The New York Times Customer Insight Group partnered with Latitude Research to learn more about the psychology of why your audience shares your message.
Here’s one major insight from the study:
84% share because it is a way to support causes or issues they care about1.
We also know that we have a tendency to seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs (confirmation bias)2. So, people seek out things that support their view of the world.
This seems to make intuitive sense – who reads vegan blogs? Mostly vegans. Who reads fitness magazines? Mostly people that are already into fitness.
But…here’s the crazy repercussion — if people tend to read or watch content that they already agree with, how do you reach the people that you want to change?
Want to know why it’s so hard to figure out “what your audience wants”? The reason is this…
You have 2 audiences.
The success of your message (whether a TEDx talk, book, or anything else for that matter), depends on people that already agree with you to share it with the people you wish to change.
If you don’t appeal to both of these audiences, your message won’t change people who hear it (or won’t be shared with them in the first place).
You don’t just have to know your audience deeply…you have to know both of your audiences deeply.
No wonder sharing messages was so hard. Until this study was done, everyone thought they had one audience to get to know.
Audience #1: Your Advocates (People that Agree with You)
Audience #1 will find and share your message as a way to show the world and their friends how smart they are, to express their identity, and to help others that need to hear your message. They are 84% of the people who will share your message1.
This first audience is commonly missed. Many speakers or writers say things like “I wish I could get people to realize that_______”, but they don’t realize that these people won’t seek our their message in the first place. Instead, they’ll only hear about it through Audience #1.
You can see this easily in any political discussion – who shares views supporting gun control? People that support gun control already.
Audience #1 are the gatekeepers, influencers, and publishers
These aren’t just people that will share your message on Facebook. They are the event organizers (like TED/TEDx Talks) that select you as a speaker, the advocate that hires you to work with their company, and the book agent/publisher that chooses to publish your book.
They’re the influencer who’s podcast you listen to, the blogger you read, and the trusted friend you get recommendations from.
The more of an influencer they are, chances are, the more well-read they are as well.
Audience #1 curates what they share
Book publishers have heard tons of ideas surrounding your subject, TEDx organizers have read lots of productivity and success books, and so on. If your message sounds like “common knowledge” to Audience #1, they’ll have no reason to share it. On the other hand, if it stands out as better than other resources that help with the same problem, it’ll be the go-to resource they share on a topic.
It’s not enough for content to be good or useful to someone. It has to first be shared by people who are familiar with these concepts already.
Of the books you’ve ever bought, how many have you recommended to friends or left a positive review for? Of the TED Talks you’ve ever watched, how many have you shared? Of all the blog posts you’ve read in the last month, how many have you shared?
How to get your Message Shared by Audience #1
To have Audience #1 share your message, learn more about the resources already out there and what they know already. Then, make something better or in a new category (eg: blue ocean strategy).
It’s hard to make something new or better if you don’t know what you’re making it better from. To make something that stands out from the “common knowledge”, find out what the “common knowledge” is, according to Audience #1. The more perspectives you have on this, the better. As always, there’s a gap between getting great feedback from Audience #1 and what their behavior (“do you like this?” vs do they share it?)
But, not every message that is shared with people is able to change them. In other words, just because you appeal to Audience #1 doesn’t mean you can persuade Audience #2.
Audience #2: People you wish to Change
Your message isn’t common knowledge – there are people all around the world that don’t already accept it as fact yet need to hear it. Their lives would be changed forever if they only knew what you know and believed what you believe.
Unfortunately, they won’t seek it out on their own due to confirmation bias2. They’ll only see it if it comes to them from a trusted source – a friend, influencer they trust, and so on.
Appealing to Audience #2 is how you create change (and avoid “preaching to the choir”).
Most Messages don’t change Audience #2
If you eat meat, how often have your friends shared information trying to convince you to go vegan? If you’re vegan, how many blog posts and documentaries did you watch that didn’t change your view when you were still eating meat?
To appeal to Audience #2, learn why they haven’t changed already. What are their objections? What do they struggle with? What messages have they heard already that haven’t worked? Which unconscious beliefs do they hold that prevent them from changing?
The obvious messages have been shared with them already. To create change in Audience #2, you have to go farther below the surface than other speakers/writers/thinkers have been willing to go.
You’re in Audience #1
Here’s the thing – you’re in Audience #1. Anyone who thinks your message is a good idea is in Audience #1. Anytime you hear the words “this is a really important message” means you’re speaking to someone that is in Audience #1.
This includes your speaker coach, your book agent, and most of your inner circle.
They may share your message if it’s the best of it’s kind, but you don’t change them by sharing your message with them. They’ve already been changed.
You and anyone that thinks you have a great message suffer from The Curse of Knowledge3. You (and they) can’t possibly know what it’s like to not know what you know.
Any feedback you get from them is valuable, but it’s coming from an Audience #1 perspective.
How to Persuade/Change Audience #2
Persuading Audience #2 to change means getting to know people that think you’re wrong. Learn why they think what they think, what messages they’ve heard before, and why these messages haven’t worked already.
“Common knowledge” for these people are messages they’ve heard before that haven’t worked. Learning what these ineffective messages are (and what their remaining objections are), is the only way to change Audience #2.
Once you Change Audience #2, they become Audience #1
Once changed, they become advocates. This is how your message spreads throughout the world. Feedback from them is more valuable (since their Audience #2 mindset is still fresh).
Just because you have an important message doesn’t mean that the people that need it will see it (eg: you have an important message but it sounds like “everything else”).
Just because your message is shared doesn’t mean it’s influencing the people that it’s being shared with (eg: you get a speaking opportunity but don’t create meaningful change in the audience).
You need to appeal to both audiences to create change (or do things like creating a viral TEDx talk)
To make change, you have to persuade people that need to hear your message. To reach these people in the first place, your message has to be shared by people that ALREADY agree. You don’t have 1 audience. You have 2.To make change, you have to persuade people that need to hear your message. To reach these people in the first place, your message has to be shared by people that ALREADY agree. You don't have 1 audience. You have 2.Click To Tweet
- The Psychology of Sharing (The New York Times)
- Confirmation Bias is the tendency to stay in our “echo chamber”
- We all suffer from The Curse of Knowledge. We know what we know so well that it’s impossible to remember fully what it was like without that knowledge. Imagine trying to explain walking to a baby. Hard, right? It’s the same with sharing any message.