The Psychology of Social Media: Why We Like, Share, and Comment


One tweet. One fast food chain. One celebrity and a hat. 75,000 retweets and 40,000+ favorites later,  $41,1000 donated to a children's charity

How did that happen? When Pharell and Arby's shared a quick exchange on Twitter, enough people were excited by SOMETHING that lead to one of the greatest social media successes of all time. 

What was the something that gave way to $41,000 donated to charity? Why were so many people excited? Why do we “like” particular posts? Why do we “comment”? Why do we “share”? What makes social media so darn addicting, and how does it affect our psyche? Before you tire out, it’s worthwhile to try to comprehend what the answers to these (heavy, heavy) questions might be. After all, understanding what makes your audience “tick” is key to social media success, like Arby's and Pharell.

Why We "Like"

It makes us seem more empathetic.

According to the Pew Research Center, on average, 44% of Facebook users “like” content posted by friends and favorite pages about once a day, while 29% do so multiple times a day. Clicking the “like” button is a way of developing a virtual human connection. When you like another person’s page, you come across as supportive, attentive, and engaged – all characteristics associated with empathy. The takeaway for you? Consider posting things that are compelling or will elicit a positive emotional response.

We "like" if we get something out of it.

Sometimes liking things has more to do with practicality than emotions. When it comes to company pages, people are often motivated by return. People will be more likely to “like” pages when they are interested in seeing the content that a particular brand has to share. For example, if someone wants to receive coupons from Target, they may be more likely to regularly engage with Target’s posts so they don’t miss out on important offers such as giveaways, sales, coupons, etc.

Why We Comment

People comment because they want their voices to be heard. (Of course!)

When you leave a comment, there’s more of an opportunity for engagement. While liking is a quick acknowledgement, leaving a comment seems much more personal and generates a feeling of satisfaction. It’s important that businesses engage with their audience. When people leave comments on your page, it’s important that you’re responsive.

Being responsive has benefits. One, it allows the conversation to continue. Two, the more likes and comments a post has, the longer and higher up it stays on algorithm-based newsfeeds. And three, being responsive shows your audience that you care and listen.

Why We Share

There are many reasons why people choose to share posts on social media. The New York Times recently conducted a thought leadership study on the psychology of sharing on Facebook. The study found that these were the five primary reasons why people share content on Facebook (and presumably, other modes of social media):

To provide value or entertainment.

When responders share information that provides value or is entertaining, it makes them feel smart and/or cool.

To affirm themselves.

Sharing information that responders found interesting created an opportunity for them to share a piece of themselves. Social media users want their community to get a better sense of them and the things that they care about.

To strengthen relationships.

Sharing content provides another opportunity to bond with the Facebook community and interact with people they may not usually stay in touch with.

For personal fulfillment.

Sometimes it has nothing to do with other people. Sharing content brings personal satisfaction, which, in turn, allows people to feel more involved in the world.

To spread awareness.

Responders stated that they feel fulfilled when they can share things that they care about, in hopes that they can inspire action or change opinion.

People like to share things because they find it interesting, informative, entertaining, or they just want to show that they’re in the know. The most important takeaway, as a business owner, is to make sure you are sharing things that are of value to your audience. Create content that is entertaining and informative at the same time. Provide content that really connects with your target audience, so they can see themselves in your brand. Lastly, make sure your content is engaging and will spark conversation.

It’s always good to take note of the types of things that people are liking, commenting, and sharing. Knowing this information can help your marketing efforts and also give you better guidelines on the type of content you should share more often. More importantly, it’s important to remember that social media is all about the user experience. If you create a fantastic user experience, you will generate a fantastic user response.