What Makes Content Shareable?

October 23, 2015

shareable content

Success in content marketing relies to a great extent upon sharing via social media, but we don’t share just anything with our followers online. Some material inspires us to communicate it to our social networks because it possesses a certain characteristic – an “X Factor” that’s the driving force behind our actions. It’s the difference between content that goes viral across the globe and material that fizzles out before ever getting a fair shot.

So what are these elusive qualities that motivate people to share? It’s our job as marketers to figure it out and harness that power.

Human Nature Drives People to Share

As it turns out, the phenomenon behind sharing content is rooted in our earliest form of communication: Word of mouth. Humans are hardwired to share information because that’s how our ancestors hunted, gathered and built civilizations as groups. Today, we’re still driven to share information in the form of content, but our motivations in doing so have transitioned. These days, we spread the word among our social network because:

  • It’s remarkable: Content that’s extraordinary serves as social currency. By sharing it, people feel a higher sense of self-worth because they’re “in the know.”
  • It’s timely: Material published at a key moment triggers sharing because timing carries relevance along with it.
  • It has practical value: When we find something useful or valuable, we want others to benefit in a similar fashion.
  • It tells a story: We’re drawn to experiences that tie into our own because they establish a personal connection.

If your content possesses one or more of these characteristics, you’re increasing the chances that your target audience will share it. But material that’s outstanding in all the above categories can still sputter out if it doesn’t include one factor that deserves a section all its own.

The Role of Emotion

Emotion is probably the most powerful force behind sharing content, as our feelings drive many of our actions – not just our online behaviors. The two emotions that inspire us to share in the content marketing setting are:

  • Surprise: The element of surprise can be a marketer’s best friend, because it captures the power of the unexpected. When we’re caught off guard, we share it with others to prepare them to handle it – or get a laugh at their expense.
  • Joy: We share when we’ve witnessed or experienced something that has made our lives better in some way. It feels great to share joy with our social network, and we’re happy to hear of others’ good fortune as well.

As marketers, we can consider our efforts to be successful when content evokes an emotional response that resonates with the person consuming it. In the physical world, the end result is “mirroring” someone’s body language, such as a yawn or smile; online, it’s sharing with our social network.

Making Your Content Shareable

There’s no guaranteed formula that will ensure your content is shared by those who see it, but there are some rules of thumb that can guide your approach:

1. Start with a simple human concept: Decide how you want to appeal to your audience, considering that your story must be timely, remarkable, useful – and evoke emotion.

2. Build a plan around your story: A documented strategy is necessary, including the editorial calendar, assignment of content assets, editing process and other tasks. Make sure you have an established objective to achieve.

3. Invite others to join the experience: Get your target audience involved and make your content easy to share with one click. Request their photos, videos, stories or take a poll.

4. Stay flexible: Be willing to say “YES” if your audience moves in an unexpected direction. It may morph into something new and engaging when the crowd breathes life into it.

Shareability in Action

Encouraging others to share your content is sometimes easier said than done, but take a look at some real life examples. You’ve probably seen these campaigns – whether you were the sharer or recipient.

  • Batkid: The Make A Wish Foundation made dreams come true for a boy with leukemia who loved Batman and wanted to be Batkid. The organization set up a day-long event for Miles Scott to fight crime around San Francisco, transformed into “Gotham City.” News of the event spread like wildfire when shared on social media, so much that people volunteered a “Batmobile” and offered to play characters.
  • ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: The task was simple: Pour an ice bucket over your head, post the video, donate to ALS and pass on the challenge by sharing with other named individuals. The response was overwhelming. Entire professional sports teams challenged their rivals, while celebrities, politicians and other public figures got involved.


Your content must be shared to be successful, so figuring out what resonates with your target audience is critical. But you can motivate them to share when you create material that’s valuable, remarkable and appeals to our emotions. It’s human nature.

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About The Author

Bryan Kramer is the author of SHAREOLOGY: How Sharing is Powering the Human Economy (Morgan James, 2015) and CEO of PureMatters. Bryan Kramer is one of the world's foremost leaders in the art and science of sharing, and has been credited with shaping the #H2H human business movement in marketing and social media. He's also a global keynote speaker, bestselling author and strategist who consults Fortune 500 clients such as IBM, Cisco and Pitney Bowes on humanizing business through social media.

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