Content Marketing Social Shares: Top Shared Article Results

Instagram and other Social Media Apps | Flickr - Photo Sharing!-1-1Social media is key to every content marketer’s distribution plans.

But the harsh reality is that just posting your own content on your social media pages often isn’t sufficient to gain the visibility, traction and engagement you need in the never-ending stream of more personally relevant information.

Rather you need to optimize your content marketing based on the platform where you distribute it. This means more than just publishing the same content at the same time across networks.

What better way to maximize your content marketing social shares than to understand how the 1 million most-shared articles from the top 190 media entities generated results in the first 6 months of 2014. 

Fortunately, BuzzSumo and joined forces to answer this question. They analyzed over 2.6 billion shares in total across Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter.

To bring these numbers down to a more manageable magnitude, the average article analyzed yielded 2.6 thousand shares. Don’t stress at this number!

While most content marketers salivate to have 1 such article, understand that 93% of publishers in the study received less than 5,000 shares per article.

1. Facebook trumps for content marketing social shares

The BuzzSumo and analysis found that social share distribution wasn’t correlated with social media platform size. This may be attributable to how participants use the various sites as well as what they use them for. (BTW–here’s how the social media platforms are projected to perform this year.)

Facebook had 81.9% of all the shares in the study, over 4 times the amount of all the other networks combined. But it’s important for marketers to remember that it’s a multi-purpose social media entity where personal and professional can blur.

Therefore, it’s reasonable that social shares were disproportionately high for Facebook because it has a big advantage in terms of size and mindshare.

Yet Twitter had a significantly higher proportion of social shares compared to its size while LinkedIn had a significantly lower proportion of shares relative to its size.

The surprise was Google+, a social media entity that many marketers overlook, yet its shares exceeded Pinterest and LinkedIn.

  • 81.9% of shares were on Facebook
  • 8.6% of shares were on Twitter
  • 4.3% of shares were on Google+
  • 3.0% of shares were on Pinterest
  • 2.2% of shares were on LinkedIn

Here_s What 2.7 Billion Social Shares Say About Online Publishing

While BuzzFeed is the poster child for using Pinterest to increase social media traffic, it’s important to note that it’s their second largest source of social media visits. (Facebook is number 1.) (1) BuzzFeed on Pinterest

Although Upworthy and ViralNova never ranked in the Top 20 for any specific social media network, they garnered over 60,000 shares per article or about 5 times Buzzfeed’s rate. Based on other research, this may be attributable to their work and focus on headlines, a factor that every content marketer can improve.

While many marketers use a variety of social media platforms to diversify their content distribution, the analysis revealed that no top media entity used all 5 social media networks.

In fact, the top performers tended to focus on a single platform to significantly increased social media shares.

  • 6 of the top 20 publishers obtained over 90% of their social media shares from a single social media network.
  • Upworthy and ViralNova received more than 99% of their total shares from Facebook.

2. Content marketing sentiment varies by social media platform

Further, assessed the sentiment of the most-shared articles on each network on a range of positive to negative.

  • Twitter and Google+ revealed the most balanced range of sentiments in their 500 most-shared articles.
  • LinkedIn and Pinterest tended to be positive in the stories shared by their audiences.
  • Facebook had the most negative stories shared. (Note: Stories fromBuzzFeed, ViralNova, and Upworthy were removed.)

Emotions by social media network

3. Titles matter regardless of social media platform

Incorporate surprise and curiosity into your headlines. This dominated the top 10 performing articles regardless of topic or content format rather than a specific emotion because the top 500 articles published by the top 20 media entities covered a range of emotions.

Upworthy spends over 50% of their time optimizing their titles. This is a critical factor for original content as well as curated content. Of course, many content marketers may not be able to dedicate this amount of resources to this effort.


While the analysis is useful to provide direction for social media distribution of your content marketing, understand that many of the top publishers focus on optimizing their content to consistently attract a social media audience.

The bottom line for optimizing social media reach is to understand the nuances that your audience seeks on each social media platform. Then tailor your topics, stories and emotions based on the platform you publish.

What have your social media distribution results been?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies. You can find Heidi on , Facebook and .

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7 Headline Tips Guaranteed to Make Yours Stand Out

La Laterne - Boston Public LibraryNot all headlines are created equal. The headline challenge is getting your message to stand out and make people care about it amidst the explosion of channels and volumes of content competing for people’s attention.

Upworthy’s Peter Koechley says “The headline is our little newsboy crying out in a crowded Facebook feed.” Therefore the time spent improving your title’s ability to attract more readers and shares is well worth the investment.

Why headlines matter

Headlines are like the old fashioned circus barker who hooks people in.

  • 80% of people never see your content. As David Ogilvy one of the original madmen, stated: “Only 1 out of 5 readers gets beyond your headline.”
  • Traffic varies as much as 500% based on the headline based on tests by Upworthy. The headline is the content creator’s one chance to break through and grab someone’s attention to get them to care about your content.

