5 Steps to the Most Shareable Content on the Internet

by Josh Barney

Yesterday, I witnessed one of the finest pieces of digital marketing that I’ve seen for some time.

For 24 hours my social feeds on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook were clogged with branded content that’d been shared by my friends, connections and followers. 

It was an onslaught of user shared content and a tour de force of brand dominance. The campaign in question was called ‘Your 2022 Wrapped’ by Spotify. 

The music app’s campaign was simple – show their users what they’d been listening to – and offer them the chance to share this information on social media. Their user’s accepted. 

On the same day that Spotify launched this campaign in 2022, MyWallSt reported that their share price had risen by 13%. 

spotify share price shared content
This graph (from Google) highlights a marked spike on 2nd December, the day Spotify launched ‘Your 2020 Wrapped’.

Are Social Shares Worth Anything?

I’m faced with a lot of emails – a large percentage of them are about one thing – ‘links’.

I receive requests about guest blogging, updating old content, link exchange proposals, monetary offers – you name it, these people are willing to give it in exchange for a simple URL inserted on our website.  

Why is it then, in an age when every other marketer and website owner is tilting towards a link-building, Google optimised strategy, that an established brand can increase their share price by 13% in one day with shareable content? 

In the remainder of this article, I’ll investigate the value of the social media share, whilst uncovering the 5 steps to the most shareable content on the internet.

And as usual, we’ll have take-aways, videos, supporting images, examples, explainers and tons of shareable content…

Shares and Long Term Results, Is There a Correlation?

The main objective of this article is to provide you with something that you can take-away and action (if you’re mildly entertained – that’s a bonus) because I know social shares can have a big impact on your long-term success. 

It might not say it in the textbooks, or the guides, or even list it in the depths of the marketing annuls, but social shares have a noticeable effect on long-term results. Many of the best performing content on Einstein Marketer (in terms of evergreen content scores) are located on pages that boast the highest social share counts. 

For example, this is one of our most shared blogs and coincidently, one of our most visited too…

social shares and traffic

I’m not suggesting that social shares have a direct impact on search ranking, but the evidence shows that more shares = more results

A study by CognitiveSEO discovered that the top 4 results on search engines have significantly more Facebook activity (with shares being a key part of that). 

Shares aren’t just valuable in the short-term. These social signals have an impactful knock-on effect. 

Social Shares As Social Proof 

Regular readers will understand the delicate balance required to succeed with social proof, and this knowledge is pretty handy when it comes to understanding the importance of social shares (and how to get more of them). 

If you weren’t there, here’s what you need to know: 

  • Social proof is the theory that we are impacted by the decisions of the people in front of us
  • 72% of people copied the action of the person in front of them (in our real-world marketing test)
  • Our Facebook ads performed better when social proof was inserted into the advertising copy (watch the videos if you don’t believe me!)
  • Social proof doesn’t work well when used in the incorrect places (i.e. in promotions for luxury brands)
  • Showing your target market that you’re popular by using social proof signals, can help your marketing performance

Social media shares act as digital recommendations.

Yes, they look amazing on the page and that definitely has an impact on the psychology of your target audience, but more importantly, they allow us to see what the people we trust most recommend. 

Who would you trust more:

  1. Your mother
  2. A stranger

This kind of social proof is invaluable for digital businesses – and reveal one reason why it’s so important for content creators and marketers to aim for ‘shareable content’.

The 5 Steps to The Most Shareable Content on the Internet

Before we dive into our 5 steps to the most shareable content on the internet (a grand claim, I know), I need to draw your attention to an article I published a little while ago called, The Psychology of Sharing

In this article, I analysed a three-part research program conducted by The New York Times known as ‘The Psychology of Sharing’.

new york times

The study revealed that the most likely reason people share content is to: 

  1. Bring Valuable or Entertaining Content to Others
  2. Define Themselves to Others
  3. Grow and Nurture Relationships
  4. Enjoy Having Others Engage
  5. Spread/Share Good Causes

With that knowledge in the bag, and these 5 points acting as a useful reference point for the rest of this article, it’s time to get into the content marketing tactics that will create irresistibly shareable content. 

