Social Media and Storytelling, Part 3: Creating Content That Gets Shared

There are specific guidelines to follow that will help get your content shared. Photo by *superhoop*
There are specific guidelines to follow that will help get your content shared. Photo by *superhoop*.

The following is the third of six blog posts adapted from a speech by Cameron Uganec, Hootsuite’s Director of Marketing, given at the Marketo’s 2013 Summit Conference in San Francisco. The first post, “Why Storytelling?”, can be found here. The second post, “Back to the Future”, can be found here. The session, entitled “Social Media + Storytelling = Awesomesauce” can be watched in full here.

In the previous posts, I explored how social media and storytelling can be used by marketers to engage with an audience and build relationships.  It turns out that there is another benefit to following a brand storytelling approach; it can increase the shareability of your content.  In fact the potential to build relationships coupled with the “viral effect” is what makes storytelling and social media powerful tools for marketers.

My team creates a lot of content. Our content marketing takes many forms: Tweets, Facebook posts, contributed articles, infographics, videos, blog posts etc. In order to unlock the potential value of the ‘earned media’ component of social media we endeavour to make every piece of content shareable. So it’s important that we understand why people share content.

Why People Share

The NYTimes Insights Group published a study that looked at the key factors that influence people to share content. Unsurprisingly, they discovered that sharing is all about relationships. They outlined these key motivations for people to share:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to others.

  • To define ourselves to others.

  • To grow and nourish relationships.

  • To get the word out about causes and brands I care about.

When you are creating content it’s important to be mindful of what the motivation of your audience is. When planning each piece of content our team answers these questions:

  • How does this add value for our audience?

  • How will this help or entertain them?

  • Why will they share it?

Psychology of Sharing

Some of the other reasons people share are at a deeper psychological level. The journal Psychological Science published a study about the psychology of sharing in 2011. The research uncovered that evoking certain emotions can help increase the chance of a message being shared. Here’s a quote:

The sharing of stories or information may be driven in part by arousal. When people are physiologically aroused, whether due to emotional stimuli or otherwise, the autonomic nervous is activated, which then boosts social transmission.”

In another study researchers went further and looked at what types of emotions evoked by content sparked sharing. The top ones were: awe, amusing, moving, illuminating, inspiring, shocking, cute, sex, fear, anger, and controversial.

Emotive Content Gets Shared

Positive Negative
Amusing Shocking
Inspiring Fearful
Cute Anger
Illuminating Controversial


Of course, storytelling is an effective way to convey this emotive content.  You don’t need to be constrained by the 140 characters of a Tweet. Often social is the channel we use to point to longer form content. Other times, a story in this context could be a photo embedded in a post or a short Vine or Instagram video.

When you look at the types of emotions listed above, you will notice there are two sides of the spectrum: positive and negative messages. They both work at getting your content shared. As marketers, it’s up to us about which side we want to propagate. One side leads to being an empowering brand, and the other leads to brands that tell stories about the inadequacy of their customers. If you want to create a long-standing powerful brand you should be telling a positive story. Focus on stories that place your customer in the role of the hero.

So what does this all mean? It means there is a science to creating shareable content. It’s not an exact science, but by following specific guidelines and playing into the needs, wants and psychology of your audience, you can drastically increase your chances of getting your content shared. Here is what to keep in mind:

6 Tips to Creating Content That Gets Shared

  1. Appeal to your audience’s key motivation – to connect with each other (it’s not just with your brand).

  2. Tell a story.

  3. Trust is the cost of entry for getting share, ensure you have established credibility.

  4. Keep the message simple.

  5. Appeal to positive emotions like inspiration, illumination or amusement.

  6. Embed a sense of urgency.

If you don’t have time or patience to do any of the above you can always use Buyral.

In part 4 of this series, we explore the growth of visual storytelling.