No news website can ignore the fact that making it easy for readers to share news articles can provide a significant boost to their traffic. Most news sites have already implemented sharing tools at least for Facebook and Twitter, and many support a number of other social networks as well. Considering how important news sharing is - and signs are that importance is only to grow - news organisations are most probably researching their readers' sharing habits keenly.
Poynter reported on one such study, commissioned by the New York Times and titled "The Psychology of Sharing: Why Do People Share Online?" According to the survey, which was presented at a recent marketing conference and can be accessed here, the main motivator that drives news sharing is not so much news content itself as it is the impulse to build and maintain relationships. And that is something news outlets would do well to remember.
The study noted that sharing news is nothing new as it is something people have always done, for example over lunch. But social media has made sharing more common and increased its reach; a single reader can easily share news articles with hundreds, even thousands of people. Moreover, news is now shared more quickly than ever before.
The survey found that people have different motivations for sharing, which Poynter categorised under five labels: altruism, self-definition, empathy, connectedness and evangelism. It noted that what all these impulses have in common is that they are all motivated by a desire to shape or maintain relationships with other people. This has obvious implications for news organisations: "getting shared is about providing content that serves consumers' relationships with one another," said Brian Brett, the NYT's managing director of customer research.
The study also categorised sharers under six types who have different motivations and use different mediums for sharing. In optimising their content's shareability, therefore, news outlets should ponder what kind of audience they mostly wish to serve. The six types the study names are altruists, careerists, hipsters, boomerangs, connectors and selectives.
Interestingly, one of the study's findings indicated that sharing also has a function of making news more comprehensible: vast majority of respondents said that reading other people's responses to news helped them understand and process information and events (85 percent) and that they process information more thoroughly when they share it (73 percent).
It was earlier reported that despite social media's growing importance, email is still the number one medium for sharing online content. Also tips on how to use social media to increase readership were reported earlier.
One sign of the importance of sharing is that the New York Times exempted social media links from its paywall in order to keep the traffic flowing, as paidContent noted. The recent study is an important start in analysing and understanding online users' sharing habits, but more information is needed to respond to them efficiently.