Why Do We Share Content Online? (3 Things I Discovered…)

Earlier this week, while browsing through my social media feeds, I saw something that quickly caught my eye.

Does this look familiar?


As some of you may know, the site How-Old.net stormed many of our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds starting from last Friday. For those of you who may not know yet, How-Old.net is an online app from Microsoft where users can upload a picture of themselves and the app’s algorithm analyzes your face and – based on your photo – suggests your estimated age; which could be to your delight or to your disappointment (directing that comment to all my aunts on Facebook). This app really took off (even to the surprise of its own creators) and, over the last week, it seemed like almost all of my friends and family were sharing their own versions all over social media.

So why am I writing this blog post?

Looking at these pictures being shared from friends all the way to business leaders, it made me think about the prevalence of other similar movements over the past several years. Anyone remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? How about Harlem Shake? Gangnam Style? Who can forget Kony 2012? Or even just your friend sharing the latest Batman v Superman leak? This really made me wonder…

Why do we share things online?

What motivates us to participate and share in these online movements? What makes us so excited to upload our own photo or our own version and show it off to our friends?

Curious me decided to look into it, and I’d like to share with you three things I discovered…

Three Reasons We Share Content Online

According to a study conducted by the New York Times Customer Insight Group on “The Psychology of Sharing“: sharing is all about relationships. We share to receive or provide some sort of benefit to our network of relationships online. Here are some of the ways that can take shape:

1. Grow and Nourish Relationships

Many times, people share things like the latest movie trailer leak or burrito cat to bring valuable and entertaining content to their friends and family. For the most part, according to the New York Times study, the reason why 78% of us do this is because it allows us to stay connected to people that we might not otherwise keep in touch with. As a random example, if we think about the last time we tried to get back in touch with one of our Facebook friends, which of the two scenarios seems more likely:

  1. A post on their timeline saying, “Hey, how’s it going?”
  2. A link on their timeline to a video saying, “Omg saw this and totally reminded me of you…”

Again, this might not be the case everywhere; but the idea is that a lot of the times, when we share content with others online, we use it merely as an instrument to help express sentiments of care, friendship, and even love, simply by providing utility or entertainment.

2. Define Ourselves to Others

One of the more interesting things I discovered about why we share content ultimately has to do with who we are. Or rather, who we want to be. Sharing things online, according to New York Times, allows people to give others a better sense of who they are, what they care about, and who they want to be. Whether we’re sharing Business Insider articles, Buzzfeed videos, Chipotle’s guac recipe (yes!), or changing our profile pictures to support the causes we care about, it allows us to craft and reinforce our online image to share to the world. Shimi Cohen’s “Innovation of Loneliness” said it best: I share, therefore I am.

Sometimes, we can even make the argument that sharing online can take on a form of narcissism. Ernest Dichter’s classic 1966 study on “Word of Mouth” reveals that one of the reasons people “talk” about brands is for self-confirmation. These could include people who share because they are “seeking attention”, “showing connoisseurship(looking smarter), or appearing to have “insider information”.

According to the New York Times study, there are six personas that tend to share content. These personas can be defined by their emotional motivations, desired presentation of their self and how valuable it is to them that they are the first to share something.

  1. The Altruist: These sharers are helpful, reliable, thoughtful, connected, and use email to share.
  2. The Careerist: These sharers are intelligent business networkers and are more likely to share content on LinkedIn.
  3. The Hipster: Less likely than other sharers to use email for sharing content, these sharers are creative, young and popular. They consume content that is on the cutting edge and care about defining their identity.
  4. The Boomerang: These sharers share information to get a reaction and to feel validated. They are empowered by social media and tend to use both Twitter and Facebook.
  5. The Connector: Creative, relaxed, thoughtful, making plans, uses both email and Facebook to share information.
  6. The Selective: These sharers are resourceful, careful, and thoughtful. They share content that is informative and also use email to share content with individuals.

Can you identify with any of these?

3. Our High-Arousal Emotions are Triggered

The last finding that I discovered was from a research paper by Jonah Berger and Katy Milkman called, “What Makes Online Content Viral?” In that study, one of the key highlights was that content that evokes high-arousal emotions tend to be more viral than those without such emotion.

