Do you want to create posts that people can’t wait to share?
Do want to maximize the social media ROI for your posts and stand out among the sea of content being churned out every day?
Creating shareable content boils down to understanding the mind of your audience. You can then understand exactly what makes them tick…or not.
What elements cause them to share?
The better understanding you have of the mind of your audience, the more effectively you’ll be able to create shareable content.
It’s important to remember that there is still a person behind that computer. Understand how they think, and you can fine-tune your content so that it gets shared more frequently.
In this article, you’ll learn the science behind what makes people share. You’ll discover 10 ways to create content that your fans can’t wait to discuss and share.
I have also included advanced tactics as a bonus, so be sure to read all the way to the end to get your copy.
First, let’s examine why people share content.
The psychology of why people share
The NY Times Insights Group published a study that highlighted the key factors that cause people to share content. Sharing, according to the study, is closely tied to our relationships with others. The study outlined the following key motivations for people to share:
- To define ourselves to others
- To bring valuable and entertaining content to others
- To grow and nourish relationships
- To get the word out about causes and brands we care about.
Another study involving the NY Times found that creating emotive content could lead to increased sharing. Content is more likely to be shared if it is funny, moving, illuminating, inspiring, shocking, cute, controversial or sexy, or if it leaves the user feeling fearful or in awe. The Journal of Science published a study on the psychology of sharing in 2011 which supported the above study on emotions by saying:
“The sharing of stories or information may be driven in part by arousal. When people are physiologically aroused, whether due to emotional stimuli or otherwise, the autonomic nervous is activated, which then boosts social transmission.”
What do the studies mean for those looking to create shareable content?
Simply this – stories are an effective way of conveying emotive content.
The studies also mean that there is a science to creating shareable content. No, it’s not an exact science, but, by following certain guidelines, you dramatically increase your chances of getting your content shared by playing to the wants, needs and psychology of your audience.
Social media is often used to point to longer form content, which can include stories; however, a story in this context could be a photo, vine or video clip.
Here are 6 guidelines to help increase the chances of your content being shared.
- Appeal to your audience’s motivation to connect with each other (not just with your brand).
- Tell a story.
- Credibility needs to be established, as does trust, which is the cost of getting shares.
- Keep the message simple.
- Appeal to positive emotions like inspiration, illumination or amusement to build a positive brand connection.
- Embed a sense of urgency.
Here are 10 ways to create contagious content.
1. Leverage social validation
We all have a strong desire for approval. The Power of Likes study found that social media users were more likely to up-vote a pre-liked comment.
Author Robert Cialdini conducted a study in which researchers participating in door-to-door charity campaigns found that people were more likely to donate when the list of prior donors was longer. In addition, when the list included people that the prospect knew – such as friends and neighbours – they were even more likely to donate.
How to do it online
Social Media Examiner has sharing buttons with share counts clearly visible in a vertical floating bar for each of their posts.
Conversion Rate Experts helped South American flower delivery company daFlores nearly double their revenue.
They discovered that some visitors to the website had never heard of the company before. So, they replaced the rotating banner with a static image that read “¡GRACIAS a nuestros mas de 600,000 seguidores en Facebook!” (“Thanks to our 600,000+ Facebook fans.”).
The result was a 44% increase in sales simply by adding social media proof of the firm’s popularity.
2. Use good news
Consider the following studies:
- Author Jonah Berger examined around 7,000 New York Times articles which had been shared, and found that positive news was more likely to go viral.
- A study by BuzzSumo also found that the most common emotions invoked by articles that were shared were awe, laughter and amusement.
- A study by Ipsos showed that 61% of people shared interesting things, 43% of people shared funny things and 29% of people shared unique content.
How to do it online
Buzzfeed and Upworthy are masters at creating reactive content. Content that triggers positive high arousal emotions, along with headlines that evoke curiosity and awe, is more likely to be shared.
