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The Most Shared Articles on Facebook in 2016 (and What We Can Learn from Them)

The Most Shared Articles on Facebook in 2016 (and What we Can Learn from Them) | Social Media TodayEarlier this week, BuzzSumo published their list of the most shared content of the year across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and it’s another great, data-driven post from the BuzzSumo team, definitely worth checking out. But there were some interesting themes among the most shared posts - the Facebook posts in particular - that are worthy of extra attention as we look to 2017 and how to refine our content strategies to align with Facebook’s audience and algorithm.

But first off, a quick reminder – back in June Facebook released an algorithm update which put more focus on content from friends and family, as opposed to content from Pages.

That change forced a re-think on Facebook strategies, as it altered the way content was shared - as explained by Facebook:

“…we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages. The specific impact on your Page’s distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience. For example, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts. We encourage Pages to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends.” 

Essentially, if you want to maximize your reach on Facebook, you need to create shareable content, posts that people want to tell their friends about, as opposed to them simply reading it on your Page.

This is why BuzzSumo’s research is so important – moving forward, boosting share activity will be a crucial consideration for those looking to get more reach.

(And worth noting, of the most shared articles identified in BuzzSumo’s listing, all but four of them were published before this change came into effect).

Shares, of course, aren’t the goal in themselves – having fewer people share your posts could be just as relevant if you’re reaching the right audience and they all go on to click through to your site and/or make a purchase. But with 1.79 billion users, Facebook’s reach is one of its most enticing features. It makes sense that creating more resonant content will help get your brand in front of more potential customers.

So, what can we learn from the most shared posts on Facebook? BuzzSumo has identified the top 15 most shared posts of 2016, which are:

  1. “New Alzheimer’s Treatment Fully Restores Memory Function” (5 million shares)
  2. “How Sensitive is Your OCD Radar?” (3.4m shares)
  3. “Science Says the First Born Child is the Most Intelligent” (2.8m shares)
  4. “An Open Letter to my Friends who Support Donald Trump” (2.2m shares)
  5. “Bald Men are Sexier, More Masculine, Scientific Study Says” (2.1m shares)
  6. “Biased Strangers Take DNA Test” (2.1m shares)
  7. “Intelligent People Tend to be More Messy” (2m shares)
  8. “Women Need More Sleep Because Their Brains Work Harder” (1.9m shares)
  9. “Here is the Powerful Letter the Stanford Victim Read Aloud to Her Attacker” (1.8m shares)
  10. “4 Year-Old at Grocery Store Calls Lonely Widower Old” (1.5m shares)
  11. “Scientists May Have Found a Root That Kills 98% of Cancer Cells” (1.4m shares)
  12. “Old Music is Outselling New Music for the First Time in History” (1.3m shares)
  13. “This Inflatable Irish Pub Turns Your Backyard into a Bar” (1.3m shares)
  14. “This Butter Pecan Cheesecake Will Make Your Thanksgiving More Exciting” (1.3m shares)
  15. “Penguin Swims 5,000 Miles Every Year for Reunion with Man Who Saved His Life” (889k shares)

A fairly eclectic mix. Based on this, BuzzSumo notes that some of the key story types generating the most response on Facebook are:

  • “Science says” stories
  • Data driven content
  • Strong opinion and political pieces
  • Heart warmers

And those are all relevant notes, but I think there’s some other key trends that can be identified within these top stories that can help boost content shareability.

1. Reinforcement of Opinion

Facebook has been under fire of late because of criticism related to how the platform can facilitate echo-chambers in which people are only shown content they agree with, leaving them oblivious to the other side of the argument. The impact of this is undeniable – a recent study conducted by The Guardian, for example, saw Liberal and Conservative voters switch Facebook feeds in the final month of the US Presidential Election campaign. They were amazed by the disparity - one described the experience as being “like reading a book by a fool”.

And while the impacts of this process are concerning when looking at political bias, the same impetus is clearly in play in the sharing of other types of content, with people more likely to share material which reinforces their opinion or helps them underline a pre-conceived notion (or something they simply want to believe is true).

Looking at the BuzzSumo list, I would identify five posts that reinforce people’s beliefs, which no doubt played a big role in their subsequent share counts.