1. Personalisation 

Let’s go back to the very start of this article when I praised Spotify for their excellent ‘Your 2022 Wrapped’ feature. 

The one word in this campaign that made all the difference was ‘Your’ – this possessive pronoun (thank me later for the English language lesson) is the reason that they received so many social shares. 

spotify wrapped shares opinion

If Spotify had created a feature called ‘2022 Wrapped’, and sent their users the best performing artists, songs and genres of the year in total, their results would’ve been very different. 

As revealed in The New York Times study, a top reason why people share content is ‘to define themselves to others’ – and let’s face it, there are few better ways to define yourself than by sharing the music you listen to.

nirvana t-shirt
Ever seen a t-shirt like this? This is a real-world equivalent of Spotify’s Wrapped campaign. 

Personalisation is a key stepping stone towards the holy grail of virally shared content and Spotify hasn’t been the only ones to notice. 

A bigger brand has made a bigger splash, with a bigger marketing campaign based on the shareability of their personalised content. 

Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign is one of the most famous marketing campaigns in recent memory – and I couldn’t write an article about creating shareable content without mentioning its name. 

The campaign involved Coca-Cola removing their brand name from labels and replacing them with the 250 most popular names of each country they were released in. 

In the first year of the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign, photos were tagged with the hashtag ‘#shareacoke’ more than 500,000 times, and Coca-Cola gained more than 25 million Facebook followers (Source: Investopedia). 

The personalisation of their products gave them the leverage to increase product sales AND the platform to build on their growth – thanks to the shareability of their personalised bottles. 

How to Personalise Your Content For Shares

Creating shareable content via personalisation requires one very important thing: data

Without information, you simply can’t personalise anything.

For instance, regular readers will know that my name is Josh, and therefore have enough data to personalise a message to me. A message or comment like this will capture more of my attention than one addressed as ‘Dear Sir’.

Spotify succeeded because they had collected tons of data from their customers. Coca-Cola succeeded because they had enough resources to create a blanket personalisation campaign. 

How Can You Use Personalisation? 

We don’t all have the budgets or data holding of companies like Spotify and Coca-Cola, so here are a few ways that anybody can use personalisation in their marketing campaigns and content to increase shareability: 

  • Know your audience: Start with a customer avatar, create stuff that will help your ideal customer. 
  • CRM Tags: Tag actions and behaviours in your customer relationship management software, and use this to inform future promotions, e.g. tag everyone who buys specific products and tailor their future communications around it. 
  • Pixel/Cookies: Track behaviours and actions on your website and create custom audiences based on this behaviour, e.g. clicks, scrolls, URL visits, conversions. Retarget each segment with personalised content. 
  • Collect More Data: Use sign-up forms to collect as much information as possible – first names, last names, company names, location etc. Use this information in communications. 
  • Analytics: Use Google Tag Manager and Analytics to track what content your audience is most in tune with, and create more of it! 
  • Implement a Live Chat: Create a live chat/messenger option for website visitors and personalise their conversation and future interactions with your website. 

2. Let Them Share!

I see too many talented creators and marketers fail to offer their audience the chance to share their work. 

It’s as easy as this:

Click on the share buttons below to spread the word:

Or this…

BTW: The social share buttons (above) are provided by a company called Social Warfare. They act as a WordPress plugin. Install these (or a similar plugin), activate them and add them to your website – it’s not rocket science. 

Calling your audience to share shouldn’t be restricted to written content, it should be done in videos and podcasts. too The best times to do this are at the start and end of your content.

These sharing recommendations are known as a ‘call-to-action’. 

We can explain why calls-to-action work, thanks to a 1966 book by James J Gibson, called The Senses Considered as Perpetual Systems.

affordances in marketing james gibson
Good luck to anybody who tries to read this – it’s not for the faint-hearted. 

Gibson coined a term known as ‘affordances’. This explains why certain objects have properties that direct us to take action.

For example, when we see a button, we instinctively know (and want) to press it, when we see a doorknob, we know to twist it, when we’re faced with a switch, we want to flip it.