Consider headlines like:
- A House Was Transformed Into A Tim Hortons And It May Be The Cutest And Most Canadian Thing Ever
- 15 Of The Most Empowering Things Emma Watson Has Ever Said
- 32 Amazing Things You Can Do While Pregnant
- In 1992, A Little Girl Stunned People From Around The World By Repeating ‘I Am Only A Child’
- He Saw Things No One Else Would For Another 50 Years. Who Would Believe Him?
3. Aesthetics matters, so spend time on it
According to Jakob Nielsen, 16% of users read web copy word for word, while 79% read by scanning a page and picking out individual words and sentences.
Design and look matter even when it comes to written content. Organizing content in a way that is easily scannable and has a clear eye path will increase engagement.
Using subheaders, breaking up blocks of text, and picking an easily readable font will all help readers engage with your content.
How to do it online
Apple are masters of delivering pleasing aesthetics on the web, as well as in their print ads. Here are a few guidelines they follow:
- Use a headline with a large font to highlight one big idea.
- Use sub-headlines before each paragraph, or at the very least after 2-3 paragraphs, to keep scanners curious and engaged.
- Use the inverted pyramid structure in writing your content. Essentially, this structure entails starting with your most important point and then following on with less important points. The least important points come last. This way, those who scan the content will be able to pick up on the key points quickly.
- Use bullet points that fascinate and intrigue your audience
4. React fast
Oreo’s tweet and Facebook post during the Super Bowl blackout generated a huge amount of buzz, mainly because they were subtle and timely. They reacted to an unexpected event and, in doing so, created a powerful ad on the most expensive advertising day of the year.
How to do it online
- Being able to react to the moment is now possible for even the smallest businesses, thanks to smartphones and their cameras. Share breaking news, experiences or exchanges to engage your audience.
- Take for example how a company could leverage the Soccer World Cup. A company whose target audience consists of financial industry managers would be interested in statistical predictions about who will win or how much energy the World Cup is consuming. An audience consisting of customer service managers could be targeted with articles on the effectiveness of hashtags vs commercials, or who to follow for news about games and players.
- If you know there is a conference going on that is closely aligned to your business, and you know what the hashtag for the conference is, you could leverage that by sending out relevant tweets incorporating the hashtag.
5. Load it with emotional appeal
In his book Descartes Error, Antonio Damasio, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, explains that emotion is a necessary ingredient in almost all decisions. This has been backed by a study conducted by researchers Raj Ragunathan and Szu-Chi Huang at the University of Texas in Austin.
How to do it online
People are more likely to share content that creates a visceral response. How do you know whether your content has visceral response?
- Do a “gut check” to ensure the content is on the right track.
- Did it make you LOL?
- Did you feel that you were going to embarrass yourself in front of your co-workers with tears?
- The chances are that if you don’t feel it, others won’t either.
- BuzzFeed’s successful posts like “The 45 most Powerful Images of 2011” were intentionally designed to make the viewer feel emotional.
- A deciding factor by Upworthy staff writer Adam Mordechai in publishing a documentary about the late Zach Sobiech was the fact he cried while watching it the first time, and then cried again the second time he watched it.
6. Use a great story
Many of our buy decisions are based on emotional drivers, and not the rational benefits or features of the product. Great stories tend to be emotional, and not just dramatic.
For example, the Dutch funeral insurance company, Dela, created a deeply emotional story around their product. They asked people to share what they would tell a loved one before they died. The stories are touching and moving; so much so, we want to pass them on and reach out to our own parents, friends or relatives to tell them how important they are to us.
Great stories can even take the form of the written word. Jon Morrow wrote an article titled On Dying Mothers and Fighting for Your Ideas which resonated with Copyblogger’s large audience, inspiring them in their content marketing efforts.
How to do it online
So, how do you write stories that build emotional connections?
Here are a few tips:
- Show, don’t tell. In other words, show the audience what is happening in the story rather than telling them. Use descriptive words that evoke deeper feelings for the characters and their circumstances.
- Create characters people relate to and care about. Use your audience buyer personas as characters to drive an even deeper relationship with your business. When your audience can relate to your characters, they will organically begin connecting emotionally.
