The Psychology of Online Sharing – Psychological Factors & Human Motivations

The Psychology of Online Sharing – Psychological Factors & Human Motivations

17th February 2014

Towards the end of 2013 I’ve invested some time looking into the psychological aspects of human online sharing behaviour. I came across some significant findings and insights I would like to share with you here over the next few months to get to the root of this relatively young social phenomenon in order for digital marketers to really acknowledge the huge potential the information age holds for them and to adopt their digital strategies accordingly to human behaviour. In my posts I will be looking at:

  • Why do we share – what are the psychological factors and human motivations for social sharing?
  • What are the different sharing personas?
  • What actually truly motivates us to share?
  • What can brands further do to encourage social sharing?

First of all though we need to set the scene….

The Rise of Social Media

The rise and growth of social media has encouraged hot discussions and debates as to what actually motivates us as humans to share. In order to get at the core of this we need to understand the psychological aspects of online social sharing. Quiet frankly, humans have always shared – it’s in our nature but the information age has accelerated this process dramatically.

The rapid growth and evolution of social media has resulted in an enormous shift in consumer purchase behavior; the reason being that the web is now powered by social media allowing every single one of us to publish content online. This allows us to be connected with our friends, family and peers 24/7 around the globe – sharing our latest experiences with each other. Unsurprisingly, we are far more likely to trust peer recommendations from like-minded people like ourselves rather than some generic marketing messages. In other words, social media is a medium that allows us to share our views and feelings with our peers almost instantaneously – showing that one of the key drivers of social media is word-of-mouth.

Facebook for instance currently has 800 million active users whilst 500 million tweets are sent each day. The images below are a Facebook graph visualising world-wide friendshipsand Flickr’s & Twitter’s world activity!

So what’s the motivation behind all that sharing?

FB graph visualising friendships

Flickr & Twitter world activity graph


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In 1943 the human psychologist Abraham Maslow developed the ‘Hierarchy of Needs model’ stating that our actions are motivated to achieve certain needs. His hierarchy suggests that people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to other, more advanced needs.

Abraham Maslow

As you can see below the hierarchy is displayed as a pyramid – the lowest levels of the pyramid are made up by the most basic needs, while the more complex needs are located at the top of the pyramid. Needs at the bottom of the pyramid are basic physical requirements including the need for food, water, sleep and warmth. Once these lower level needs have been met, we can move on to the next level of needs, which are for safety and security.

Maslow hierarchy of needs model

If we look at the pyramid we can see the 5 stages that drive our human behaviour:

1)    Physiological stage: our need for survival (to stay alive and re-produce)

2)    Security stage: to feel safe

3)    Social needs stage: love and belonging

4)    Self esteem stage: to feel worthy, respected and our status within society

5)    Self actualisation stage: self fulfillment and achievement

As we progress up the pyramid, our needs become increasingly psychological and social. Soon the need for love, friendship and intimacy become important. Further up the pyramid, the need for self esteem and feelings of accomplishment take priority. Maslow emphasized the importance of self actualization – the process of growing and developing as a person in order to achieve our individual potential.

So what have we learnt so far? The ultimate goal here is the sense of personal achievement and meaning – identifying who we are in the universe as well as how we are perceived by others. Social media is often used to broadcast the image we would like to reflect of ourselves to the world!

This model is the foundation of what motivates our human behaviour. Next month we’ll be looking into the 5 primary motivations for social online sharing as well as the 6 different online sharing personas.


Written By
Clarissa is a bilingual Strategic Marketing MA graduate with rounded experience in a number of key marketing disciplines including social media, project management, research and business development. Clarissa is Marketing Graduate at Linkdex.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.