The psychology of shareable content

 

Jayson DeMers

By Jayson DeMers

April 13, 2017

This article and expertise was originally published on Forbes

Sharable content is your gateway to success in content marketing. If you can get your users to share your content regularly, or in high enough volume, you’ll gain access to thousands of new potential followers, earn tons of referral traffic, and you’ll gain permanent links that boost your domain authority, and your website’s potential to rank higher in Google searches.

But what makes a piece of content “shareable” in the first place? Logic would dictate that there are certain qualities that shareable pieces have in common, and if they do, it should be possible to replicate those qualities in your own work.

So what makes people want to share content with others, and how can you use this to your advantage?

Technical factors

A couple of years ago, Moz and BuzzSumo teamed up to examine a million pieces of content and determine the science behind content earning links and shares. They found a handful of correlations worth noting about content that gets shared frequently.

Videos, quizzes, and list-based articles tend to get more shares than other types of content, possibly because they’re relatively quick and easy to digest. However, they earn fewer links, presumably for the same reasons. On the other end of the spectrum, even though 85% of content contains 1,000 words or fewer, the 15% of content that contains more than 1,000 words gets far more shares and links.

Most importantly, they found that the number of shares different posts receive do not represent an average; instead, there are a handful of “outlier” posts that get a disproportionately large number of links and shares, while the majority of content gets nothing. This is important to note, as it suggests that you’re better off creating a handful of standout pieces than a large number of mediocre ones.

Core motivations

According to one report by researchers at UCLA, more “buzzworthy” ideas are associated with specific regions of the brain, indicating there’s a neurological component to the types of content and ideas we like to share. Overall, this urge to share tends to creep up with three main “types” of content—those that fulfill one or more of the following functions:

  • Utility. We like to share content that we deem useful or helpful in certain situations. This is one reason “life hacks” became as popular as they did; these are small tricks that make your daily life easier, and because they’re useful, we want our friends and loved ones to share in their application.
  • Entertainment. It shouldn’t shock you to learn that entertaining pieces of content also encourage us to share. We like to laugh, or be amused, and it makes us feel good to share that positive experience with others.
  • Inspiration. Interesting and inspirational content is also highly sharable. Things that pique our curiosity or stimulate our creativity naturally encourage us to reach out to other people who may end up feeling the same level of interest or motivation.

The role of emotion

According to research from the journal Psychological Science, and perhaps unsurprisingly, our emotional responses to content can play a massive role in whether or not we choose to share that content with others. But it isn’t exactly a straightforward relationship.

You might think that positive emotions, like joy or excitement, are the most likely to increase sharability—and you’re partially right. When readers experienced strong positive emotions, they were more likely to share content, but they were also more likely to share content associated with strong negative emotions, like anxiety or arousal.

So does this mean that any strong emotion is enough to make a piece of content more sharable? This isn’t necessarily the case either; the study found that some types of negative emotions, such as sadness, actually decreased an article’s propensity to be shared. Accordingly, it’s tough to form any one conclusion from this, but as a general rule, stronger emotions lead to higher share volumes (as long as those emotions evoke energy or positivity).

The role of surprise

Our tendency to share content may also be linked to how our brains are wired to process surprises. Surprises are an experience of novelty, meaning we saw something we didn’t expect or learned something we didn’t know.

When a surprise is strong enough, it triggers a specific reactive sequence in the mind—freeze, find, shift, and share. We stop what we’re doing or halt our other tasks, we try to find an explanation for the surprise we just experienced, we shift our perspective to accommodate that explanation, and then we share that experience with others.

Evolutionarily, this makes sense; sharing surprises with others is a good way to update the group about a new threat or a new resource. But it also works well for a surprising punchline at the end of a long video. Surprises are also linked to memory,  which gives you the added benefit of making your brand more memorable in the process.

Pulling it all together

What does this mean? How can you create content that people want to share?

  • Opt for digestible posts (or pack them with detail). Short and concise posts work well, as do long, detailed, rich posts—there’s very little middle ground for sharability.
  • Consider your purpose. Useful, entertaining, and interesting posts tend to perform best.
  • Evoke strong emotions. Positive emotions work best, but most strong emotions result in higher share volumes.
  • Give your readers a surprise. People love to share surprises with each other.

Obviously, there’s no surefire formula for success in creating sharable, “viral” content, but these points can steer you in the right direction. Keep producing high-quality content, and you’ll earn higher customer loyalty and more traffic—regardless of how many shares you get.

 This article was written by Jayson DeMers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Twitter or its affiliates.


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