What People Share on Social Media - 4 Types of Viral Content

By Vee Tardrew - April 29, 2014

(Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes)

I have a silly little ritual when I publish content. As I push the ‘publish’ button I whisper, “Go forth and engage.” Engagement is a good indication of quality. But here's my dirty little secret. It's not good enough for me. As a content creator, I want more, I want reach ... I want my content to go viral (yes, I've actually had dreams about this). When people take the time to not only engage with but share your content too, it's a great validation - a virtual high five if you will. It implies that you have succeeded in creating content that resonates with your audience and that they value it enough to share with their various networks.

Established influencers like Richard Branson, Seth Godin or David Meerman Scott probably needn't do much more than push that 'publish' button for massive shares but for us mere marketing mortals it takes a lot of work and there is a lot of noise out there to break through.

A little while ago I raved about BuzzSumo, a content aggregating tool that uncovers content being shared most across social media platforms. For a content creator and marketer, it's an awesome resource. In conjunction with OkDork.com they recently released findings of what makes for potentially viral content. Here's what they found.

The Content That People Share the Most

Long Form Content Gets The Most Love

While we are all creating a load of short-form content to satisfy the limited attention spans of the audiences, the results point to the fact that it is indeed long-form content that people prefer to share most.

Average Shares by Content Length

Content pieces of 3,000 – 10,000 words are shared at an average of 8,900 shares per piece, whereas content with less than 1,000 words gets shared at an average of around the 4,900 mark.

This points to a need for better quality longer form content that people can share across networks. If you’re in the habit of creating a lot of shorter content pieces, perhaps it’s time to tackle a great long-form piece?


Visuals Work to Go Viral

It’s a point that has been discussed ad nauseam. Engagement is higher when there are visuals involved. Social media posts that include an image get more comments and likes than plain text updates. And it would appear that they contribute to shares too!

The BuzzSumo study looked at the share rates on Facebook and Twitter, comparing posts with images and without. The results indicate that twice as many people share posts that include images.

Bear in mind that this study didn’t analyse the actual ‘quality’ of the image in relation to the content, they simply looked for the presence of a visual or not. Undoubtedly though, we should be looking to include imagery that is appealing and relevant.

Emotive and Egocentric Content Wins Shares

In order to be moved to share content, that content needs to elicit an emotion for the person. The report revealed that the most shared content pieces evoked:

  • Awe (25%)
  • Laughter (17%)
  • Amusement (15%)

‘Popular

BuzzSumo do mention that the line between laughter and amusement was difficult to establish at times, but they worked on the definition that amusement was entertaining and not necessarily laugh out loud funny.

Narcissism is another driver for viral content. We give our ego a boost by sharing content that fuels our identity or highlights our position on certain topics, beliefs, values and ideals. 6 of the 10 most shared articles during the 8-month research period were quizzes. The top spot belongs to BuzzFeed's “What Career Should You Actually Have” with a monstrous 4,9 million shares. (Apparently I should be a humanitarian. Considering that role is all about helping people which is what I strive for in marketing I suppose I'm not tooooo far off!)

Infographics and Lists The Most Popular Shares

The importance of visual elements to increase the likelihood of sharing is once again highlighted in the next section. When looking to establish which content formats or styles are favoured the most for sharing, here’s what they found:

  • Infographics – Way above average
  • Lists – Above average
  • Why post – Slightly above average
  • What post – Slightly below average
  • How-to article – Fairly below average
  • Videos – Well below average

Infographics are able to convey a large amount of (sometimes complex) information in an easy to digest format that is visually appealing and therefore ideal for sharing.

‘Average

A deeper look at the list posts, in particular, reveals that the magic number here is 10 with an average of 10,621 social shares. This was 4 times as many than the runner up, being 23. Third and forth spots were claimed by 16 and 24 respectively. 

Right now if you'll excuse me I am off to create some awe-invoking, long-form content with beautiful pictures and quite likely a Top 10 list. When I'm done with that, I'll repurpose that as an infographic! ;-) 

Oh and when should you post this awesome content? Why, on a Tuesday, of course!

‘Total

Whispers *Go forth and ... get shared.*

creating-great-content

Have you got a secret recipe for creating content that people love to share? Would you share some tips in the comments?