What Types of Content Do People Share?

A few weeks ago, NewsWhip revealed a surge in sharing activity by Facebook users over 12 months. We found that more content was being shared at a drastically higher rate – 288% – by a larger audience on both Twitter and Facebook.

The question remains – what exactly gets everyone sharing?

We track the social trajectory of over 200,000 different stories everyday with our content discovery tool Spike, allowing us to build up a pretty authoritative picture as to what sort of stuff gets shared.

Thanks to this data, we already identified the seven different categories that viral content can broadly be broadly divided into. Following on from these findings, we now take a closer look at the format of the most viral content over the last three months.

We examined Facebook’s biggest stories from August to October, dividing the stories into categories such as Listicle, Images and Article. Here’s what we found:

1) Video is the most popular format of viral content

At the very top of the lists from August to October, video is the one format that really gets people sharing. A video was present in 36 of the top 75 stories on Facebook from August to October, often in the form of a serious news package accompanied by an article.

For a while now, Upworthy and Gawker have been making viral hits by repackaging Youtube videos for their enormous audiences. But video’s appeal goes past ‘fail of the week’ compilations or weird once-offs captured on smartphones.

More and more media organisations are now looking to produce their own video content in-house. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are just two high profile outlets who have said that video will play an important role in the future of their sites. Same goes for upstarts like Vice, whose exploits on camera have landed them a series with HBO.

We found that a large number of heavily shared articles that got shared heavily were accompanied by videos. A CNN article (527 words) on measles seems like an unlikely candidate for one of the internet’s most-shared articles in all of September. But accompanied by a video, it launched itself right up into the month’s top 25 stories. With huge future online growth in the mobile market, it seems as though the appeal of quality video is set to increase further for publishers.In short, news or features articles have a much greater chance of viral success if accompanied by video.

2) Listicles aren’t just for cats anymore


As the Syrian conflict escalated in August, the Washington Post posted a 2,700 word backgrounder piece on the fighting. Amazingly, it was the 11th most popular piece of content on Facebook that month, beating off competition from weird pictures on BuzzFeed and open letters to Miley Cyrus. Its title? 9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask.

The listicle is here to stay, and its influence is starting to infiltrate more serious news reporting. Another news site to have captured this idea well is Business Insider, which also makes heavy use of images and slides in its storytelling. Meanwhile, the Huffington Post recently framed a 1,700 word article on introverts as ’23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert’.

This trend to order ‘serious’ content in list format seems to be partially based on awareness of Social Media Optimisation, and partly to do with developing new storytelling techniques for the digital age. As media writer Mathew Ingram put it in an article last week, “they are all trying to find a balance between the entertaining features that draw readers and the serious journalism that requires doing.” Part of that process involves switching the medium around.

Of course, the ‘traditional listicle’, such as BuzzFeed’s guide to diagnosing your Friends’ addiction, are still wildly popular.

3) In-depth features can be hugely popular on social media

We found that long form articles are doing very well on the social web, despite the demands of an increasingly mobile-focussed market.

Amongst the most successful stories, article length stretched out, often to over 1,000 words. One of the longest viral stories of the last three months was a 3,535 word transcription of a lecture by Neil Gaiman on the importance of reading, posted by the Guardian. Despite its length, the piece has been shared over 220,000 times since being posted on October 15. The same goes for this Huffington Post piece on ‘happiness habits’, which came in at a weighty 2,342 words. Comments drive much of the engagement with these articles.

We’ll have more on this topic later this week when we look at the actual average word counts of some of the biggest publishers’ most viral content. We’ve measured the average length of some of the most successful viral stories to see what the perfect length is – the results may surprise you!

In the meantime, see what insights you can learn yourself with a free Spike trial. Spike will show you exactly what content is engaging the world right now in any niche you care for, and signing up takes two minutes.