What a difference a headline makes

To illustrate how much of a difference changing a title can make, examine the reach of a video called titled My Last Days: Meet Zach Sobiech created by 17 year old Zach Sobiech about how he decided to live his last months knowing he was going to die of a rare form of cancer. Upworthy repackaged the video with the title This Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular.

  • Sobiech’s video without optimization garnered tens of thousands of views and national press via and
  • Renamed by Upworthy it received 15 million views, raised $300,000 for cancer, and Sobiech’s song went number one on the iTunes store, the first independent artist to do so. Before choosing the title, Upworthy tested 79 options. The “wondtacular” headline was chosen because words you’ve never seen attract attention.

Headlines: The data 

Conductor tested headline effectiveness for 5 high-level headline types:

  • Normal exemplified by “Ways to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful”
  • Question exemplified by “What are Ways to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful?”
  • How to exemplified by “How to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful”
  • Number exemplified by “30 Ways To Make Drinking Tea More Delightful”
  • Reader-addressed exemplified by “Ways You Need to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful”


The headlines readers prefer. 

While individual title performance can vary, there are title formats that yield better results on average. Based on Conductor’s research, here are the top 3 elements.

  • 36% of respondents preferred headlines containing numbers, my personal favorite. This rate goes up to 39% for women. Actionable Marketing Tip: Incorporate a list and related a number where appropriate. ( can help you achieve this.)
  • 21% of respondents preferred headlines that literally talk to them. You got me at hello. Actionable Marketing Tip: Craft titles that address your audience by using the word “You”. The caveat is that your content must be written in the second person.
  • 17% of respondents preferred headlines that show them how to do something.  Educate me! As one of the core types of information for which people search, Actionable Marketing Tip: Use your headline to attract potential readers interested in learning from you.

Headline types

Headline presentation preferences. 

It’s not just the words in your headline but also how you present them.

  • 64% of headlines use sentence case. Capitalize the first letter of each word in the headline. This makes sense since it sets the title apart from the rest of the content. Actionable Marketing Tip: Follow the pack on this point and make your title stand out from the rest of your content.
  • 21% of headlines use all capitalsThis is surprising since this is the equivalent of screaming at someone. Actionable Marketing Tip: Don’t scream at your readers. It’s not nice.

Headline Capitalization-2013- Conductor


Stick to the facts with headlines.

When it comes to headlines, readers prefer that you give the the facts. If you need to throw in a superlative, restrict yourself to one or you’ll lose traction.

Headline Superlatives-20130Conductor


7 Headline tips guaranteed to maximize readership and shares

Here are 7 headline rules to help you maximize the number of readers and shares each piece attracts.


Upworthy’s 3 headline rules

  1. Spend 50% of your content creation on your headline. Focus on how to present the information. “People put way too much emphasis on the specifics of the piece of content and not enough on the packaging. We’ve seen the case where a headline made the difference between 1,000 views and 1 million views,” says Koechley. Generally, Upworthy revises headlines 25 times before publication. 
  2. Craft your headline to sound like your audience’s social connections. As Jay Baer says, in today’s world you’re not only competing against other businesses and media companies, you’re competing against your audience’s social circle. Think about how your title will sound in a Facebook feed. This means personal, informal and engaging.
  3. Decide what emotions you want your readers to feel. According to Upworthy’s Eli Pariser, formerly of, the key to viral content is that “a huge part of sharing is being passionate about something, about shedding light on what really matters.”


Jon Morrow’s 3 point headline checklist

Jon Morrow, 2 Headline Hacks author, has developed a 3 point checklist to craft and test whether your headlines are powerful.  

As proof that Jon practices what he preaches, he’s written 3 blog posts that have generated over 1 million views each. One of the three was How to Quit Your Job, Move to Paradise, and Get Paid to Change the World. This post is the most popular post ever on Problogger. Without reading the article (although I recommend you do!), you know it’s a winner because who wouldn’t want to do all 3 of those things?

  1. Answer WIIFM (What’s in it for me). Think about what your reader’s looking for not what you want to talk about.
  2. Passes the 2am Test. What keeps your readers up at night? It’s useful to focus on their pain points and problems.
  3. Incorporate power words. Use key power words to pull your audience in. Use Jon Morrow’s list of 317 power word list. Even better, print it out and post it to your wall.


1 Headline bonus tip from Heidi Cohen

  • Avoid crafting titles at the expense of clarity. While it’s tempting to write the best title possible to drive readership and other stats, the bottom line is that it it may be misleading. Be prepared for your readers to call you out if they think you’ve played them.


Take the time to craft the best headline you can because it can make a significant difference in your results.

What other headline suggestions would you add to this list and why would you include them?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

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