Study: The characteristics of highly shareable content

There may not be a formula for viral content, but stories with the following attributes are likely to spark significant sharing.

Researching what people share most online offers valuable insights for public relations and marketing professionals.

The conventional view holds that humorous or weird posts, as well as articles about sex or cute animals, are the most shared.

If you believe that, you’re wrong.

New research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows that readers hunger for analytical and inspiring content, so publishers shouldn’t worry about the demise of high-quality journalism. Readers frequently share articles containing comprehensive analysis.

News isn’t popular on news sites

Researcher Satu Vasantola analyzed 300 articles—the most-shared pieces from the BBC and two large Finnish media companies, Yleisradio and Helsingin Sanomat.

Vasantola classified the articles by topic, genre, headline, length, angle and emotional appeal.

One striking finding was that people don’t widely share news (with the exception of breaking news). Paradoxically, news articles were the bulk of the publications’ content. Feature articles received the most shares, but they made up only a small portion of the total number of articles.

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According to Vasantola’s research, mid-length stories perform well. That could be because more articles happened to be mid-length, or it might indicate that an article’s quality is more important than its length, she said. Other studies produce conflicting recommendations about length, she notes. Some urge long content; others favor short content.

The content types that readers share vary by publication. BBC readers share more traditional news with fact-based headlines. Helsingin Sanomat readers share more features and opinion articles. The Yleisradio audience prefers fact-based news and opinion pieces, particularly if they’re provocative.

This suggests that traditional news websites and other publishers should analyze their audiences to determine which types of content their readers will like.

Characteristics of frequently shared content

The study recommends incorporating these criteria to create articles readers will share:

  • Combine personal angles with national or international perspectives. People want stories about individuals as well as facts and statistics.
  • Evoke feelings—especially positive ones. “Pure facts and figures are not enough; people want the facts to be served with emotions and stories of individuals. This doesn’t mean cheap emotional stories, but stories that cleverly combine (inter)national and personal details,” Vasantola told News Whip.
  • Consider video, visual storytelling and data-based journalism. They’re becoming increasingly popular. Infographics can also provide rich and interesting content, differentiate publishers, establish a brand’s personality and create relationships with audiences.
  • Offer opinions with which people can agree or disagree.
  • Touch on everyday topics such as health, children and money.

Although there is no formula for viral content, readers most often share stories that arouse positive or provocative feelings, as well as high-quality journalism that provides both personal and broad perspectives.

This article originally appeared on the CyberAlert Blog.

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