What Makes Content Go Viral? – Analyzing the Shares of over 100 Million Posts

Why does content go viral?

What makes content go viral?

January 20th, 2015 by Marshall Coffy, Dir. Account Management at CustomerBloom.com.
Originally published January 10th, 2015 on www.huffingtonpost.com by Noah Kagan, Chief Sumo of AppSumo.com @noahkagan


There’s just no replacement for compelling content, but once you craft an engaging, creative, and useful article, -what makes it flourish with bloom with shares? Thorough analysis of the social shares of over 100 million popular posts of 2014 required experts to ask…

– What types of emotions did the most popular articles invoke?
– What type of posts are shared?
– What’s the ideal length for content?
– Does trust matter?
– Are images important?
– What if just one influencer sharing your article vs none?
– How do we make people share weeks after it’s been published?
– What’s the best day of the week to publish an article?

Top 10 Ways to Get More Shares of Your Content:

1) Long form content gets more social shares.
Despite increased mobile usage, analyzing the top 10% most shared articles, prooved the longer the content, the more shares it gets, with 3,000-10,000 word piece were shared the most (8859 total average). This is consistent with what researchers discovered about the most emailed posts in The NY Timeslonger articles were more likely to be emailed. Since there are fewer long-form content creators to compete against, there is more opportunities for you.

To Bloom: Craft epic, quality, posts of at least 2,000 words.


2) Including any image gets more Twitter & Facebook shares
Twice as many people, on average share posts with ANYimage, inconsiderate of ‘visual appeal’. Articles that implemented the Facebook preview image meta tag had 3X as many shares.

To Bloom:Use social meta tags and add a photo to EVERY post.


3) Invoke awe, laughter, amusement or even narcissism.
Of the top 10,000 most shared articles across the most popular three emotions invoked were:

  • awe (25%)        laughter (17%)     amusement (15%).

The New York Times did a very intensive research study interviewing 2500 people revealed WHY they shared:

– To bring valuable and entertaining content to one another
– To define themselves to others
– To grow and nourish relationships / connected with others
– For self-fulfillment / to feel more involved in the world
– To promote causes they care about.

Narcissism too? Yes, 8 of the top 10 most shared articles in the past eight months were quizzes which fuel our identity and ego. Similarly, sharing an opinionated piece about a hot issue lets others know where we stand.’ In the top 10 of the most shared post of the last few months:

What Career Should You Actually Have? (#1), What Kind Of Dog Are You? ,  What State Do You Actually Belong In?

To Bloom: Be entertaining, use quizzes, and have an opinion, even be controversial.

4) People love to share Lists and infographics
Analyzing what of the most popular content formats people were more likely to share: lists ‘Top 10…’, infographics, videos, ‘How to…’ articles, ‘What…’posts, and ‘Why…’ posts, lists and infographics receive more average shares and surprisingly, how-to posts and videos receive less shares than the average post.

Long-form content needs to be easy to scan. Lists are skim-friendly and easy to read, similarly, infographics make digesting a huge amount of information a pleasure.

To Bloom: Use plenty of images or charts. Write easy to read paragraphs, and use sub-headlines and bullet points, -no a walls of text. Enhance list posts with data rich imagery “Top 10”  lists had 4x the shares than the 2nd most popular list number: 23. The runner-ups were 23, 16, and 24.

5) People tend to share content that looks trustworthy
Trust does play a major role in Twitter, Linkedin , and Google+, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference in Facebook. Articles with a byline or bio have 0.10% more social shares than those without a byline/bio. In contrast, in Google+, articles with a byline/bio have 42% more shares.

This suggests people share different types of content in each social network. Facebook is for entertaining or funny content, with share our close friends, while Twitter, Linkedin, and Google+, consist of people we are associated with professionally. So there we share content from trusted sources to build our thought leadership.

To Bloom: Have a byline at the beginning of every post, and a bio at the end to make your content look trustworthy.


6) Getting one extra influencer to share your article has a multiplier effect.
Oprah will generate much more retweets/likes than a random, but can we quantify that effect?  Just having one slightly (average retweet of 2 per post influential profile sharing your content resulted in 31.8% more social shares. Having three influential people sharing your content doubled the number of social shares. And having five influential people sharing your content almost quadrupled the total number of shares.

Work backwards get more influencers to share your content. Find a piece of content that is similar to yours, and see all the influencers that shared it. Build these relationships BEFORE you launch your post. Use twitter’s ‘View Sharers’ to find active influencers, sorted by average retweets, i.e. their influence level. While number of followers is a common way measure influence, average retweets is much harder to fake. Compile a list of influencers, reach out, and get them involved in and sharing your content by:

– Asking for a quote to use in your article
– Asking for feedback on an idea
– Linking to something they wrote about your topic.
– Conducting interviews

To Bloom: Ask influential people to be involved in your content to significantly increase your sharing (to their followers).


7) Re-promote your old content, regularly.
After 3 days, on all social networks, the number of shares dropped at least 96% for the next 4 days, with Facebook shares dropping the most, and G+/Pinterest dropping the least.

Facebook: 98.9% decrease
Twitter: 97.4% decrease
LinkedIn: 97.34% decrease
G+: 96.7% decrease
Pinterest: 96.7% decrease

After a week, the number of shares for the next 3 weeks drops at least 86% from the first week, with Twitter shares dropping the most, and Linkedin shares dropping the least.

Twitter: 92.1% decrease
G+: 90% decrease
Facebook: 89% decrease
Pinterest: 86% decrease
LinkedIn: 82% decrease

Almost inevitable, -without promotion.  A solid strategy would be to promote pieces you write on Friday and weekends on a more popular day like Monday a week later. This will ensure all your posts get the same amount of exposure. Write evergreen content, so it can be shared and re-promoted anytime after you’ve published it. If not possible timely a (re-)share, corresponding with your events, industry events, or trends could boost shares.

To Bloom: Repromote posts after one week. Boost old, but relevant, content on day of your event / etc.


8) What is the best day to post?  – See you next Tuesday.
More content is shared during work and content gets the most shares on Tuesday or Monday, depending on the social network:

Best Day Overall: Tuesday
Best Day For FB: Tuesday
Best Day for G+: Tuesday
Best Day for Twitter: Tuesday
Best Day for Linkedin: Monday
Best Day for Pinterest: Monday

9) Check your metadata
Preview and SEO your SERP snippet. Use social media metadata like the Facebook SERP preview. Make sure your titles, description, and images are not over (exact match) optimized.


10) Make lists of Top 10’s only.


Your Content Will Flourish with Social Shares if You…

  1. Write epic, info rich content. Long content has less competition &  gets more shares.
  2. Always post with an image and meta-tag it. Break up text with visually appealing Images and graphs.
  3. Amuse, Inspire awe or laughter, Play to people’s narcissism.
  4. Use Lists & Infographics to win more shares.
  5. Inspires trust, with a byline and bio. A real logo, design…authenticity.
  6. Connect with and included key influencers before you write.
  7. Update and promote your articles after 7 days.
  8. Post at the best time and day, usually before lunch on Tuesday.
  9. Master your metadata, and optimize your SERP snippets.
  10. Make your lists Top 10’s.

See you next Tuesday…it’s the best day for posts to get shared.

by Marshall Coffy, Dir. Account Management at CustomerBloom.com.