The Secret Sauce for Blog Virality. Unexpected Insights from 5,000 Posts.

by Sean Falconer | Last Updated May 18, 2016

Virality and Content Sharing

Psychologists, SEO and marketing experts have been studying virality and content sharing for years to understand what are the associated triggers that leads to virality.  

Why are some articles shared while others are ignored? What common traits are there between content from different blogs and news sources that goes viral?

To answer these questions, we conducted our own studies within the niche of human resources.

We analyzed 5,000 HR blog posts from 15 different HR blogs to understand what makes these blogs so successful. We looked at number of shares, sharing sources, publication days, sentiment analysis, Emotional Marketing Values (EMV), common article themes, and article length to see what impacts content sharing.

We uncovered some unexpected and interesting findings. 

Today, I'm going to share with you what we found.

Bonus: Download the free PDF  of this article and take it with you offline!


Summary of our key findings

  1. Article length is a major factor in what gets shared.  We found that longer articles are more likely to be shared versus shorter articles.
  2. Our data also shows that articles with positive language are more highly shared than neutral or negative language.
  3. Based on EMV calculations, top performing articles have titles that are more deeply emotional and require reasoning and careful consideration.
  4. LinkedIn is by far the most widely used sharing channel in comparison with Google+ and Facebook.
  5. Content sharing follows the Power Law. That is, 20% of the articles result in 80% of the effective sharing.
  6. Tuesday is the best day to publish content if you want it shared.
  7. Culture and team are the dominant topics within the most shared articles. On average, top performing articles receive 6.5 times as many shares as the average article.
  8. People love to share lists and 5 to 10 list items appears to be the magic number.

We have detailed data and information about these findings below.


Collecting the HR blog data

We collected data from the 15 different HR blogs listed  below:

 

Using a custom crawler, we collected the post URLs, titles, introductory paragraphs, article lengths and unique terms from a selection of 5,000 blog postings from these blogs. 

We used ahrefs to collect information about the share attributes for each individual posting. These blog postings account for over 250,000 shares across Google+, Facebook and LinkedIn!

Below, we ellaborate on each of our findings and highlight the key takeaways.

The most highly shared articles are longer than the average article length

 Many bloggers know that longer articles tend to rank better in search. Search engines tend to see these articles as a richer source of information. Also, it is likely the bounce rate is lower since longer articles tend to keep people on the page longer. 

We also found that article length impacts sharing behavior. 

Shares by Article Length

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The graph above shows article length categories along the x-axis and the average number of shares per category along the y-axis. The sweet spot for articles is between 750 and 1,000 words

In particular, we found that the top 10 most shared articles from all 15 blogs on average were 269 words longer than the 10 least shared articles. Further, the top 10 most shared articles averaged 137 more words than the average length article. The overall average length of the top 10 articles from all blogs was around 850 words

This could be due to a number of factors. Perhaps since the articles inherently rank better in search, they receive more views and as a result get more shares. It could also be that humans also naturally associate larger articles with more authority and value than shorter articles.

The only blog that we found with shorter articles than the overall average length in their top 10 most shared was the HRExaminer. Their average length for their top 10 articles was around 850 words, but they also have a greater number of very large articles, which starts to move out of the sweet spot range.

The sweet spot and drop off are slightly smaller than what KissMetrics found.  In their research, they found that articles of 2,000 to 2,500 words performed best on Facebook and the performance started to fall after 2,500. As we will show, LinkedIn is the main sharing channel for HR, so that could be a factor in the difference.

The most shared articles use more positive language

 Sentiment analysis refers to the process of identifying the attitude of a speaker or writer.  Natural language processing techniques can be used to analyze text and determine whether text it is positive, negative or neutral. Marketing researchers have found that highly viral content tends to be more positive than negative. The most common emotions found in viral content are curiosity, amazement, interest, astonishment, and uncertainty. 

Negative content certainly can go viral as well, but the bottom line is that most viral content is often highly emotional.

We found that the  introductory paragraphs of the top 10 most shared articles were 24% more positive than the average introduction. Also, the article title for the top 10  most shared articles was 38% more positive than the average and some titles were slightly more negative than the average.

When considering all 5,000 articles, on average, positive titles receive 69 shares versus 38 shares for negative and 35 for neutral. The graph below breaks down the shares by sentiment and channel. 

Shares by Title SentimentShare this image on your site:

We found similar results when considering the introductions for all articles. Positive introductions receive on average 20% more shares than negative or neutral intros. The graph below shows the full breakdown of these results by sentiment and sharing channel.

Shares by Introduction SentimentShare this image on your site:

Top performing articles are deeply emotional

 We used the Emotional Marketing Value to help calculate the emotional impact of the blog post titles. This calculation breaks down which emotion the reader of the text is likely to feel: intellectual, empathetic or spiritual and how largely the text is skewed to each particular emotion.

  • Intellectual words arouse curiousity, require reasoning and careful consideration
  • Empathetic words bring out profound and strong positive emotion in people
  • Spiritual words have the strongest potential for influence and often reach people at a deeply emotional level

The largest measurable difference in emotional classification between the most shared content and the average piece of content was that the most shared was 24% more spiritual than the average. The most shared content was also 5% more intellectual.