High-arousal emotions can be positive or negative and could include anything from awe, anger (i.e. challenging someone’s beliefs), anxiety (i.e. losing out on something), fear, joy (i.e. funny, inspiring, uplifting), lust, or surprise. Think about the last time you shared a post from Upworthy with a title along the lines of: “Watch a Teenager Bring His Class to Tears Just by Saying a Few Words”. What’s interesting is that we’re more likely to share positive content – even tear-jerkers – than negative ones, according to Berger.

Lessons Learned for Marketers

As a 4th year marketing student, I believe there are some key lessons here for content marketers and especially for myself as a new grad going into this field. We already know that online conversations about your brand and your business are crucial to building the social capital that you need to succeed. In essence, brands and businesses succeed when people within them “trust each other, look out for one another, and work well together… that trust comes from interaction, collaboration and, most of all, conversation.”

So here’s what I personally learned about ways to succeed in content marketing:

  • Allow users to connect with each other, not just your brand. Whether it’s through nominations or encouraging competition (i.e. people adding their own epic variation to the Harlem Shake in an effort to top the last person), what makes content (or even memes) go viral is being able to add your own personality to it and then use it as a way to interact with others.
  • Appeal to narcissism. Ensure that your content allows users to project their self-image to others, whether it’s their desired youthful age (i.e. #HowOldRobot) or a cause that they care about (i.e. ALS). Make them appear smarter to their network and look like they know something that others don’t. And honestly, everyone loves an excuse to post a photo or video of themselves.
  • Trigger positive, high-arousal emotions. Tear-jerkers FTW. Just make people smile.
  • Keep your content simple and easy to understand. One of the reasons why #HowOldRobot took off is that it was extremely easy to use and required less than 2-3 clicks to work. Or even taking after Buzzfeed’s famous “listicles” model, using lists to communicate more detailed content allows users to quickly digest and consume information that is spatially organized and presents your required time investment upfront.
  • Make sharing easy. If we want content to be shared, then the experience should be as seamless as possible. Again, looking at #HowOldRobot’s user experience, I shared my photo in two clicks and I was done – no required log-in, no required input fields to fill out.

Wrapping It Up

There’s a lot of things we can say about people: we’re curious, we’re creative, we’re social, we’re terrible at remembering things, we like things visual, we love a good story, we want everything fast and easy.

But at the end of the day, the most important lesson for me is that people are most likely to listen to and trust others who are close to them (i.e. Mom > McDonald’s). So, as marketers, if we want our content to be shared online, we need to make sure that it’s credible, it appeals to others, it’s easy, it’s simple to understand, and – above all – I feel good sharing it. Then you can be sure that I’m clicking that share button.

Oh, and for those who were curious…


I was 19 when I took this picture… Do you think it’s the beard?



What is Search Engine Optimization?

I’ve always been curious about search engines. As a marketing student curious about understanding digital consumer behavior, I know how integral search engines can be in a consumer’s path to purchase, as they can potentially make or break your business. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to take a digital marketing course at York University, where we were taught the intricacies of SEO and paid search in great detail.

However, for those who are unfamiliar with SEO and why it’s important for the future, I just wanted to share a great video from Search Engine Land that explains everything in simple language which really helps you understand the whole process.

Hope you enjoy!

Four Lessons Learned from an Account Management Internship

This past summer, I was extremely fortunate to have had the amazing opportunity of completing an Account Management Internship at LoyaltyOne’s in-house advertising agency, Squareknot. In my role as an Account Coordinator, I was responsible for managing and executing digital (email) and direct mail CRM campaigns – my responsibilities ranged from attending client briefings, creative brief writing, campaign deployment, and general project management of different departments at the agency (e.g. creative, digital, production).

During my four months, I was immersed in an unbelievably fast-paced environment where I was always on the move and there was always a project to move forward. And quite frankly, not only did I enjoy this “go-go-go” speed of an agency, but the experience also allowed me to learn a lot in a short period of time.