Thanks to digital, affordances have stretched much further than simply flicking and turning switches. We know to pinch our fingers to zoom in, double-tap to like (on Instagram) and drag down to reload pages.

It’s up to you to provide your audience with the correct sharing ‘affordances’, so they’ll instinctively want to share your content.

Give them buttons to press!

How To Use Share Buttons

Unfortunately, there isn’t an option to add 3D knobs and switches to your content, but, as you’ve already noticed, there are some powerful ways to use share buttons in your content: 

  • Make it visible: Use floating bars at the side or bottom of your content to keep your share buttons in-view at all times. When the ‘I want to share’ moment hits, the option needs to be there. 
  • Embed share buttons: Don’t ram sharing buttons down your audience’s throat, embed them where appropriate
  • Ask, be polite: Don’t tell your audience to do stuff, ask them politely. Many of them will understand the importance and impact of a social share and will do so if you ask.
  • Use incentives: A click-to-tweet is effectively a free piece of content for your audience, offer them the incentive. Alternatively, offer them offers/deals etc within your email content in exchange for shares. 
  • Colours: Green’s and oranges are the most commonly used CTA colours, why not try using them in your social share buttons. It might be worth testing. 
  • Show share numbers: If your content regularly receives high levels of shares, put a share counter beside your share buttons. This technique uses social proof to encourage more shares – just don’t overdo it! 
  • 3D Buttons: Design your share buttons so they look like they’ll depress when they’re clicked on. Alternatively, change their design when a mouse hovers over them.

3. Stand Out!

Doing the same thing as everyone else achieves below-average results – especially when you’re relatively new in content.

It pays to stand out – and the currency for your achievements are social shares. 

The number one reason that people share content in The New York Times study was ‘to bring valuable or entertaining content to others’. People are inherently social creatures, and they are always looking at ways of helping their social circles (and raising their standing within it). 

Standing out requires creativity, skill, ingenuity and having the bravery to go against the grain, or in the words of a Nobel prize winner: 

‘The opposite of a great idea is another great idea.’

Niels Bohr

A sports brand like Nike would be well advised to use athletes in their ads as aspirational figures that are aligned with their products. However, one of their most virally shared campaigns was their ‘Find Your Greatness’ ad, where they did the exact opposite: 

Or a drink brand like Guinness should – to any rational thinker – hide that their product is slow to pour, but instead they advertise it like a badge of honour. 

guinness bar mat marketing

And it’s one of the foremost reasons that at a time when everyone is publishing as much content as possible, I’ve decided to reduce the number of blogs being published on Einstein Marketer, in order to raise the level of quality that’s associated with our brand. 

Great ideas come at both ends of the spectrum. Find which end suits you and create content that warrants the ‘stand out’ motivated share. 

And if you need further inspiration, here’s an apology from KFC that received tons of shares for ‘stand out’ reasons:

kfc fck campaign

How to Make Your Content ‘Stand Out’

The Austrian psychologist, Ernest Dichter, released a study in 1966 about word-of-mouth marketing.

He discovered that the most common reason for somebody to recommend a product to a friend was ‘product involvement’. This occurred when an experience with a product was so novel and pleasurable that it simply had to be shared. 

ernest dichter word of mouth study

You must aim to elicit that same feeling with your content. 

A brand that have achieved this with their content is Blendtec, with their infamous YouTube videos, ‘Will it Blend?’:

But, how can you use content to stand out and gain those all-important social shares? Here are a few ways that we’ve used them in the past: 

  • Think of a good idea and do the opposite: Let’s face it, you aren’t the only person online creating content – your good idea has probably been executed before. Why not flip it on its head and try the opposite?
  • Do something immeasurable: Almost everything online can be tracked, but why not try something that can’t be tracked – have longer conversations with prospects, post less, post more, publish elsewhere, go offline, create branded merchandise. 
  • Create nonsense: I only know one brand of blender, because Blendtec is the only one who created nonsense content with their product. If you have a product, try some nonsense for yourself.
  • Be honest: Trust is one of the hardest commodities to find online – being honest about yourself, your brand and your journey will stand out from the crowd.

