NYT On The ‘Psychology Of Sharing’: E-Mail Still Rules

When the New York Times first began talking about creating a metered paywall for its website last year, the company was quick to note that social media links would be exempt in order to keep the traffic flowing. Hoping to get a better sense of who shares links and why, the NYT commissioned a study that breaks down the types of people who share links and offered an overview of some recent marketing campaigns that appeared to hit the “buzz” mark. The one big surprise — at least for those fully immersed in the worlds of Twitter, Facebook and now Google+ — is that e-mail is still the most popular sharing tool.

In an online survey of 2,500 self-identified “medium-to-heavy content sharers,” Latitude Research and the NYT found that users generally fall into six “personas”: altruists (mostly female, attached to causes), careerists (it’s all about the job), hipsters (younger altruists and careerists), boomerangs (people who share simply to stir up controversy), connectors and selectives (related to careerists and altruists, respectively).

While people who are younger and view themselves as more tech-savvy have begun to eschew e-mail as a communications tool, for the most part, e-mail remains the most popular way users choose to share news. As the study reminds the technological elite, despite appearances, not “everyone” is on Facebook, and Twitter is still mostly the province of media and tech people. Secondly, e-mail is viewed as more secure and private and therefore more “personal.” As such, people tend to want to have a one-to-one conversation about news that moves them rather than a one-to-many. Social media, the study says, is all about “serendipity,” where a post can lost in the shuffle of a Twitter or Facebook stream; but an e-mail is something that definitely will get seen and therefore, produce a specific response.

Among the other findings in the study, which is being presented at the ANA Social Media conference in New York, include:

— 75 percent say sharing helps them better understand and “process” the news they’re interested in; 85 percent say the responses they get from posting to a social media site provide more thought
— 94 percent consider how helpful a link would be to another user
— 68 percent share as an advertisement for themselves, to give others a better sense of who they are.
— 78 percent use links to stay connected to people they may not otherwise be in touch with.
— 73 percent say it helps them find people with common interests.