Trying to create content that is captivating, interesting, and ultimately shareable, can be a challenge. With so many people and businesses competing to get heard, it’s easy for your message to get drowned out.
Having a popular post under you belt is a good thing for a journalism student to have in their portfolio. So what’s the key to starting a ‘conversation’, and getting a reaction with your social media shares? The trick is appealing to the right people, the right way.
Every audience is different, but there are some excellent examples of types of content that are consistently shared more frequently. Here are six ways you can put out content that your readers will be sure to share, like, tweet, and +1.
1. Be useful and answer questions.
Entrepreneur author Ankit Oberoi, in his article “The 7 Secrets to Shareable Content,” recommends creating content that offers “practical value”. He cites NYT Insight Group study, where 94% respondents stated they “assessed the usefulness of the content to the recipient before sharing.”
Whatever your area of expertise is, there’s surely some FAQs and common queries people have regarding it. For example, if you’re currently in journalism school, there’s a wealth of topics to write about, from what it was like to interview someone for an article the first time to social media or coding or digital media assignments/courses included in your journalism program.
Do some research to find out commonly asked questions—you can look at the most viewed questions on a website like Quora.com, or the number of views of featured questions on WikiHow.com, for example—and think about the questions you might have.
Once the questions have been identified, attempt to answer them in an engaging and concise way. Create infographics, write information-packed articles or use another creative format/style.
If you deliver information people want or need to know, it makes people feel intelligent for being the ones to have found it, and thus more likely to share. That’s why lists of tips (ahem), or “top 10”, infographics and pieces that answer a “why” question are always such a success.
2. Don’t be afraid to be controversial, but know your audience.
Sharing controversial content can be a good way to stir things up and begin a dialogue. Obviously you don’t want to be unethical or defame anyone. But sometimes the best way to get a reaction out of people is to present something they don’t expect or that causes a heated debate.
One participant in the 2011 New York Times study titled The Psychology of Sharing said, “When I post controversial things, it makes me look engaged and provocative, and I want to be perceived that way. If I don’t get a response then I know I missed my mark.”
And SocialMediaWeek.org’s Nicole Brown stated (discussing Jonah Peretti, founder of BuzzFeed):
“With the eventual success of Buzzfeed, Peretti points towards shock-factor and just enough controversy that you would still send that photo or article to your entire contact list. Something too controversial or shocking would never be shared with your contacts, and something so ordinary is overlooked or ignored. Finding that happy medium between the two, however, is the secret sauce to the rapid spreading of content and media.”
When including controversial topics in your blog post or online article, be mindful of boundaries, but don’t play it too safe.
Top 5 New York Times articles shared on Facebook within 24 hours (as of 10:30pm EST, Dec. 5th, 2014)
1. “A Deficit of Dignity” (Op-Ed) by Timothy Egan
2. “We Must Stop Police Abuse of Black Men” (Op-Ed) by Eric L. Adams
3. “Big Job Gains and Rising Pay in Labor Data” by Nelson D. Schwartz
4. “Why Elders Smile” (Op-Ed) by David Brooks
5. “Democrats Against Reform” (Op-Ed) by Paul Krugman
3. Connect with your HUMAN audience.
When readers have a particular emotional response to your content, they are more likely to share it. According to the Hootsuite blog, “Social Media and Storytelling, Part 3: Creating Content That Gets Shared,” Cameron Uganec stated the top “types of emotions evoked by content” that “sparked sharing” were, in addition to controversial, “awe, amusing, moving, illuminating, inspiring, shocking, cute, sex, fear, anger…” However, it should be noted that some studies, such as BuzzSumo’s analysis of 100 million articles over 8 months, identify that the more positive emotions like awe, laughter, amusement and joy are the most appealing.
In order to draw readers into reading your content, the art of storytelling is an effective technique. This does not mean you have to create an entire work of fiction. But employing aspects of creative writing, such as using personality or a distinctive voice, imagining your audience as a character in the story, using active language, and engaging the senses, can really engage your readers.
Content and creative writing expert Isla McKetta led an excellent Mozinar (webinar on Moz.com) in September 2014 on these very concepts entitled “The Storytelling of Content Strategy”. She said that storytelling can “makes things more relatable,” “take us back” to the “human side of things”, “attract attention” and it “takes us on a journey”.
— Moz (@Moz) September 11, 2014
4. Analyze the numbers
If you have already written a series of articles or posts for your website or blog, use analytics to find the most frequently visited pages on your site and share them with your networks. Also identifying what these most popular pages have in common can also help guide you as you strive to create content with high ‘shareability’ potential.
If you do not have a collection of your online pieces to analyze, check out examples from other publications and writers. Which pieces are getting the most “Likes” on Facebook, or “Retweets” on Twitter? Try to identify what all these popular posts and articles have in common. Are they formatted appealingly in a scan-friendly way with pictures? Do they reflect a certain interest, issue or cause? Are they shocking or inspirational or hilarious or heartwarming or cutting-edge? Are they well-written and reputable?
5. Make your Headlines Count
According to The Atlantic editor, Bob Cohn, “A great headline is just a great headline. It has to be clear; it has to be intelligent. We’re not writing for machines. We’re writing for humans.” So instead of stressing about how many key phrases you can stuff into a headline, just ask yourself, would I find this headline interesting?
Ideally you want to come up with a title and introduction that is catchy, luring the reader in, but that also lets that reader know what the post is about right away.
Top 5 most e-mailed Huffington Post Blog posts, December 1-5, 2014 (as of Dec. 5th)
1.“For the First Time in Forever… I Did Not Enjoy My Vacation to Disney World” By Christy Heitger-Ewing
2. “Sinfully Rich and Skinny Macaroni & Cheese, Italian-Style By Nancy Fox
3. “Slow-Cooker Tips Every Home Cook Should Know” By The Daily Meal
4. “Why December Is The Best Time Of Year To Look For Work” By Mary Eileen Williams
5. The Side of Motherhood We Aren’t Prepared to Discuss By Traci Bild
6. Encourage Influencers to Share
Naturally, if you can get someone with a strong social media presence to share your content, that will increase the chances of your content being shared to more readers.
BuzzSumo defined an “Influencer” on Twitter as someone whose “tweets are retweeted on average two times.” They found that “having one influential person sharing your content resulted in 31.8% more social shares”; social shares doubled and nearly quadrupled with three and five influencers respectively sharing content. (You can read BuzzSumo’s analysis summary in their article “Why Content Goes Viral: What Analyzing 100 Million Articles Taught Us” at Okdork.com).
There are a number of ways you can get Influencers, with a lot of followers, to share your content. For example, if you write about a topic relevant to that person or organization or company, or better yet reference that person, organization or company (in a way that they would want to share your content), you could share it directly with them via social media (adding a little note why the content is relevant to them). You could even ask to interview an Influencer and write a post or article based on the interview. In these cases, the chances of that Influencer sharing that post are high.
So as it turns out, creating shareable content is more than just LOL cats and sensational news items. Plus if your content is evergreen, meaning it is still applicable days, weeks, months from the time it was published, you can always share it again. Sometimes it is all about timing whether your post or article is picked up to become all the rage.
The main thing journalism students need to remember when trying to create shareable content, is to appeal to people. Know your audience, and remember, we’re all human.