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The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.
(Photo: Stokkete/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Stokkete/Shutterstock)

When the last great thing happened in your life, how did you share the news? There are plenty of options: email, video chat, Twitter. Or maybe you ditched the technology and invited someone out to dinner for the big announcement.

What about the last bad thing that happened in your life? Did you share that in the same way?

How often do we share news about ourselves, and which mediums do we choose? What advantages does meeting face-to-face have over texting and vice versa?

Given the amount people obsess over different modes of communication, there has been a surprising lack of research on sharing in the digital age. How often do we share news about ourselves, and which mediums do we choose? What advantages does meeting face-to-face have over texting and vice versa? University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Catalina Toma and graduate student Mina Choi recently set out to answer these questions in what they call the first experiment "to examine social sharing as it takes place via interpersonal media." Their results, published this month in Computers in Human Behavior, suggest that different circumstances call for different communication tools.

The study traced the sharing habits of 311 undergraduates by tasking them with keeping a daily online diary of either their most positive or negative experiences and the media they used to tell others about them. In each entry, the students rated the event on a scale of how positively or negatively they perceived it. (So, winning the lottery presumably would be rated more positive than eating a good sandwich.) Here's what the researchers found:

  • The students shared the positive and negative events of their lives with others equally—78.2 and 76.4 percent of the time, respectively.
  • Despite all of the technology, face-to-face communication still came out on top as the most popular method of sharing. It was used about half the time, followed by texting (around 30 percent), phone calling (25 percent), Facebook posting (nine percent), emailing (5.5 percent), instant messaging (five percent), and tweeting, video chatting, and blogging (all less than five percent). These percentages account for sharing in more than one way; students shared news exclusively face-to-faceonly 30 percent of the time, for instance.
  • While the rates of sharing good and bad news were the same, the preferred methods were different. Students liked to share good news via less personal forms like tweets and texts. They preferred the phone for bad news, and in-person communication for the really bad stuff.

For the most part, Toma thinks these results aren't surprising. Past studies have shown that people are more eager to spread good news and more in need of direct feedback for bad news, and the students' sharing patterns matched these preferences.

But what the study really demonstrates, Toma suggests, is our enduring psychological need for connection and affirmation, regardless of the tools available to us. "Sharing makes it more real," she says in a press release. "It's almost like the event is not even real until you tell somebody."