4. Positivity

I’m smiling already. 

‘Positivity’ is an especially relevant point for me because I regularly share it. My most recent retweet (at the time of writing) was about the world’s first Covid-19 vaccination:

And I’m not the only one, in Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger and his colleague analysed seven thousand articles to discover what elements contributed to their most emailed articles.

contagious jonah berger social sharing
Add this book to your reading list

They discovered that there were two primary factors that led to the sharing of articles: 

  1. How positive the article was
  2. How excited it made the reader

Joy is a feeling that we instinctively want to share it with others. Spreading happiness builds and nurtures relationships and gives us enjoyment (both of these are top 5 psychological share factors according to The New York Times study).

positive news and shareable content
News sites like Good News Network are often seen shared on social media.

The message itself doesn’t have to be positive to incite positive sharing feelings. As brands and marketers, it can be difficult to find feel-good topics when we’re creating content about our products or problem-fixes. 

Instead, we can use easter eggs (hidden gems in our content) or our medium delivery to spark joy in our audience. Check out this promotional video about train safety:

This video for Dumb Ways to Die has been viewed more than 200 million times on YouTube and even has a mobile app. 

Try watching that video and telling me that you don’t want to hit these share buttons…

How to Make Your Content More Positive

If your singing voice isn’t quite up to a catchy new jingle, and you’re fresh out of inspirational stories, there are other ways to generate positivity.

Excitement and positivity are similar emotions, you can use either to create the shareable content you’re seeking.

Here are a few ways to make your content more positive and your shares more frequent: 

  • Release dates: If you have a product, content or changes to your business that will impact your customer positively – create content about them and build excitement. Computer game companies earn $$$ in pre-orders from shares of their release date promos. 
  • Product teasers: If you have something that’s in development, a completed prototype or potential change to your services – create a content teaser and post it on social media. Think positively!
  • Staff stories: We’re social creatures, and people love people. Try using your own funny industry-related stories, or those of your staff.
  • Video: It’s much easier to share positive emotions about a mundane topic when you’re on video on doing it.
  • Curate: Use your social channels to curate positive news from other sources. You won’t own the content, but you’ll be the messenger.  
  • Think positively: Don’t force the feeling. Positive vibes radiate off you when you’re in the zone and will flow into your content too. Enjoy the process! 

5. Stories

In 1996, a few weeks before the Olympic Games, a young athlete was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer. A year later, after undertaking chemotherapy and having the cancer removed, he was declared cancer-free and started his own foundation. 

The man was Lance Armstrong, his foundation, Livestrong. Fast forward 7 years and Armstrong had just picked up a record-breaking 6th consecutive Tour de France. 

This seemingly impossible story led to Nike selling more than 80 million yellow wristbands with his foundation’s ‘Livestrong’ branding:

livestrong fad virality
It’s probably best not to mention what happened to Armstrong a few years later.

This yellow bracelet went ‘purchase viral’, and the same thing happens to content and marketing campaigns when they’re attached to the correct story.

In the UK, many people eagerly await John Lewis’s Christmas advert (if you’re not a Brit, John Lewis is a large department store) because they’re always built around touching stories. 

When these ads drop, you cannot move on social for shares of their video. 

My favourite John Lewis ad wasn’t even created by them. In this ad, Twitter teamed up with a man named John Lewis, who lives in Virginia, US and owns the Twitter handle @JohnLewis. Because of his username, he is regularly inundated with tags, mentions and requests from UK twitter users:

Since @johnlewis tweeted this ad, it has been shared more than 25k times from his account alone.

BTW: If you haven’t seen a John Lewis Christmas advert, check them out on YouTube.

Stories are an amazing way to elicit emotion. They give us the opportunity to share good causes (like the Livestrong band), build relationships and entertain others – 3 big psychological reasons why we share content. 

I opened this blog with a story about Spotify to capture your attention, and I’ve weaved in several more to keep you engaged. As a creator, marketer and entrepreneur, you must understand the value of attention.

