The Psychology of Social Sharing: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


Posted: November 28, 2012 | B2B Marketing

It is clear that there is a strong correlation between psychology and the act of social sharing. As a B2B marketing professional trying to create your social media and content strategy, having a basic foundation of human psychology can help amplify your efforts, more effectively reach your audience, and encourage your customers to share your message.  But how do you get your audience to share? By understanding the psychology behind human motivations, you can have greater insight into how to target your audience.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In 1943, Abraham Maslow, a prominent American psychologist created Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to explain fundamental human behaviors. By being conscious of the motivations behind need fulfillment, you can better understand how your message will resonate with your audience and create campaigns that your audience wants to share.

This is the largest, most fundamental need in Maslow’s pyramid. It covers the most basic physical needs for survival such as food, water, sleep, shelter, warmth.  This and the next tier are more product and service focused. Focus on calling out the physiological if your company sells  a product or service that helps enhance or fill one of these basic needs.

Safety and security can include protection, order, law, employment, health. This is also the level that income falls under. Having a healthy income and a steady job is also part of this tier. Note, that these needs aren’t as crucial as the initial physiological ones, but are still important for human comfort.

Now we are beyond the physical and get up into the deep psychological and interpersonal needs such as friendship, family, and intimacy. According to Maslow, humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance within their social spheres.  This sense of belonging motivates people to lean on their peers and listen to their recommendations. This is one of the primary reasons for social sharing–the group-think mentality. If your friends are sharing a piece of content, you are much more likely to look at it and share as well. This concept can also be seen in a Groupon like group deal. The more deals that show as purchased, the more likely you are to see the item or service as desirable. Conversely, if the group deal has a low purchase rate,  you might think twice about buying it yourself.

After the desire for beloging, the next level of needs is self-esteem. Esteem exemplifies the desire to be recognized and rewarded for achievements. Because esteem is so closely linked with belonging, this level illustrates the need to be listened to and accepted by others. Growth both personally and professionally can also fall under this tier. This can fuel competition in a social sharing campaign, or be a motivator behind writing a review and participating in a poll. Everyone wants their opinion heard. Additionally, by rewarding your influencers (those that evangelize your message the most) you can tap into this need.

Self- actualization
This is the concept that refers to the desire to realize one’s full potential and to achieve a high level of accomplishment or mastery. This is the driving force behind the need to succeed, and perfect his or her chosen interest or profession. Tap into this need by fueling competition through your social channels. Go further by asking your audience to be creative or to show their expertise in some way. The desire to be the best is a great motivator.


What can be learned?

A lot can be learned from Maslow’s basic explanation of human needs, and this can easily be translated into what motivates people to share. Social media fosters a strong sense of group mentality — learning from your peers, being recognized by your peers, relying on your peers for that sense of belonging. As a marketer, keep this in mind when both developing your content and your social campaigns. Always ask yourself what “social sharing need” your campaign is fulfilling.

To learn more about how you can motivate social sharing with your customers and prospects, download our new ebook 5 Ways to Encourage Your Customers to Share Your Content.

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  • Anonymous

    Hi Brock,
    Thanks for your feedback and you make some good points. This blog post is about a particular theory
    within neuropsychology and what can be learned from that specific
    theory–it isn’t intended to be a commentary on neuropsychology as a
    whole. There is no way to truly capture all the nuances of how
    psychology relates to marketing in one blog post. This would instead be a
    large volume of text books or a dissertation. My intention was merely
    to put the idea in the mind of marketers that they should really take
    psychology, like Maslow’s hierarchy, into consideration when planning
    their campaigns, particularly those in the social sphere. And I feel
    like marketers can have meaningful commentary on it even though many of
    them are not experts in neuropsychology. Additionally, you mention
    persuasion psychology, which no doubt plays a role in social, but what I
    am really talking here is viral groupthink and the power of
    peer-to-peer relationships.

  • Frank Stevens

    Great response … but definitely a swing and a miss.

    Ignoring the sheer pretentiousness of the statement “Please revisit this topic AFTER you have become informed on basic principles of Neuro-psychology,” yours is a strawman argument set up by a complete false dichotomy. In that vein do you seriously think that an analysis of social media in the context of Maslow’s Hierarchy is meaningless without an encyclopedic knowledge of basic neuropsychology? By the same token, perhaps you should revisit posting self-important pejorative comments on marketing blogs until after you have a basic understanding of idea diffusion in the marketing context. In particular, read Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow.” Clearly, without that understanding, you can’t meaningfully comment on marketing priciples. right?

    Furthermore, how does Maslow’s Heirarchy fall down without the basic human survival as a motivator. Each need is neither monolithic nor strictly chronological. Indeed, there is no doubt that they are integrally interconnected, as Dayna has pointed out. There is simply no question that even very hungry people or homeless people are still motivated by safety, love and belonging, esteem, and even self-actualization. To contend that human motivations are siloed is completely reductive and ignorant of human psychology.

    Finally, in yet another false dichotomy you assert that Dayna, as a marketing professional is not informed about persuasion psychology on the basis of this post? It is a basic logical principle that you can’t prove a negative. Similarly, how can you base the assertion that someone doesn’t know something merely on its lack of presence in a particular discussion. Your post didn’t discuss a litany of topics related to marketing and business development, should I assume that you are not informed about any of them?

    The point was to discuss how Maslow’s hierarchy specifically applies in this context. The insights gained therefrom are not invalidated merely because it did not include an exhaustive discussion of persuasion theory.

    I continue to be amazed at people who rely on logical non-sequiturs to make themselves look smart to people they don’t know behind the safety of a computer screen.

  • Natalie Horne

    Thanks for this Dayna,

    It’s always encouraging to see neuropsychology featuring in B2B marketing commentary, for the wealth of the behavioural sciences is barely being tapped.

    Marketers talk a lot about the shift from ‘art’ to ‘science’, but often this is just a short-hand for more focus on measurement/data and less investment in creative services.

    From my work in the space I’d argue that being more ‘scientific’ should actually include:
    (a) Methodically leveraging insights from the behavioural sciences. Knowledge of the psychology of decision-making can help us find the (often small) changes to contextual factors, such as phrasing and architecture, which can have a significant impact on buyer behaviour. We need to see every call to action of the funnel as a micro-decision that is worthy of attention and optimisation.
    (b) Adopting a more structured approach to experimentation. Every email or piece of content is an opportunity to test these hypotheses and improve our ROI.

    B2B marketers have amazing technology at their disposal and are under huge pressure to be more efficient. Leveraging psychology seems like a no-brainer to me :-)

  • Christy Sinclair

    WOW! who would have expected it?

  • Anonymous

    And here you can find another graphical presentation of Maslow’s theory

Dayna Rothman is the Sr. Content Marketing Manager at Marketo and Author of Lead Generation for Dummies. She runs the Marketo content initiatives and is the managing editor of the Marketo blog. Dayna has extensive experience in content marketing, social media, marketing automation, and inbound marketing. She has an MBA from Golden Gate University and lives in Oakland, CA.

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The Psychology of Social Sharing: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

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