Want more shares for your content? Start with your audience

In the age of customer centricity, it’s useful to step back and into the shoes of our audience. A study by the New York Times uncovers the primary motivations for sharing content online:

  • Bring valuable, useful content to others (major motive) 
  • Define and communicate who they are to others
  • Connect to others and nurture relationships
  • Feel valuable and involved
  • Advocate causes or brands 

Another study shows people have less altruistic motives when it comes to social sharing of content. But it’s worth noticing “content” here also includes that generated by the respondents themselves. The top reasons are: 

  • They find the content interesting/entertaining
  • They think the content will be helpful to others (major motive for older people)
  • They want to get a laugh 

Based on these findings, we can group the reasons for content sharing into three broad categories and explore the ways content marketers help readers satisfy their needs. 

Catering to informational (functional) needs 

In this category, people share content because they believe in its usefulness to their recipients. In other words, your readers are more likely to share your content if it helps their social circles understand and tackle the problems they are facing.  

Hence, you would think How-to and Why posts should get the most shares. Surprisingly, List posts and infographics top the rank, arguably for being more skim-friendly.

Source: Why content goes viral: what analysing 100 million articles taught us, Dorkly 2014.
Source: Why content goes viral: what analysing 100 million articles taught us, Dorkly 2014.

Still, skim-friendly content doesn’t mean short-form. On average, long, comprehensive posts between 3,000 to 10,000 words get the most shares. Well-researched articles, or “epic” content, cater well to informational needs. 

Extra tip: Expert round-ups prove to be highly effective in triggering social shares, but only if executed properly. 

Don’t forget we are humans with emotions 

The most common emotions evoked based on analysing the top 10,000 most shared articles are awe, laughter, and amusement. That means, your readers and their social circles have “soft spots” for content containing these emotional elements. 

Nonetheless, negative and high-energy emotions, such as anxiety and anger also command a big chunk of shares. Think content that provides warnings or highlights some sort of injustice. 

Caution: Avoid deploying tabloid-like tactics unless you were Donald Trump or Kim Kardashian.   

They don’t call it “social” media for nothing

In this category, people share content because it helps them maintain social interactions or illustrate their desired self-image. We are, after all, social creatures.

Posts that can trigger discussion and debate get shared. Controversial issues provide a fertile ground. It’s tempted to cite Donald Trump as an example again but there are lots of business/marketing-related controversial posts out there, e.g. death of Google+

Next, imagine your content holds a mirror in front of your readers. What do they want to see? Appealing to people’s narcissistic tendency can fuel content shares. People share the ever popular BuzzFeed’s quiz results to reveal their own personality, taste, and values. 

Tip: Are your target readers cool or vocal? Intellectual or spiritual? Create content that makes them say “Hey that’s me!” or “That’s who I want to be!”

Final words 

Taking buyer personas further, think about your industries and your typical audience’s needs. Do they tend to share content to polish their self-image, or to help fellow readers, or simply, to spread a laugh?