- Your story isn’t a standalone story. The story should be part of a broader long-term story arc. The obstacles that your characters need to get past should be ones that your audience can identify with, motivating them to root for your characters. Standalone stories lose out on the potential to build long-term relationships. Leave your audience hanging with the promise of more, just like the best tv fiction series do at the end of each episode.
- Stay true to your brand promise. Red Bull, for example, has a brand image of adventure, extreme sports and freedom. The company’s stories provide consistency as they focus on a variety of characters, each living the Red Bull lifestyle.
7. Leverage controversy
If some people hate it and others love it, it’s more likely to get shared. A paper by Zoey Chen and Jonah Berger in the October, 2013 edition of the Journal of Consumer Research examined the way controversial topics affect people’s willingness to talk about them. The study found that content on moderately controversial topics had, on average, more comments than content on highly controversial topics.
Moderately controversial topics tend to evoke just enough anger to have an impact, which is the most effective emotive trigger for creating viral content.
How to do it online
- The internet hoax Bonsai Kitten is an example. People loved or hated the thought that it was animal cruelty.
- Derek Halpern used this trigger in an article titled – The “Content is King” Myth Debunked. In it, he suggested that design is king, and not content. This created controversy and generated a fair amount of discussion among content marketers who were used to the “Content is King” conversation, and among web designers who felt their own work was being validated in the post. The post worked because it was something that people did not expect. It therefore engaged their attention, encouraging them to keep reading, commenting and sharing the article with others. It worked well for Derek in terms of getting both attention and readers.
8. Make your audience look smart and classy.
According to research, people are 25% more likely to buy a product they would be proud to own, and 25% less likely to buy if a social media sharing button is placed anywhere near the product.
How to do it online
- Poo-Pourii handles a delicate subject tactfully with their video and social media posts
Some people focus their social media sharing on professional or business-centered pursuits. In this space, you can engage your audience by bringing thought leadership into your area. Studies, infographics, research, statistics, and actionable content that provides some practical value, can be a focus of content that you share.
- If you provide a significant benefit to this group, they are likely to share it with others. Here is an example of a tweet sharing a post and infographic on Jeff Bullas’ blog.
21 Steps to Create an Awesome LinkedIn Profile http://t.co/epAsw9SXxR via jeffbullas
— Jim Dougherty (@leaderswest) January 20, 2014
9. Be a part of something bigger.
In a survey by the NY Times, 68% of people said they shared to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about.
Non-profit and philanthropic organisations in particular can benefit from this kind of sharing, as can any business that supports a cause. Those who share in order to support causes or issues are already motivated, and only need a slight incentive to pass along related content.
For example, Surf Dog Richochet posted this dog photo on Facebook. Pet Supplies Company Iams had agreed to donate 50 bowls of pet food for shelter animals for every comment on the photo, up to 1 million bowls. They reached the 1 million bowls mark in 24 hours and still the comments kept coming.
Share causes and concerns that relate to your business values, and engage your community and audience through campaigns like the one above.
10. Juicy gossip
Why do people gossip? Usually, it’s because the information is simply too good not to share. The most appealing gossip tends to be both surprising and interesting. Such content gets shared because it pulls a little from humor, a little from emotion, and a little from the self-definition categories.
How to do it online
HelloFlo, a tampon subscription service, touched upon an often delicate subject for women with their Camp Gyno ad, which tackles the subject with honesty, humor and heart. The ad turned into a viral hit, attracting close to 6 million views in its first month online.
While it is hard to define such content, most people know it when they see it. So keep an eye out for cool, unique stuff being shared. Make a note of common themes and executions to help you create your own zeitgeist.
Creating contagious content
There are many ways to create socially shareable contagious content, and your analytics and graph search will help you with preliminary research with regard to what your audience is interested in.
As you try out one or more of the ways of creating shareable content, be sure to measure your engagement rate in order to provide insights into how people talk about your post. This will allow you to see what is, and what isn’t, working, and to continue to improve the quality of your content
However, make sure you are spending as much time getting your content out in front of your audience and influencers as you do actually creating it. Be sure to get your 5 advanced tactics as well.
So what did you think? Have you seen a jump in shares or engagement? Let us know in the comments below.