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5 Content Marketing Lessons from the Most Shared Post on Forbes

Why does a piece of content get shared by people? It is a subject that fascinates me and I spend far too much of my time delving through data to analyze the most shared posts across the internet. Are they shared simply because of the content or are they amplified significantly because of specific networks, the content format or the influencers that share the content? A post that caught my attention recently was the most shared post on Forbes in the last 6 months, so I decided to have a look at what we can learn.

The most shared post on Forbes

The most shared post on Forbes in the last 6 months was Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid by Cheryl Conner. This post has been shared or liked almost a million times in the last 6 months. So why did this post get so much attention and resharing?

You might think that Forbes gets lots of traffic and shares, hence the the large volume of shares may be simply down to the volume of the site’s traffic. However, using BuzzSumo to search for the most shared content on Forbes you can see that this post outperforms all other posts significantly. You can see from the image below that this particular post had 50% more shares than the second most shared post, double that of the third most shared post and eight times that of the fourth most shared post. Thus there is clearly something different about this post which caused it to be shared.

buzzsumo social search

So what was it that made people share the post so much? These are my 5 takeaways from reviewing the post.

The content was engaging with a good headline

The post taps into our innate interest, who doesn’t want to be mentally strong. Posts on life hacks are very popular and this post appealed to the desire in all of us to be stronger mentally.

The article is well written and is almost exactly a thousand words. Thus it is longer than many short form blog posts but the post is in a list format which makes it very easy to skim read. You could get away with just skimming the 13 sub-headings. 

There has been a lot of analysis about the importance of a good headline for content sharing. Cheryl’s article uses the popular number headline approach i.e. 13 things. As we can see from the Buzzsumo analysis above, all four of Forbes most shared posts were similar number headlines.

The post built on a trend and current thinking

One interesting aspect of this post was that it was based on a previous post on by psychotherapist Amy Morin, which was titled 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.

Like most commentators I have always valued original content and believed this is key to sharing success. However, in this case Cheryl shared Amy’s original list of 13 items but added her thoughts on how each of the items is particularly applicable to entrepreneurs. Thus Cheryl’s post wasn’t original but it added additional value and distributed it via a different channel. The original post has also been shared extensively with over 700,000 shares, though it is difficult to know how many were the result of Cheryl’s link to it. What is clear though is that Cheryl picked up on a strong post which was already being shared.

There have been many examples of people building upon trending content or linking their work to popular cultural events and trends. I still like the story of David Bowie’s Space Odyssey which was re-released on 11 June 1969 to coincide with the Apollo 11 moon landing. The re-release was designed to take advantage of public interest in space and it worked. The BBC played the song over the moon landings once the astronauts were back safely and the song went on to win the 1969 Ivor Novello award.

The content had wide appeal across the networks

Content typically does better on some networks than others. For example:

This article on B2B content marketing was shared 7,000 times on Twitter and just 120 times on Facebook.

b2b social shares

By contrast this article on Interior Design was shared 11,000 times on Facebook, just three times on LinkedIn and just 8 times on Google+.

interior design social shares

Thus to gain maximum engagement you typically need to select carefully the networks where you want to spend time promoting your content.

Cheryl’s post was liked and shared over 800,000 times on Facebook so you might think this post just went viral on one particular network. Whilst it is interesting that Facebook drives so much more engagement than other platforms for this type of content, what is particularly interesting about Cheryl’s article is that it did well across all the networks.

On LinkedIn the post was shared 51,000 times, this compares to just 2,900 times for the second most shared post. On Twitter it received 34,000 tweeted and retweeted links compared to 8,000 for the second post. Even on Google+ which had the lowest level of engagement it had 7,700 shares compared to 1,800 for the second post.

It is rare but this article proves that there are types of content that work across all networks. This article with a balance of personal interest and business interest, set out in a skimmable article in a list format, ticked all the boxes.

The content format worked for the audience

There has been a lot of discussion about the shareability of infographics, videos and slideshares. In this case the content was a 1,000 word article. In my experience well written, high quality articles actually perform very well.

I viewed the most shared infographics on using the BuzzSumo content format filter and found that generally they perform significantly less well than articles.

infographic shares

There is clearly a relationship between content format and what engages your audience. Infographics tend to perform well with Pinterest and Facebook audiences. Thus you need to consider carefully what works best for you with your audience. You can start by searching your own domain on BuzzSumo to see your most shared content formats.

The content was amplified by influencers

Your content may be intrinsically good and you may have good distribution channels. However, all content benefits from amplification by influencers.  In the case of this particular post it had some very influential people reshare it.

In BuzzSumo I can see all the sharers for an article and resort the sharers by a number of filters such as number of followers, average retweets, and reply ratio. I can see in this case that there were a number of influencers that have both a high number of followers and also a high level of engagement with their followers.

In this case Sean Gardner, with 590,000 followers, was one of the influencers who shared the article. Sean gets an average of 17 retweets for each post he makes.

influencer search

I can also view the other links the influencer has shared to see if they are sharing similar content and the domains they most commonly share. In the case of Sean I can see the links he has shared recently below.

posts shared

I can also see the domains of the links he most often shares below.

domains shared

Using this form of influencer analysis you can identify suitable influencers to target. Reaching out to these people may help to amplify your content.

Summary - 5 Key Content Marketing Lessons

Based on my analysis of the most shared post on Forbes there are five things you can do to ensure your content receives maximum shares: 

  1. Develop engaging content, 1,000 words or more is fine, just make it skimmable with sub-headings and craft a good headline

  2. Create content that appeals across all networks which may be a blend of personal and business interest, life hack style content works particularly well

  3. Research and build on current trends, news items or issues

  4. Ensure the content format is one that appeals to your audience

  5. Target influencers to help amplify your content


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