How to make your content shareable — 8 key characteristics
If content creation resembled cooking, you’d be reading the following recipe for shareable content:
3 tablespoons of value + 4 tablespoons of visuals + 3 teaspoons of fibre and a sprinkle of emotions.
Fibre being ingredients such as bullet points that make content easy to digest.
In reality, however, creating content does not boil down to such a straightforward recipe. All these ingredients mentioned though do serve as pointers on a shareable checklist that guides you when you write content.
Let’s dive into each of these characteristics and see how they help attract shares:
1. The first layer of shareable content: it discusses something that solves the reader’s problem
Your content should have only one mission — addressing your audience’s concern. Content that solves a problem or discusses an issue that interests your audience is vital for attracting attention.
For example, a topic such as, “how I write an email,” would only get you a handful of reads. However, writing content on “15 Email Writing Tips That Will Help You Polish Your Emails” will gather more attention.
Because it solves a problem (improving emails) and provides a solution for it (email writing tips).
Mike Myers summarised this point well on the #CMWorld Twitter Chat,“Secrets of the Most Shareable Content” hosted by the Content Management Institute:
Let’s take one of the examples of shareable content.
Nested Bean, a babies’ sleepwear company, produces content that solves its audience’s problem such as in this post, 10 Tips for Surviving the 4 Month Sleep Regression, which received 5k total shares according to Buzzsumo:
How can you find what interests your audience?
What do you do when selecting a gift for a rather picky friend? Ask her directly or ask someone who knows her choices closely.
Follow this tactic when preparing content for your audience. Ask your customers what troubles them or ask the customer service team (hint: someone who closely knows them) as it regularly solve their problems.
Alternatively, use tools such as Buzzsumo and Google Trends to learn what’s trending. Social listening can also help you understand what troubles or holds your audience’s attention. Quora and social media channels are great places to listen to your audience.
Once you get the key idea of what you want to write, use Answer The Public for ideas of how you can work on the topic.
Here are suggestions that Answer The Public made for my key topic of ‘shareable content’ for this post:
2. Now that you’re planning to solve a problem, focus on actually solving it
Just as having an idea and executing an idea are very different, picking up on what’s interesting and writing on it are different matters.
Golden tip for providing valuable content and solving your reader’s problem: step into the reader’s shoes.
What questions can the reader have?
Is my content answering those questions?
What experience is my content creating for the reader?
Therefore, keep in mind what Ann Handley advises in her book, Everybody Writes,
“Relentlessly, unremittingly, obstinately focus on the reader.”
Content that gives a full-blown answer to the reader’s problem is more likely to get shares than content that makes a lazy attempt at offering value.
More value checks the utility box off the shareable checklist, which we’re going to discuss below.
3. Make sure your content is relatable for the reader
If you step down from your position as a content producer and step back into your reader’s shoes, you’ll understand why relatability is another pillar of shareable content.
You only share what you can relate to. A very simple example — someone who is in love is more likely to share to lovey-dovey quotes as compared to someone who has recently wormed their way out of a breakup.
People also share content that they hope will add value to the life of their readers. A study by the NYT Insight Group highlighted that 94% of the individuals assessed the usefulness of the content before sharing it.
The underlying reason is simple — sharers want to share value with their audience.
On the #CMWorld the twitter chat, social media strategist, Caitlin Kinser, shared the following:
So how to make stories shareable at this point?
Create content that is well-researched and aligns with your audience’s problems. Try the “how-to” format for addressing frequently asked questions. Or, share tips for explaining a complex concept.
4. Take into account the psychology of shareable content: utility, inspiration, entertainment
A report by researchers at UCLA learned that ideas that generate more “buzz” are ones that associate with specific regions of the brain.
This indicates that you have to tap into neurology for producing share-worthy content. Three chief factors can help please the brain:
Utility: This refers to content that is useful. It helps solve problems such as, 5-Minute Crafts videos that are widely shared on Facebook.
Inspiration: Things that inspire us and poke at our curiosity and creativity also tend to increase motivation to share.
TED Talks are a great example. The following talk received a lot of social love in contrast with its companion videos on Twitter:
Note that the video addresses a very common issue — stress. And, it piques curiosity by insinuating what emotional courage can do for us. With the content it covers, the video scores well on both the utility and inspiration features of shareable content.
Entertainment: Entertainment is another factor explaining the psychology of shareable content.
But this one shouldn’t come off as a surprise considering BuzzFeed’s success with viral content is common news.
Any piece of content that encourages laughter or leaves the reader amused hits the share-worthy mark.
Jonah Berger, author of the book Contagious studied 7,000 New York Times articles to learn what got shared the most. He noted that positive news is likely to go viral.
Berger also found that content, which elicited high-arousal emotions like excitement, astonishment, delight, frustration, anger, awe, excitement was shared more than low-arousal emotions such as sadness.
Moreover, research by Ipsos concluded that:
61% of the online shares went to interesting things
43% of the shared online content comprised of funny things
29% of the content that generated buzz was unique
5. Stir some emotions as well. But which ones?
The psychology of shareable content makes it clear that tapping into the right emotions can earn social attention.
So which emotional chord should you strike? Joy? Sadness? Excitement?
Research published in the journal of Psychological Sciences, highlights that the answer is not so straightforward.
