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One of the most surprising things I learned while working on my viral content sharing report is that one of the most common reasons people send content to their friends is because they believe that otherwise their friends may not see it. People who mentioned this typically said things like "they might have missed it," "they might not have seen it on their own," or "some of my friends aren’t up on the news." Almost 6% of the respondents to my survey specifically gave some variation of this motivation and I believe this percentage is merely the tip of the iceberg since users often do not fully understand all of the triggers at work in their own behaviors (as Dr. Clotaire Rapaille says "most people don’t know why they do what the things they do.").
When we look at this through an evolutionary lens, it becomes obvious that there are selection pressures that dictate that if you know something important (like which berries are poisonous) you’d better share it with everyone in your community. The social exchange theory of proverbs hints at this, as does my research into email chain letters and urban legends.
Sharing content that other people might have missed also means that the friends you saved from ignorance are more likely to share key information with you, another popular motivation mentioned by respondents to my survey: reciprocity. One user specifically said: "I share, they share back, in case I miss something good," and another said "It encourages them to share with me too so I find even more things that I would otherwise miss."
Sharing content like this also shows the recipient that you were thinking about them and that you value them enough to make sure they’re not left in the dark, relationship building of this type was specifically mentioned by almost 10% of respondents.
This means that for marketers looking for a viral effect, the "they might miss it" idea can be a powerful call to action. This can take the form of a subtle indication that the reader is in possession of valuable information that others don’t have, or a more blatant "be sure to pass this on to your friends who might not have seen it."
This is a small part of the large data presented in the full report I did on the results of my survey, if you want to know more, be sure to read the rest of my viral content sharing report (and don’t forget to pass this on to your friends who might have missed it).
Dan Zarrella is a social and viral marketing scientist, you can read his blog here or follow him on Twitter here.