacts. But we are all influencing others constantly with what we choose to share. How we behave online speaks volumes about us, both consciously and unconsciously.”

The poll also asked consumers about their emotional reactions when posting on social media. For instance, when asked how they feel when people interact with their posts, 57 per cent of respondents feel engaged with their friends, 35 per cent feel happy, and 32 per cent feel accepted. Interaction with shared content triggered an increase in online sharing with 28 per cent of all respondents saying they tend to post more frequently when others like or comment on their posts. This is similar among men (30 per cent) and women (26 per cent), and is particularly true for Millennials aged 16-29, with 39 per cent motivated to share more with more engagement. Similarly, 31 per cent of Generation X respondents ages 30-44 post more frequently when their network engages with their posts.

“Brands seeking engagement with consumers must build their conversations and relationships on social media,” said Jose de Cabo, co-founder, Olapic. “When consumers share branded content on their page or feed, brands become associated with these carefully crafted representations. Moreover, if the content shared sparks social media interaction, brands will become associated with feelings of self-confidence and importance among their audience and potential customers.”

Social media provides valuable insights for marketers

While people may not be aware that they are influencing others, they actively seek out information in the purchasing process via social media posted by friends, family and influencers. In fact, consumers globally trust images from these sources seven times more than they trust brand advertising. (Source: Olapic Consumer Trust Survey)

“Understanding the motivations and reactions of consumers to social media sharing unlocks valuable insights for marketers who understand the growing importance of building a customer-first – rather than a channel-first – approach to marketing,” said de Cabo. “Social media sharing has had a profound impact on the relationship consumers have with brands. People now trust images on social media more than brand advertising and are looking for more realistic content from seemingly unbiased sources to guide their purchasing and opinions of brands.”

About the survey

The survey was written in conjunction with Jonathan Freeman, Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths University of London and Managing Director of i2 media research ltd., who assessed the results. The poll was conducted by market research specialists Morar Consulting across the UK. A nationally representative online survey of seven questions was completed by a total of 1,006 individuals living in the UK, aged 16-years old through 60+. The survey explores sharing on social media across the UK, including its social and emotional effects.