Here are four key survival tips lessons that I learned which I wanted to share:

1. Keep Your Brief Brief

brief-underwearSuperior written communication skills are a must. Part of my role as an Account Coordinator was to understand a client’s campaign objectives and then translate that ask to the creative department via a creative brief. In that creative brief, I needed to talk about the brand, the target, the insight, the communication objective, the competition, mandatories, project description, legal requirements, versions, etc. etc. With all that information in one document, I could see why a busy art director or copywriter reading this brief would want everything to be as clear, specific, and concise as possible.

Even going beyond creative brief writing (which btw was pretty awesome), written skills apply to every piece of communication I sent out in the office. My busy colleagues and execs already have overflowing inboxes and don’t have the time to sift through a four-paragraph email just to find out at the bottom that they were only CC’d as an FYI. In this internship, I really learned the importance of being able communicate succinctly in a legible and easy-to-read manner, while ensuring that those on the receiving end understand who the message is for and thoroughly comprehend what the message is asking of them. In other words, being a good communicator meant being able to get to the point quickly and effectively.

2. Be a Chameleon


Oral communication skills are even more important. In almost every job application, we usually take for granted one of the most common requirements which is “excellent communication skills”. Seems pretty basic, at first, but boy, in four months, I was so wrong to underestimate this. In an office environment, being able to confidently and effectively communicate orally across a wide range of audiences is paramount (although this might not always apply, especially to roles outside of marketing): whether you’re briefing a creative team, pitching your team’s idea to the client, or providing feedback to an art director.

One of my managers told me a really interesting advice to succeed in account management: “Be a chameleon”. The way she explained it was that, as an account person, our job is to act as the liaison between the client (e.g. AIR MILES) and the rest of the agency (e.g. creative, studio, translation). She told me that, as the liaison, you have to be able to put on different “hats” and be able to speak eloquently and authentically enough to each department that you come off sincere, without sounding condescending or just being a “yes” man to the client.  You need to be able to relate and understand the needs of each person you are speaking with.

For example, let’s say the client says, “We don’t like the header in red, change it”. Do I relay that feedback word-for-word like that to my creative team (who may have spent hours on that piece)? Or is there a better way of wording it? As a creative team, which feedback would sound better to you:

  1. “We don’t like it in red, change it”
  2. “The client was wondering if there was any way we could try a version of the header in red – do you think we could look into that? Perhaps a blue? What do you think?”

Again, this lesson may not apply everywhere, but I found it extremely useful – particularly roles that involve communicating with different parties on a daily basis. You have to communicate like a chameleon.

3. Your Notebook is Your Third Hand


Your notebook is your life. Interning in account management (or even marketing, in general), I was always working under a deadline and information was flying everywhere. At any given moment in the day, I was managing multiple projects and had a lot to remember. And at any point, I could bump into my manager in the hallway who might give me a new assignment or some new detail that I could possibly forget by the time I got back to my desk. As such, carrying a notebook with me everywhere ensured that I was documenting everything: from meeting minutes, to my daily to-do list, to deadlines, to docket numbers, to a random idea for a pitch.

I learned that bringing my notebook everywhere helped me stay extremely organized throughout the day – it kept me calm when there were fires to put out, it kept me on track if I was leading a briefing, and it basically kept me on the ball throughout the day.

4. Be ‘Intern’-ested


Show that you’re interested in the work. As an intern, I find us to be in quite an advantageous position. In most organizations, we’re never really expected to be much off the bat, so it’s actually easy to stand out and exceed expectations, especially if you demonstrate that you’re passionate and willing to learn. As such, I realized that to make the most out of my internship, I should take every opportunity to learn and go beyond my daily responsibilities. I made time to grab coffee with my managers or even our president because I was genuinely interested in the agency and the industry. I constantly asked questions about people’s roles, processes, what they like about the agency life, what they don’t like, etc. and took notes in my handy-dandy notebook.

From an account management perspective, I made it my duty to take an interest in each of our clients’ business. This meant conducting research on their company, looking into where they operate, who their target audience is for the campaign, and getting an overall familiarity with their objectives. This allowed me to share informed ideas during our meetings. Asking questions was also a plus. For example, during a client briefing, our client started off right away by getting very specific with their ideas for how the creative should look. But I thought it would be appropriate to ask, “But given that your audience aren’t necessarily active AIR MILES Collectors, could you tell us a little bit more about what exactly is in it for them? As in, why should they listen to the message?” Scary at first, isn’t it? Although it takes some guts at times, it definitely doesn’t hurt to ask questions, especially since as an intern it can really let you shine and show that you are vested in the work.

