How to Create Content That Gets Shared

I don’t often receive book recommendations that make me completely rethink how I approach creating content. But when a fellow freelancer confessed her favorite business book on my podcast, then immediately said she wished she hadn’t told me because it’s her best-kept secret to creating viral content and building a community, I knew I had to read it.

That book was Jonah Berger’s Contagious.

In Contagious, Berger guides you through six key psychological triggers of shareable content. He provides recent examples of global corporations and small start-ups that have used them to dramatically increase the reach of their content.

I can see why my friend wanted to keep the book to herself. But as a writer, I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t pass on these gems when I discover them.

So, I’m sharing the six most useful questions I found in Contagious, which I refer to every time I am in the content-planning process.

1. How does it make people look when they share it?

We might not like to admit it, but our behavior is influenced heavily by how we want to be perceived by our peers. When we share an article or video on our social profiles, we are motivated by what other’s think of us and how it will make us look.

Most of us want to look good in front of our friends, colleagues, and clients, and when we share something, it can take many different forms:

Sharing something funny says … I’ve a great sense of humor.

Sharing something profound says … I’m a deep and philosophical thinker.

Sharing something we’re proud of says … I’m winning in life.

Sharing something useful says … I can help you.

Sharing something for a cause says … I care about this, and you should too.

Berger calls this social currency. Understanding the psychology behind these motivations allows you to use them to your advantage. In turn, it makes your content shareable.

2. Does this content link to an everyday stimulus?

We share content more often when it is linked intrinsically to something in everyday life. This maximizes word-of-mouth sharing because it is top-of-mind. Our brains are also looking for associations to talk about, to keep conversations flowing.

Berger pulls upon data from some of the most popular content in the last few years to explain this phenomenon. Take Rebecca Black’s manufactured hit record ”Friday”. Yes, it’s cheesy, and in my opinion, a terrible song. Yes, the record company spent a lot of money promoting it. Yes, the song had a huge amount of online shares on its release.

But what’s fascinating is the amount of shares it still gets to this day. Every single Friday, the company sees a massive spike in people sharing the song, four years after its release. Creating content about a day of the week definitely contributed to immediate, as well as ongoing, shares.

3. Will this make my audience feel a heightened state of emotion?

You’ve likely heard it before, but when we care, we share. Writers often look to spark a feeling in readers to help them relate to the content and compel them to take action.

But we can take this a step further.

How? By aiming to trigger a heightened state of emotion in our readers. By heightened, I mean the really powerful emotions on the spectrum. Think awe, love, excitement, joy, and nostalgia on the more positive end of the scale. Anger, disgust, grief, and anxiety on the more negative end.

Berger came to this conclusion through analyzing the most emailed articles from The New York Times over a given period. He found that articles about health and education were more popular because they were interesting and useful, but science articles were also up there on the most-shared list.

These science pieces weren’t as interesting or useful as other content, so why did they keep appearing? On further analysis, it was the emotion of awe — something of surprise, mystery, or the unexpected — that consistently helped science top the charts. Awe, a heightened state of emotion, is a compelling motivation to share.

4. How can I make my content more publicly visible?

Another great psychological trigger you can pull upon to generate shares of your content is the fact that humans tend to imitate one another. When we see people around us doing something, we want to do it too.

We dress like our friends; we are more likely to take up a hobby if people we know do it; we have similar opinions to our peer group.


Well, because other people’s opinions and decisions are full of useful information and help us overcome uncertainty quickly. If someone else is doing it, it must be good.

And if a lot of people are doing it? A lot more people will follow them. Once you reach a tipping point, it snowballs, and you have a viral hit on your hands. And the real key to imitation?

We copy (and share) things we see other people doing. So, Berger suggests creating content that makes your products, services, and ideas more publicly visible. One effective way I’ve discovered is to encourage user-generated content as much as possible.

5. Does this content have practical value?

One of the most popular types of content on the Internet is useful content. Hacks, tips, how-tos, and DIYs are the cornerstone components of many blogs and social networks. To understand why, think back to the first question I shared in this post:

“How does it make people look when they share it?”

Practical value content is important because when we share something of use, it makes us look helpful and knowledgeable to our peers, and it feels good.

But it goes further than that because we genuinely want to help the receiver out and make their life easier or save them time or money.

So when writing practical content, I encourage you not only to ask yourself, ”Is this useful to my readers?” but also, “Would this be useful to their peers?” If you can answer yes to both, you’ll supercharge the shareability of your content.

6. Can I wrap this information in a story?

For thousands of years, humans have passed information on through telling stories. It’s not the facts and figures we remember most, but the stories of what happened.

As an example, think about your history lessons at school. Which moments in history can you recall easily? I doubt it’s the dates a certain king or queen reigned, but more likely the story of their infamous behavior.

To use this natural story-telling desire as a vehicle to make your content more shareable, Berger warns to avoid the mistake many make: they forget to ensure that whatever idea, business, or product/service benefit they’re promoting is integral to the story.

Because, in these instances, their audience tells the story, and it does spread, but the brand behind it is forgotten.

Make sure the key thing you want people to remember is embedded into the plot, so they can’t tell the story without it. That way, you’ll have a story that not only generates word-of-mouth referrals and shares, but people also will associate it with your business and brand.

On a final note, don’t feel you have to answer all the above questions for each piece of content you create. Even executing one well will increase the shareability of your work.

This article, How to Create Content That Gets Shared, was originally published by B2B Writing Success.

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Published: April 7, 2016

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