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Reaching people emotionally is key to creating content that people want to share. Spiritual words have the most potential for reaching people on an emotional level.

This is very much in line with the findings of the New York Times Insight Group. They  determined that the most common reasons people share information is to:

  1. Bring value and entertainment to others
  2. To define ourselves
  3. To grow and nourish relationships
  4. Self-fulfillment
  5. To get word out about certain causes and brands.

These reasons can be tied back to Maslow's hiearchy of needs (see image below). In Maslow's hiearchy, we start with the most basic needs: food, water, rest and so forth and work our way up. When our most basic needs are taken care of, we resort to satisfying the higher levels of needs.

Maslow's Hiearchy Of Needs

It's not surprising that content sharing helps to satisfy the top two tiers of one's hierarchy. Both the intellectual and spiritual classifications correspond with our needs of self-actualization and esteem.

LinkedIn is the best social channel for HR

Content Sharing by ChannelShare this image on your site:

We found that 71% of the total shares from all 5,000 articles was on LinkedIn. The average number of shares on LinkedIn per article was 53, while Facebook was 19, and Google+ was only 3. This result is likely not too terribly suprising as LinkedIn is focused on your professional network while Google+ and Facebook are usually associated with connecting with friends.

The only blog that had more Facebook shares than LinkedIn was Monster Thinking (28% more on Facebook). Digging into this result further, we found that much of this is due to a single blog post that Monster published called 100 companies that are hiring like crazy right now, which has over 4,000 Facebook shares, but only 500 LinkedIn shares. This article likely triggers a sharing behavior where it makes more sense to share with your friends than your colleagues. 

Content sharing follows the Power Law

 The graphs below show the social sharing behavior for all articles from Blogging4JobsTalentHQ, EvilHRLady, and ERE Media. These are only four examples, but this pattern is pretty consistent across all 15 blogs. The total shares and specifically the LinkedIn shares follow the Power Law. The law applies when there's a functional relationship between two quantities and a relative change in one quantity results in a proportional change in the other quantity.

What this means is that the top performing articles account for most of the shares and drive the bulk of the traffic to the blog. We found that 20% of the articles from most blogs drives about 60% of the total shares.

The Facebook and Google+ sharing is much more sporadic than LinkedIn. The difference in behavior could be linked to what we discussed in the previous section. Facebook and Google+ are about connecting with friends, so some articles make sense to share with your friends, but it's likely that almost all the published articles make sense to share on LinkedIn.

Tuesday is the best day to publish content

Based on the days of the week, we calculated the average number of shares per article for that day. When comparing all 5,000 blog posts, most business days perform similarly, with Tuesday and Wednesday being a little better than other days  and Thursday the worst.

However, when performing the same calculations while only considering the most viral  content, the difference is quite dramatic. In the graph below, you can see that Tuesday is clearly the best day to publish. In fact, posts on Tuesday get 30% more shares than the next best day Friday.

Content Sharing by Day of the WeekShare this image on your site:

Culture and team are common themes in the most shared articles

Most common terms from the most popular AskAManager articles
AskAManager Most Popular Terms

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Using the top 10 most shared articles from each blog, we collected the unique words (removing stopwords and applying stemming) and number of occurrences for each word. We found a significant overlap in terms of the language used from the most shared articles across all blog posts. Specifically, 52% of the 100 most frequent words appear in all 150 of the most shared articles.

The 10 most common terms from all 150 articles are: 

  1. Employees with 2,579 appearances
  2. Work with 1,418 appearances
  3. People with 1,182 appearances
  4. Company with 1,143 appearances
  5. Job with 1,119 appearances
  6. HR with 867 appearances
  7. Time with 841 appearances
  8. Team with 559 appearances
  9. Business with 454 appearances
  10. Culture with 453 appearances
 

It's clear that people, culture and team are consistent themes across these articles and blogs. Consistently, we see articles like Corporate Culture & Fit Starts with Asking Your Current Employees and 4 Tips That Can Help You Hire the Right People do very well on social sharing channels. They are useful, positive, and require careful consideration, tying directly back to the trends that we found in our EMV analysis.

We also found that people love to share lists. About 40% of the most shared articles were listing-type articles. From a writing style standpoint, this was clearly the most consistent theme across all blogs.  Five to 10 list items appears to be the magic number. 

Final remarks

I'd like to give special thanks to the 15 great HR blogs that we included in this study. This would not have been possible without the great contributions from all the authors of these blogs. The blog postings that we used in this study account for an impressive 250,000+ different social media shares.

We hope that our observations and conclusions will be useful to the contributors of those blogs, others working in the HR space and those creating content in general.

What did you find surprising or not surprising? Do you have questions about anything in our study? I'd love to hear from you.

Please leave a comment and let us know. 

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Topics: human resources, content sharing, virality

Sean Falconer

Written by Sean Falconer

Sean Falconer is Founder and CTO of Proven. He is a proud Canadian and reformed academic. He is passionate about making hiring for small businesses simple, streamline and frictionless.

 

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