3 Billion Social Shares Analyzed: Lessons From the Internet’s Most Viral Content
3 Billion Social Shares Analyzed: Lessons From the Internet’s Most Viral Content
3 Billion Social Shares Analyzed: Lessons From the Internet’s Most Viral Content

By looking at over 3 Billion article share counts and sentiments across networks and publishers, Fractl and Buzzsumo partnered up for a 2016 reboot of their previous 2014 study to uncover several interesting comparisons and emerging trends regarding social shares. We ended up learning some amazing things

How Social Networks Have Changed over Two Years

The Findings

Even with just a 10-percent increase in two years, Facebook single-handedly dominates the social sharing space, earning nine out of every 10 shares across the networks. LinkedIn had an even larger increase but still gains a minute number of shares – 25 out of every 1,000. Twitter continues its slow and steady decline (losing nearly 30 percent of its shares), but Pinterest and Google+ are in freefall by comparison, with a 70-percent and 93-percent decline, respectively.


The Big Takeaway

A recent 2016 industry report from Simply Measured confirms Facebook still reigns supreme in terms of monthly active users, even in light of new platforms like Snapchat capturing recent headlines. Ultimately, there’s no doubt Facebook has continuously offered the greatest potential for reach and engagement for publishers and brands.

After witnessing the unofficial and slow death of Google+ and the potential threat of Facebook’s algorithm changes, it’s crucial to avoid overdependence on one platform by diversifying efforts across the networks rather than focusing on one. Just like how the social platforms are constantly evolving, publishers and brands will need to adjust their strategies for each platform to maintain and grow their social presence.

News and Niche Sites are Gaining Social Momentum

The Findings

As evident by the increase in total social shares and the diversity of top publishers, niche vertical sites are learning how to create and tailor content for specific audiences. Meanwhile, viral content sites trying to appeal to a broad audience like Viralnova are no longer the most-commonly shared publishers. Sites with more targeted audiences like National Geographic and Mother Jones, however, joined the top-20 list of highest-average shares per article.

Even heavily opinionated news sites with divided followings traditionally viewed via other means (like television or print) are seeing increases in their average share count; for articles within the top million, Fox News saw a 114-percent increase in average shares per article, while The Nation saw a 211-percent increase between 2014 and 2016.


The Big Takeaway

If you try to be everything to everyone, you’ll become nothing to anyone. This adage holds especially true in marketing, whether it be for publishers or brands. Niche media sites targeting an audience of a specific demographic or with certain interests can develop a strong, loyal following and authoritative reputation through a unique voice and vertical expertise – which translates to more social shares. Marketers emulating this strategy also have the potential to see one additional benefit when investing in niche content: more qualified leads.

Positive Content is Increasingly Seeing More Shares

The Findings

An analysis of top articles for news publishers revealed that the sentiment has shifted dramatically across the board since 2014. Even as more quality content floods more strictly regulated networks, the average share counts increased significantly when publishers shifted towards a more positive approach.

The New York Times saw the greatest change from overwhelmingly negative to exclusively positive sentiments, and at the same time saw an 81-percent increase in average shares. CNN also saw a drop in the percentage of their top articles classified as negative and a 39-percent increase in average shares. Fox News saw a significant shift toward more neutral sentiments that corresponded with a 114-percent increase in average shares per top article.


The Big Takeaway

These findings closely correlate with the findings of other studies that examine the emotions that make content go viral. Overwhelmingly, viral content elicits positive and often complex emotional combinations (like happiness, surprise, and admiration), while strong negative emotions were reported far less. These findings are great news for marketers: virality isn’t a matter of luck, but rather is the result of a well thought out content strategy that appeals to the right emotional combinations. Understanding the target audience is key in obtaining higher social engagement.

Both social networks, as well as the publishers and brands using them, are constantly competing to dominate the internet; rankings are always evolving and never guaranteed. Ultimately, brands should keep a close eye on the networks to determine where their efforts are best spent, and should take note from publishers when it comes to content strategy.

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About the Author

Ashley Carlisle
Ashley Carlisle is a Brand Relations Strategist at Fractl, a creative digital marketing agency specializing in data-driven campaigns. She works alongside a team of creative strategists producing innovative studies on the latest industry trends.

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