Above all, making an effort to learn more unlocked opportunities for me to go beyond my responsibilities. For example, it allowed me to work closely with our Group Account Director in developing various creative pitches, which involved conducting research, synthesizing, and actually building the deck that will be presented to potential clients; duties which would have never included in the intern job posting.

Overall, my four months spent at Squareknot were some of the most rewarding months in my four years in university: I learned so much and I could not have asked for a better experience spending it at Squareknot Agency.

Digital: The New Moment of Truth

A few years ago, I went to Value Village with my friend because we needed to buy a board game and we were on a cheap student budget. Based on literally the colors of the box, we narrowed it down to two games that, at the time, neither of us had heard of: a game called “Hear Me Out” and another game called “Settlers of Catan”. Of course, this was a huge ($4.95) investment so the game needed to be absolutely perfect. But we didn’t know any better.

So my friend did something strange. He pulled out his phone, typed in some words on Google, and then two minutes later he goes,

“This one has better reviews. Let’s go with Settlers of Catan.”

“What just happened?” I thought to myself.

You see, back in 2012, I attended a conference hosted by the York Marketing Association where I got to listen to a workshop hosted by a guest speaker from Google. In that workshop, the guest speaker talked about a really neat concept called the “Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT)” (ps. definitely worth a read if you haven’t yet!)

According to the author, Jim Lecinski, ZMOT is that moment “when you grab your laptop, mobile phone or some other wired device and start learning about a product or service (or potential boyfriend) you’re thinking about trying or buying.” It’s the moment where marketing, information, and consumer decisions collide to determine the success or failure of a brand in winning over your wallet. It’s where we, as consumers, go to verify our decisions prior to grabbing the product we want off the shelf. It’s what we do before we do anything.


Over the past four years studying marketing at York University, I’ve always enjoyed the process of understanding consumer behavior, particularly the way people make decisions and the steps we take to arrive at those decisions. And looking back at what happened that day, when my friend and I made the decision to buy Catan, a terrifying and exciting thought dawned on me: the Internet has forever changed the way we make decisions.

Our shopping journey has been revolutionized – we’re increasingly making decisions at the exact moment when we have a need or question that we want answered online. Brands that are present with the right message at that “moment of truth” are the ones that are winning: whether your customers are Google searching you through a smartphone, a tablet, a netbook, a laptop, etc. Given the fact that consumers now have access to so much information at any time and any place, and the number of channels that brands can use to connect with these consumers continues to grow, digital marketing has not stopped evolving.

According to SAS, these are just some of the future challenges for digital marketers everywhere:

  • Proliferation of digital channels. Consumers use multiple digital channels and a variety of devices that use different protocols, specifications and interfaces – and they interact with those devices in different ways and for different purposes.
  • Intensifying competition. Digital channels are relatively cheap, compared with traditional media, making them within reach of practically every business of every size. As a result, it’s becoming a lot harder to capture consumers’ attention.
  • Exploding data volumes. Consumers leave behind a huge trail of data in digital channels. It’s extremely difficult to get a handle on all that data, as well as find the right data within exploding data volumes that can help you make the right decisions.

In fact, according to Smart Insight’s Managing Digital Marketing Report, an astounding 46% of companies still do not have a defined digital marketing strategy. But it’s getting there:

  • What are the new ways that brands will be using to understand the behavior and decisions of their online customers?
  • How are companies planning to gain the trust of the ‘always-on’ Millennials and Generation Z, especially now that they are growing up and able to make bigger decisions on their own? Who are these generations consulting with now?
  • How are brands going to continue to create an integrated consumer experience across so many channels from social media, to search engines, to in-store, and (now) wearables?

*cue my Dungeons & Dragons nerd voice* … this stuff excites me.

These are exciting times to be working or entering into this field. If digital will continue to revolutionize the way we make decisions, then the future of marketing will continue to change with it. In fact, digital marketing not only belongs in the future, but it is happening now.

