What makes us share content?

Did you hear Despacito or Shape of You in a loop last year?



You must have shared and had many of your friends hear it too. That made these videos the most shared ones on Facebook in 2017! 

When was the last time you wrote a blog that received an abysmal number of likes? And how did that make you feel? Not very good, we presume. It means that the people who did see the content did not find it ‘interesting’ enough to engage with it by liking, commenting or sharing. This, in turn, made it even less likely that others would see the content at all. See where this is going?

If you’ve spent hours and hours in great long-form blog content writing but not seeing the ‘share’ numbers you want, there could be a few reasons around it. Let’s deep dive into what intrinsically makes people share content and how you can take advantage of this as a marketer.

In 2015, Moz and Buzzsumo got together to do the heavy lifting on behalf of the teeming millions and find out insights behind what makes content linkable and shareable. Together, they analysed over 1M articles which gave interesting insights.


1. Shares and links aren’t directly proportional 

In fact, in most cases, they don’t even co-relate. Articles that had a lot of shares did not have any external links. This fact gave an insight that the driver behind shares and linking are different. Sharing is generally done as an emotional response to an article. Linking is done from a strategic alignment of the article with the content on one’s own website. There is a small sweet spot where some content is equally shared and linked to. This is generally true for articles that have high utilitarian value like in-depth research or how-tos. While we all would love to make our piece for the sweet spot, it is best to choose what is more valuable to you as a marketer – sharing (reach, visibility, branding) or linking (gaining authority).


2. Type of shareable content varies by industry

An interesting insight that came from Clear Voice’s study of 640,000 articles across 14 industries found that the type of content marketing that works in different industries varies considerably. For example, infographics work well for only one-third of the industries studied. Tech, beauty, home, and garden have an affinity for long-form content. How-to content works great with arts and hospitality. You can see the complete list here

The other side of the coin is that industry and type of content also dictate the media that will be used to share. While 61% of business content gets shared via LinkedIn, 73% of shares in the career industry are done on Facebook and beauty and wellness is seeing an uptake on Instagram and Pinterest. Once you connect the dots on the type of content, the industry and its social uptake value, your chances of making it shareable can increase exponentially.


3. The ‘entertainment’ value of shareable content 

Going back to the first example of Despacito, this reason seems to fit well. Think of other things you’ve shared recently on a social site and you can identify a pattern. Most shareable content has great entertainment value. An AMA research found that content with positive news which caused excitement, awe and delight were likely to be shared a lot. The study also showed that people who experienced the other extreme of anger or frustration after reading a piece of content were likely to share it. This, in a nutshell, means that content that gets people to ‘react’ and extract an emotion is highly likely to be shared.


4. The social validation factor of shareable content 



Remember, sharing Despacito not only meant that you were entertaining your friends. It meant you were the ‘cool’ one in your group who shared it with others. The ‘like’ button on Facebook wields more power than you think. If a bunch of your friends has liked a comment, you are put in a tight corner to also like the comment. In fact, it won’t be wrong to say that you can accept something to be ‘popular’ or ‘cool’ if a bunch of other people makes it sound so. As a marketer, social validation for your content can be a governing factor determining whether friends of friends will continue to like and share it. To do this, make sure you display the number of likes and shares the article has received.


5. The drive to do ‘good’ 

It is an open question if people are intrinsically wired to help those who are less fortunate. Even if they aren’t keen candidates, everyone wants to look the part. Beliefs and causes related content help people define themselves and what they stand for. 84% of people share content to show what they care about. What this means for marketers is that we need to constantly look for opportunities to harness the power of stories. The idea is to show the human connect aspect of a brand. It can be about how your brand has a ‘giving back day/week’ where employees and stakeholders work together to uplift the community around them. It can be about how your equal employment policy or even the lives of the people you touch by powering local economies.


6. Interesting content gets shared 

What was the last story you shared with your school/college Whatsapp / Facebook group?

It is most likely something that you as a group would find interesting. While we as marketers already know that we need to create ‘interesting’ content, the term is as ambiguous as saying someone likes ‘good’ music. So let’s dive a bit more about what can make content interesting. According to an NYT insight group, 73% of people share content to nourish and grow relationships. Going back to the content you shared on your school Whatsapp groups, it is most likely content that gets a conversation going easily. Everything from the changing landscape of education to the nostalgic memories of college days would be of great appeal to this group. Research about the type of content your TG is currently liking, sharing and upvoting – that’s where their interest lies and that’s where you need to go.


7. Gamified sharing of content

If you can’t get them to do it organically, how about giving a slight nudge?

Gamifying the process of sharing content and incentivizing your reader community is a great way to get them coming back for more. Put your top sharers on a leaderboard pedestal for the world and fellow readers to admire. Reward them with praise and you’ll be creating a fan following for the long term. The most important factor here is that your non-monitory rewards should drive an emotional response strong enough that your readers can continue to like and share even in the absence of tangible rewards.


8. The aesthetics of visually superior content

We can never emphasize enough on the visual quality of content. While the quality of content is a given, the visually engaging hooks can add to the appeal of making it shareable. Take Condé Nast for example. Given the industry, Conde Nast’s various properties make full use of large visuals to drive home the story. The story about the Met Gala highlights would fall flat if weren’t accompanied by stunning pictures and a little bit of background text. Think With Google which showcases trends of the Web is another example where clean text and clear visuals make it a breeze to read and share content quickly. Their recent Consumer Trend articles have you taking a deep dive to read and also be the first to share among your peers.

While we take cross-sections and do deep dive analysis, there is plenty of content out there that simply defies logic. Try this one for instance.


We are sure it will evoke a reaction from you. The question is, would you share it to creep your friends out?

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