  1. “Science Says the First Born Child is the Most Intelligent” (2.8m shares)
  2. “Bald Men are Sexier, More Masculine, Scientific Study Says” (2.1m shares)
  3. “Intelligent People Tend to be More Messy” (2m shares)
  4. “Women Need More Sleep Because Their Brains Work Harder” (1.9m shares)
  5. “Old Music is Outselling New Music for the First Time in History” (1.3m shares)

That’s a third of the most shared content, and you can see, looking through these headlines, how the articles, whether true or not, support something people want to believe.

There’s a lighter tone to these posts too – no doubt a lot of the shares came with a sarcastic “see, I told you so” remark – but it does underline one of the common findings of research into why people share content on Facebook: because it makes them look good and underlines their self-image.

So how can you use this in your own Facebook strategy? Look to create content that supports people’s ideals and notions in relation to your products.

For example, if you sold basketball shoes, maybe you could do a research post which shows that NBA players who wear certain brand sneakers perform better. If you sell shampoo, find or conduct research into how people who use a certain brand (with a certain ingredient) or wash their hair more regularly have lower instance of hair loss. This is a tried and true advertising tactic, of course, brands have always been keen to highlight research that shows why their products are better, but the important part is that your findings are actually backed by real findings - however dubious the “science” behind them might be (how you get an objective, scientific measure on 'sexiness', I don’t know).

That’s not to say you can just make up results (definitely don’t do that), but you may be able to conduct your own research, based on your own studies or online resources, which helps support a view shared by your audience.

Again, the key element, as noted by BuzzSumo, is to underline that your findings are based on actual research, and that those results support what people want to hear. So they can tell everyone else “I told you so”.

2. Providing Hope and Inspiration

BuzzSumo covers this by noting ‘heart warmers’, and it’s an important note – of the top 15 most shared Facebook posts, I would tag five of them in this category.

  1. “New Alzheimer’s Treatment Fully Restores Memory Function” (5 million shares)
  2. “Here is the Powerful Letter the Stanford Victim Read Aloud to Her Attacker” (1.8m shares)
  3. “4 Year-Old at Grocery Store Calls Lonely Widower Old” (1.5m shares)
  4. “Scientists May Have Found a Root That Kills 98% of Cancer Cells” (1.4m shares)
  5. “Penguin Swims 5,000 Miles Every Year for Reunion with Man Who Saved His Life” (889k shares)

Of course, this makes sense – people feel more compelled to share positive, inspirational content (just look at the amount of inspirational quotes floating around the web).

And while there might not appear to be an obvious way to use this strategy in your own marketing process, one way you can do this is by looking at the impact your business has on the lives of your customers.

For example, rather than sharing an update about your new products, provide an overview which explains how a customer has used it to make their life better. All products and services offer an improvement, a way of helping people in their day-to-day experience. Your story may not be as amazing as a penguin coming back every year to visit some guy on an island, but if you can find the human heart to your brand purpose, and highlight that in your content, you may be able to tap into this type of share activity.

3. Aspirational Content

Of the remaining five posts on the Facebook shares listing, I would tag two of them as being aspirational in some way.

  1. “This Inflatable Irish Pub Turns Your Backyard into a Bar” (1.3m shares)
  2. “This Butter Pecan Cheesecake Will Make Your Thanksgiving More Exciting” (1.3m shares)

Recipes tend to perform well on Pinterest, but this one struck a nerve on Facebook also, while the pub story is more fun than anything, but no doubt was shared as a ‘life goals’ type post.

It’s hard to take any definitive lessons from these, but aspirational content, in general – posts that talk about something people want to have – do perform well. In a promotional sense, you could take this as a cue to provide more use case examples of your products and how they’ll make people’s lives better, somewhere they want to be.

Of the remaining couple of posts, the Trump one could be put into the reinforcement segment, as could the DNA test article (which showed that most people’s genetic make-up includes various nationalities). The second top result, a quiz which assessed your OCD tendencies, is a bit of an outlier, though again, previous studies have shown that quizzes and interactive content also perform well.

As noted, creating shareable content is going to become even more of a focus on Facebook given their algorithm shifts - unless they change it again, which is always a possibility. But in its current state, optimizing your content for shareability is one of the best ways to maximize your performance on Facebook. As always, you need to keep your unique audience, and their interests, in mind, and look to create valuable content that addresses the questions in your community. But doing this while also generating more reach will help expand your message.

You can read the full BuzzSumo report “The Most Viral Content of 2016: Thirty Examples of Insanely Shareable Content” here.

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