We may think that positive emotions such as happiness come under ways to create shareable content. That’s only partly right though. Because, strong negative emotions such as anxiety can also ante up shareability levels.
So, it must a strong emotion that encourages content sharing.
Alas, that’s not the answer as well because a strong emotion such as sadness can reduce the likelihood of sharing content.
Marco Guerini of Trento Rise and Jacopo Staiano of Sorbonne University studied 65,000 articles on two news sites to find the emotional pattern behind articles that went viral.
They noted that content, which aroused emotions within the Valence-Arousal-Dominance (VAD) model received the most social shares. In other words, individual emotions didn’t affect the social shares on the articles.
The VAD model is frequently used in psychology to sort emotions. As per this model, each emotion exhibits the following emotions:
Valence relates to the negativity or positivity of an emotion. Example, happiness has a positive valence and fear has a negative valence
Arousal refers to the excitement or relaxation incited. For instance, sadness is low-arousal, whereas, anger is a high-arousal emotion
Dominance that ranges between feeling in control and submission. Admiration is a high-dominance emotion but fear is a low-dominance emotion
As per this study, the articles that gained the most social shares were tied to high dominance feelings that made the reader feel in control such as admiration.
This is the reason why articles such as 17 Reasons Why Your High School Best Friends Will Be Your BFFs for Life (+230,000 Facebook shares) dominate your Facebook newsfeed.
Folks over at Harvard Business Review dug deeper into the research. They concluded that “viral content tends to be surprising, emotionally complex, or extremely positive.”
Such an emotional blend is likely to be effective in driving home shares because it triggers the right combination of dominance and arousal.
Keeping it simple, stir high dominance emotions with high-arousal emotions. Make sure that the content spreads positivity. If it has an element of surprise, bingo! More social shares.
In other words, strong emotions that evoke positivity and energy can result in higher share volumes.
6. Create engaging content to hold reader’s attention
Did you know that brightly coloured flowers that attract bees as pollinators didn’t always have such engaging colours?
Fossils indicate that petals used to be a pale, dull yellow. With time, the colours evolved to become more bright and engaging for the bees. In other words, flowers grew to become more attractive for their audience, the bees.
You need to follow the same steps. Create engaging content that hooks readers because bland content won’t do.
The clickbait title you chose may get you a click, but it won’t hold your reader’s interest.
Moz and Buzzsumo paired up to examine 100,000 posts. They concluded that more than 50% of them got 2 or less Facebook interactions (likes, comments, or shares). Moreover, 75% of these articles had zero external links as shown below:
How can you engage your readers?
It takes a lot to write engaging posts with storytelling being the chief tool to hold attention. Besides, you need to sound like a human, draw up some analogies, and try to make the piece fun to read instead of boring.
For example, this piece on When Twenty-Six Thousand Stink Bugs Invade Your Home by Leslie Bulion talks about bugs, yes bugs, in a mind-blowing manner.
See for yourself:
7. Make your content readable so it is easy to consume
Even if your content is engaging and conversational, your reader will be instantly repelled if he meets a wall of words.
Long paragraphs, even longer sentences, and no reading breaks. Imagine yourself running through the field like that. No breaks to breathe or sip quaff some water. Would you make it to the end?
I wouldn’t. The reader wouldn’t either. So, you will have to make your content easy to consume to improve your visitor’s reading experience.
Content readability, how readable it is, is what makes quizzes, videos, and list-based articles shareable.
Moz’s study with Buzzsumo that we picked from above concludes that videos and list posts achieve high shares on average. They also shared, “entertainment videos and quizzes are far more likely to be shared than linked to.”
Econsultancy also looked into their archives and found that their 25 popular posts were lists.
How to get to work here?
Just as you cut a cake into slices before serving it to your guests, slice your content into short paragraphs. Keep each paragraph’s length to a maximum of 3–4 lines for making it reader-friendly.
Other steps to make your content easy to digest include:
Write shorter sentences: Trim your sentences to contain no more than 21 words. Trust me, you’ll get there. I did, too.
Use active voice instead of passive voice. Active voice cuts the extra words from your sentence and is easy to read as well
Use bullet points and subheadings: Both of these make your content scannable, therefore, easily digestible
Since we don’t want to shift our current topic from shareable content to readable content, I’ll link the ways you can make your content more readable here.
8. One last element to hold attention: Add visuals
Although words can be strong, they stand on crutches without visuals supporting them. Visuals can flip the game in your favour.
People are likely to remember only 10% of the info they hear. However, they retain 65% of the information if it is presented with a relevant image and some written content
Folks understand visual content 323% better than written instructions
Content with visuals gets 94% more views than text-based content
What sort of visuals should you include?
You can pick from several multimedia formats such as videos, screenshots, infographics, GIFs, and more.
Here’s what other marketers are doing:
Of these, HubSpot reveals that infographics are three time more likely to be shared than other visual content. So, you can add those to your content for boosting its shareability.
You’ll need several ingredients to prepare shareable content. To reiterate, make sure your content:
Addresses your audience’s problem and solves it by providing value
Is relatable and taps into one or all of these characteristics: utility, inspiration, and entertainment
Taps into emotions. Remember: high-arousal emotions (think: excitement, awe, and delight), surprise, and positivity are the best
Is easy to read and skim-able
Uses simple language that sounds human and engages the reader
Packs visuals such as screenshots that help the reader understand your content better