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The psychology of shareable content

Going viral is the jackpot for content marketers, but due to the nature of the beast, success is notoriously hard to predict.

Is there any reason why one grumpy-looking cat should edge out the millions of other cats on the web? Sometimes, it’s just striking the right nerve at the right time that does the trick.

But there is plenty you can do to up the chances of getting your content moved. It all starts with understanding how your audience thinks, and what makes them click that all-important ‘share’ button.


Entertainment isn’t everything

According to a New York Times customer insight study, less than half of respondents said they shared content because they found it entertaining. Contrast this with 68% of respondents saying they shared content in order to make a statement about who they are, and you start to see where content creators can go wrong. It’s easy to assume you know your readers based on demographic data, but you’ll need to go further than that if you want to see results—focus not just on who they are, but on who they want to be.



Originality and utility are closely linked

In our data-led environment, where just a few clicks can tell us how frequently each article, infographic or Facebook post has been shared, it can be tempting to start regurgitating content that has seen success elsewhere. However, borrowed ideas and copied content don’t provide as much value to your reader as something they’re seeing for the first time—and it’s all the tougher to make your piece stand out if you’re trying to piggyback on others’ success.

Instead, it’s better to invest in the groundwork of content creation—the surveys, interviews, and research that ensure your brand will be the first out of the gate, taking an angle that only you could take. Focus on timeliness as well—considering buying cycles, news events, and seasonality—to give your reader a personal reason to read and share your content..


Sharing is a very quick decision

Media moves fast. Your readers are making split-second decisions about whether or not to share content, sometimes even before they’ve finished digesting it all. So content providers need to be quick off the mark to not only grab people’s attention, but also to make the call to action and convince people to click ‘share’.

Getting your reader invested immediately is key, since excitement can dominate over rationality, but this effect is temporary. Concerns like ‘I really don’t have time to read this,’ or ‘I don’t want to spam my Facebook friends,’ momentarily take a backseat to the reader’s desire to identity-build, and viral content generally succeeds because of this. Get readers’ attention before they even click over to your content, with a curiosity-whetting title or a solid lead image, and make sure the gist of the piece is immediately apparent as soon as they are on-page.

There is, ultimately, no formula for virality. So rather than considering this a challenge for data to solve, address the question of shareability by understanding your audience’s needs and habits. Whether or not your piece goes through the roof, you’ll still be reaching the essential goal of all good content marketing—creating solid relationships with your audience.


Image credit: Alan Levine via CogDog