The cycle of shareable content is unending: a bizarre video like “Damn Daniel” makes waves and then quietly disappears, to be replaced with a new piece of wildly popular content, like the cover of the latest Drake album. This begs the question: What makes large groups of people talk about and share pieces of content? Why do certain pictures on your personal or branded Instagram or Facebook account get tons of engagement, while others only get a few likes?

Great content generates genuine enthusiasm. It taps into our common identities, our relationships with friends and family, and our desire to discover something that has never been seen before. Or it simply makes us laugh. We’ve outlined a few approaches on how to create shareable content that is more relatable to a broad audience below.

Make It Human

shareable content of woman traveling
Image by Lolostock

Although “listicles” (i.e. clickbait list articles) about business, politics, and tech are seemingly everywhere on social media, they actually aren’t the most shareable topics. Stories about the human experience connect with us on a deeper level. Stories of survivors who make it through tragic circumstances and come out stronger on the other side strengthen our resilience. We also love to laugh with others, which is why post-wisdom-teeth-removal videos are so popular.

Engage With Positivity

baby laughing
Image by Falcona

Though the news is fueled by negative stories about violence and hatred, the most shared stories on the web have a positive spin.

People want content that stirs the imagination, entertains, or has an uplifting message. When sharing that content among peers, the average person links to subjects with a high emotional value. Think about the videos you see on social media: Are they more likely to be depressing or hilarious? Even content that tackles heavy topics generally has an uplifting and hopeful message that people find shareable. Keep people’s spirits high and they’ll hit the share button.

Find the Right Headline

vintage neon sign
Image by Suzanne Tucker

From emails to Facebook posts, headlines are the first thing a potential reader sees. Smart headlines emphasize emotional value and stimulate action. This can be done with urgency, mystery, passion, humor, or a number of other approaches.

For example, a dull headline might read “How to Write a Song on Guitar,” but it would be much more emotionally charged if phrased as, “How to Write a Song With a Legendary Guitar Solo.” Spending extra time on your headline is always worth it, but make sure your content fulfills the headlines’ promise.

Ever see an awesome headline and click on the article, only to be disappointed by content that doesn’t live up to its promises? This trick is common from sites that focus on viral content, but responsible content makers consider this practice — called “clickbait” — to be deceptive. Clickbait may produce a surge in incoming traffic, but people feel let down by these headlines. Don’t sacrifice your reputation for inflated traffic numbers. In the end, well-crafted content will always perform better than content that feels slapped together in an effort to get clicks.

Offer Practical Value

binocular sightseeing
Image by waku

A great headline and topic doesn’t mean anything if the content is subpar. Users want to share media that actually has value — whether it benefits their everyday lives, provides insight on a philosophical level, makes them laugh, or keeps their friends and family informed.

SEO and clickbait headline strategies have their place, but they can’t save shoddy content. You might generate some initial interest, but you risk alienating people in the long term. Focus on creating value (not on gaming the system), and your content will be significantly more shareable.

The easiest way to provide value to readers is to take vague advice and turn it into actionable, concrete instructions. For example, let’s say you’re writing an article about reducing stress in your life. You may be tempted to offer advice like “take time to daydream,” but if you build out that idea and turn it into “spend 10 minutes focusing on nothing but your breathing and another 10 minutes writing down any insights you gained from it,” you’ve given much clearer instructions that also happen to feel more human. There’s also no room for misinterpretation in the last statement.

When you decide on a topic, spend some time looking at other content on the same topic and note what needs to be improved. Any information that’s vague, outdated, or incorrect is an opportunity to provide the value that no one else is.

Make It Easy to Read

stationary organized
Image by sergign

People don’t read content on the web the same way they do in a newspaper, magazine, or book. They save things for later, get distracted, scan, or rely on the comments to help them form an opinion.

Because of this, you’ll want to do whatever you can to increase the readability of your online content. Some tips for improving readability are:
• Use bullet points
• Keep paragraphs short
• Insert an image every 350 words
• Include screenshots, gifs, graphs, or infographics to communicate infomation visually
• Use lots of space between paragraphs
• Divide content into sections and make relevant subheadings

Want to learn more about what makes content shareable? Shutterstock’s 15 most viral images of 2015 might give you some insight. And, if you’re just getting started with content marketing, check out this article on the fundamentals of content planning.

Top image by Comaniciu Dan

Still wondering what makes readers tick? Read more on the fundamentals of content planning.