If brands want to get social shares and other kinds of online engagement, they first need to figure out what their audiences will get out of sharing content on various marketing channels.

Soliciting shares is a big part of social media marketing, but how can brands actually get followers to repost their content? And more importantly, what triggers the need to broadcast content to one’s followers and friends?

Web marketing firm Fractl recently published a study of the emotions and needs that fuel social shares. The results of their survey show how followers can go from awareness to brand advocates with the click of a button.

It turns out the single-most compelling reason to share on social media is to entertain, which was the answer given by 44 percent of respondents. Next up was a desire to educate, with 25 percent, followed by wanting to share something that reflects who the sharer is as a person (20 percent). Surprisingly, showing support for a cause or organization came in fourth, with 10 percent.

Setting social content up for success

It isn’t enough to just assume “good content,” whatever that means to a particular brand, will take off like wildfire on social networks. What constitutes “good content” is different across audiences, and it’s important for social marketers to think about what this means to their potential customers – particular in the B2B sector.

One of Brafton’s clients in the financial industry probably wasn’t going to have much success with entertaining social posts. However, the company could fill the educational niche nicely, which is exactly what we helped them do. Our strategy included 30-40 weekly informational posts, including a mix of the company’s own blog content, as well as third-party resources relevant to the industry.

That high volume of Tweets wasn’t just to make sure audiences had enough to read – although it certainly helps. Actually, it made it possible to see which content got the most Retweets, Favorites and overall engagement. We were then able to keep producing similar posts after identifying the general need (education) they fulfilled among users.

This resulted in a massive uptick in the number of Twitter followers – 1,000 to 3,200 over the course of a year. By understanding what people liked about the content, as well as what would motivate them to share it in turn, it was possible to increase visibility, attract more inbound traffic and ultimately grow the business.

Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.