Social Sharing: How to Stack the Odds

Jan 01, 2013


Before I begin this column, you should know that I never play the lottery. In late November 2012, though, I found myself in line with a dozen other people getting ready to purchase a ticket for the Powerball drawing. After all, the jackpot was over $500 million at that point. Forking over a few dollars for the possibility of winning a few hundred million was just too tempting.

Of course, as we all know now, I lost. But that isn't the point of this anecdote. One morning a few days after my epic lotto loss, I noticed my Facebook Newsfeed was filled with the same story. It was just a picture of a man, holding a lottery ticket, with a caption saying he would give $1 million to some lucky person who shared his picture.

Within hours, it seemed like half of my Facebook friends had done just that. I was a bit shocked. Some of the people who were sharing this photo almost never posted on social networking sites, but the lure of free money had drawn the non-sharers out of the woodwork. One million dollars in exchange for a quick click of my mouse? Sure, why not?

No surprise, the picture turned out to be fake, but that didn't matter. The photo had sparked something. On December 3, 2012, CNN noted that a few days after the picture was originally posted, 2 million people had shared it. As the news article stated, "With 2 million-plus shares, the image may be the most-shared item in the eight-year history of Facebook."

It wasn't until I read that statistic did I start to wonder: Who is most likely to share on a social networking site anyway? I started looking at my own social networking activity, hoping to find a trend. Were the younger people in my network more apt to share something? Was my Newsfeed dominated by women more than men? Who are these non-sharers that just peruse social networking sites without ever participating?

I took to Google for some number crunching. According to a November 2012 study by Pew Research, in August 2012, 75% of women were users of social networking sites, compared with 63% of men. That didn't help me much. Pew also found that 92% of internet users who are 18-29 years old use a social networking site, as opposed to 73% of users between 30-49, and 57% between 50 and 64. Interesting, but none of these statistics answered my real question.

Another study by Pew seemed to be on the right track. It found that most social networking users have no problem sharing their original content. Pew found that 46% of internet users post original photos and videos online they have created themselves and 41% curate photos and videos they find elsewhere on the internet and post on image-sharing sites. Getting warmer, but still not what I'm looking for.

I'd like to say that younger users -- between the ages of 18 and 29, the ones who grew up with social networking sites -- tend to share the most, but I'm not so sure. Within my network, it seems that those under the age of 30 are the most discerning, or, perhaps the wariest, of putting their name behind a post. And then I found a study done by Pingdom that found that the average Facebook user is 40.5 years old and the average Twitter user is 37.3 years old.

Now I was just plain confused.

If the average age of a Facebook user is 40, shouldn't those between the ages of 35 and 50 be the most active? A blog post from Vitrue in October 2011 points to the opposite. The post cites that "the age group of 13-17 year olds makes up 29% of Likes, even though they only make up 6% of the U.S. Facebook population. The 35-44 age group only makes up a mere 8% of Likes even though they make up 28% of the U.S. Facebook population." This makes no sense!

Left to my own devices, I came up with my own theories. When looking at my slice of social networking pie, it seems the key to getting these non-sharers to take the plunge and click like (or share) boils down to quality of content. Very rarely do I see someone who is between the age of 18 and 30 sharing a piece of content they don't feel strongly about, whether it is a political commentary or a picture of their latest vacation. If they are curating content to share, it has to be good, so good in fact, that the non-sharer is confident their friends will enjoy seeing it on their Newsfeed (unlike those middle-aged aunts who post the Facebook equivalent of chain emails until their younger family members finally just "unsubscribe").

If good content doesn't incite action, monetary value will. For example, according to, the three top retail pages on Facebook are Walmart, Target, and Kohls. Why? Coupons and promotions. If I can get 20% off my next purchase at any one of these stores by proclaiming to my Facebook friends that I'm a fan, I'll do it.

Here are the conclusions I drew from this smorgasbord of data. First, if we use the fake lottery ticket example, it's clear that people who do not usually share on social networking sites are influenced by those who do. I am so much more likely to enter a contest via Facebook if I see my good friend has already done so. Second, everybody loves a great deal, no matter their age. Give users an inch, and they will run a mile. And third, good content is just good content. Brands and companies don't need to promise a $1 million payout to get fans to like them (although, wouldn't that be nice?), they just need to give the non-sharer something they can proudly put their name behind, and the likes and shares will happen on their own.