A great story can pull new audiences from their ferociously busy newsfeeds – giving you the chance to convert that into a share. 

A brief explanation of the value of attention on stage at EMC 2020. 

How to Use Stories In Your Content

Stories are everywhere, it’s just a matter of knowing how to find them. Here are a few ways that anybody can use stories to create irresistibly shareable content:

  • Brand stories: Your business must’ve started for a reason, and there has to be some background to this. This is your brand story – you simply have to use it. Think of the emotional steps that took you from where you were, to where you are today.
  • Customer stories: This type of story are great on landing and sales pages because they increase conversion rates. Ask your existing customers to talk about their life (in relation to your product’s problem-solving ability) before and after they found you. Use quotes and videos to build trust in your brand. 
  • Progress updates: Nobody ever started at the top of the tree. If you’re on your way up, show your audience every step along the way. We are all living, breathing stories. Use updates to build a community who are invested in yours. 
  • Vlogs/blogs: Vlogs and blogs are a great way to go into more detail about your journey. You can reveal problems you’ve faced, shortcuts and advice. 

The 5 Steps to the Most Shareable Content On the Internet

There we have it – the 5 steps to the most shareable content on the internet. 

We’ve been through highs and lows, witnessed some great modern marketing campaigns, and put the theory of shareable content to the test with examples and explanations. 

As a quick recap, here are our 5 ways to create shareable content: 

  1. Personalisation
  2. Let them share!
  3. Stand out!
  4. Positivity 
  5. Stories

If you can tie two or three of these elements together, you’ll create something that is irresistible on social media. 

I’ll be back soon with more super-valuable content like this – as always, scroll down to the bottom of this page to subscribe for updates…

…and please share this article to spread the knowledge (and love). 

Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer, best selling author and creator of the www.joshbarney.blog. He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links so he can get back to writing as himself.

20 Responses

  1. Wow…love this Josh!

    I remember those Spotify lists being shared all over social media but I didn’t know how big an impact it can have. Great marketing and great article about it too.

    Your blogs are always so in depth and easy-to-understand. Looking forward to your next one, and I’ll share this in the meantime.

    1. Thanks for commenting and thank you for the kind words, Alex.

      If there’s anything about marketing, content or social media that you’d like to know more about, feel free to ask!

      1. Thank you for the content, Josh!

        You often reference books in your blogs, do you have a list that you’d recommend?

        1. I have written a couple of blogs about marketing and entrepreneurial books that I recommend – but I’ll get to work making a more comprehensive one ASAP. I’ll send a link to our subscribers when it’s published.

  2. Hi Josh,
    I read Contagious last year and thought it was excellent.

    You make some interesting points about sharing. I really like the part about ‘affordances’ as I hadn’t heard of that before. I will try your ideas about calls to action and button design so they look more pressable.
    Thanks again,

    1. Thank you for commenting Zara!

      Contagious is a great book – a must-read for anybody working online.

      Good luck with the CTA – if you need any further help, reach out anytime.

  3. Interesting blog. Another way to tempt people to share is to put some controversy in the content. This makes content more shareable by separating perspectives and points of view. It has certainly worked for me in the past.

  4. There is so much here to love in this blog.

    Brilliant content again Josh. I’ve just shared this on Twitter because it is very shareable content.
    Looking forward to your next blog and I’ve subscribed already.

  5. You actually make it appear so easy to make shareable content but I to find this topic to be really one thing which I think I would never understand. I am taking a look ahead for your next publish, I will try to get the cling of it!|

  6. Hi Josh, I love the idea of having data in your shares. I’ve also noticed that on many social sites today that any posts with links are getting pushed down in the algorithm. Is there any way around this aside from putting links in the comment section? Thanks.

    1. Hi Lisa, posts with links have always been penalized – social networks prefer users to stay on their network in order to see more ads – however, if you are able to generate high levels of engagement on the post itself, networks will push the posts to more people. Try to encourage users to comment and like the post, as well as clicking on it!

  7. The key to creating shareable content is to understand your audience and what motivates them to engage and share with others.

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