So why are there not enough marketing students who are ready for it? According to The Guardian, by 2018 the US is predicted to lack around 1.5 million managers and analysts with sufficient technical and digital know-how to make effective decisions. Increasingly, traditional marketing academia is growing the gap between the skills that marketers have and the skills that they need for the workforce (i.e. can code, understand analytics, manage social media from a business perspective, etc.)

As marketing students continue to graduate everywhere*, the question we all need to ask ourselves is this: how are we going to be ahead of the curve?

The real moment of truth is that digital is already here. Are we ready for it?

* well, fingers crossed for me, that is.

3 Building Blocks of Marketing – Part 3: Curious

Going back to my discussion on Part 1 and Part 2, I mentioned how there are three building blocks which together form my passion for the marketing industry – the first two being “Creative” and “Strategic“.

Disclaimer: Oh BTW! Before I move on, it might be necessary to point out that I am in no way considering myself an “expert” in anything I have or ever will talk about in my blog. Everything will always be based on previously learned experiences (school, internships, extra-curricular, competitions, etc.), advice (networking, professors, etc.), case studies, books, and articles… and then some sprinkled-on personal opinion. You know, just in case you felt like putting away your grains of salt.

Anyways, in this last post in this three-part series, I just wanted to quickly share what I believe is the most important building block for any budding marketing student:

3. Curiosity

Being creative and being strategic is not enough. Marketers and marketing students alike have to show a child-like nature of inquisitiveness: the desire to learn or know about anything.

How does this apply to marketers?

Curiosity drives unique consumer insights. Many of the best campaigns over the last century have been founded on unique insights born from a combination of rigorous analysis and (as mentioned previously) creative problem-solving: re-framing problems in a new way by asking questions like “why?” or “what if?” Why do people do things that way? What if there’s a deeper reason? It’s a way of continuing to look at things that haven’t been looked at before; asking questions that haven’t been asked before:

  • Why do we really drink coffee? What if it’s really about waking up – and the real “wake up” that happens is to the smell of coffee in the morning before we even get to take a sip?
  • Why is it that we only think about the most boring product imaginable only when we’re out of it?
  • Why did people really buy big, gas-guzzling shiny hunks of metal known as “cars” in the 1950’s? Why did a car need to be about the size (ps. both the car and the ego)? What if there were people who didn’t need to express themselves based on size? What if these people are more interested in thinking small?

Curiosity unlocks knowledge. And it is with that unique knowledge that marketers from Folgers, the California Milk Processor Board, Volkswagen, and many others from around the world can go on to create and strategize the most memorable marketing campaigns.

Why should this apply to marketing students?

Curiosity drives passion. From what I’ve seen so far, “passion” is a word that gets thrown around fairly easily in anybody’s resume. It’s easy to claim that you’re “passionate” about something. Be honest, when you’re asked in an interview to “Tell me about yourself”, how many times does the word “passion” appear within the first three sentences of your answer? (Seeing a few nods in the audience…) Well, here’s what I believe: outside of the interview, passion is not something you claim. Passion is something you do. And keep doing.

So what is it exactly that marketing students and soon-to-be-new-grads-and-forever-done-with-school should be doing?

In short: keep learning. And never stop learning. The reason why I believe this is important is that in today’s hungry, teeth-out-claws-out job economy, everyone is so eager to demonstrate how much experience we have to offer – whether it’s from a creative standpoint or a strategic standpoint – that we sometimes forget to let go of our egos and admit that we still don’t know everything. And we never really will.

Because true learning doesn’t come from a course syllabus or by someone else telling you what to do. True learning is a result of your own curiosity to learn more: to learn skills outside of a classroom, to learn industry trends outside of the office, to learn underlying reasons for people’s random quirks, etc. Only when we admit that we’re curious enough to keep learning and striving for more… only then can we truly claim that we are passionate about something.

According to Thomas Friedman, “The winners won’t just be those with more I.Q. It will also be those with more P.Q. (passion quotient) and C.Q. (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools to not just find a job, but to invent one or reinvent one, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime.

By now, I hope you can tell that I’m moving the conversation away from “marketing” and letting you see how this mantra can really apply anywhere, across any industry, to whatever goal you set out to accomplish. As always,  tomorrow is what you make of it.

So be creative. Think strategically. Stay curious. Keep asking questions. Never stop learning. This is how you build passion.