Why People Share: The 50-Year-Old Answer

In 1966, Harvard Business Review published a study by Ernest Dichter that identified four motivations for a person to communicate about brands, as follows:

  1. In 33% of the cases, people shared because of product-involvement. The experience was so novel and pleasurable that it had to be shared.
  2. In a quarter of cases, people shared because of self-involvement. Sharing knowledge or opinions was a way to gain attention, show connoisseurship, feel like a pioneer, have inside information, seek confirmation of a person’s own judgment, or assert superiority.
  3. One-fifth of sharing occurred from other-involvement: the speaker wanted to reach out and help to express neighborliness, caring, and friendship.
  4. In another 20% of cases, message-involvement drove sharing. The message was so humorous or informative that it deserved sharing.

Implications for Brands

If we assume those trends to be valid and normal expectations for online sharing today, we can use that distribution as a benchmark to assess the health of the conversation about any brand, based upon the extent to which the conversation about the brand deviates from this average distribution.

For example, we might expect 33% of conversation about a brand to focus on people describing their experience with the brand. And when we see more than 33% of a brand’s conversation being generated by customers based on product or service experience, we might guess that the brand is doing something exceptional — either within the customer experience, or within their social media marketing.

When we see a brand whose customers create significantly less than 33% of the conversation about the brand, we are likely to discover flaws in either the customer experience or the brand’s social media capabilities.

Category Benchmarks


In the apparel category, we have seen brands with more than 90% of their conversation generated by consumers talking about their experience with the product. On the other hand, we have also seen apparel brands with less than one-third of their conversation occurring based on customer experiences with the product.


For one automotive client, we found that 28% of consumer messages about the brand described their involvement with the product. That’s slightly below the 33% general benchmark.

B2B Technology

On the other hand, for one of our B2B technology clients, 32% of online customer messages describe the customer’s involvement with the product.

The difference, we found, is that the technology company receives a greater share of mentions within online forums, where customers are trying to solve problems. And any brand that receives a lot of mentions in forums should expect that more of their mentions describe customer experience with the product.

Consumer Packaged Goods

On the other end of the spectrum, for one of our shampoo clients, 73% of online consumer messages described the consumer’s experience with the product. Most of the shampoo brand mentions existed within product reviews, recommendations and anecdotal messages such as status updates.

Thanks to Will Bottinick and his research team for pulling together these numbers.

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