Bold Content 3 Top Factors that Affect an Audience’s Likelihood of Sharing Content


Shareability is a hot-button issue amongst marketers nowadays. Due to the ever-increasing amount of content being shared on the internet, it is becoming nearly impossible to stand out from the crowd. This study by StoryScience explores some of the most important factors you can employ to get your brand to stand out from the crowd.

In 2013, psychologists at the University of California Los Angeles identified the region of the brain responsible for choosing to share digital content. In theory, this would make it easier for marketers to trigger that section. However, this hasn’t been the case for most brands.

A White Paper by StoryScience says industry best-practice techniques are based on previous limited success. Because companies are using the same techniques, it is impossible for a brand to truly stand out.

The study identified three triggers that impact whether or not a person decides to share content online. They are:

1. Emotional Factors
2. Cognitive Factors
3. Motivational Factors


A 2012 study conduced at the University of Pennsylvania found if the content succeeded in arousing emotions, the likelihood of it being shared was higher. The study investigated what types of New York Times articles are highly shared. Results showed articles that induced stronger emotions were more likely to be shared more often.


From a marketing perspective, the study’s conclusion highlights the importance of creating content designed to create emotion. But which emotions will work better: positive or negative?

To answer this, StoryScience uses John Lewis’ 2014 Christmas advertisement as an example.



The advertisement evokes a range of emotions, among them love and happiness as well as loneliness and longing. Even though it had sad moments, the video was still widely shared. When it comes to video, inducing a mixture of emotions may be easier. With shorter form content, it will be easier to stick to one particular emotion. The John Lewis ad indicates it doesn’t necessarily have to be a positive one–as long as the viewer feels something.


The study continues to discuss the cognitive factors that should be utilised to increase the likelihood of shareability. It states there are two ways that people make decisions. Mode One is generally used to make everyday decisions—it is quick, unconscious, and error-prone. Mode Two is slower, conscious, and more reliable, used to make more complex decisions.

Scientists estimate that only 10% of our decisions are made using mode two. Humans simply don’t have the time to consider each decision consciously.


It is possible to build these triggers into your content. For example, StoryScience conducted a further study on The O2’s branded content. They found three principals that were consistent across O2’s highest shared articles. They were:

Affect Heuristic
Information Overload
Empathytop 3 factors of sharing content

Affect Heuristic

Consumers are drawn to content that evokes a powerful emotion. This can be achieved by using evocative language and strong imagery.

Information Overload

When presented with too much information, consumers shut down. To avoid this, brands need to use clear labelling in their articles. Headings, sub-headings, short paragraphs, and negative space are all positive assets. Video and photos are also recommended to be used in long-form content.


People are more likely to respond if they feel their emotional response is similar to others’ response. Empathy can be best produced by a narrative or story, because it is easier for consumers to become emotionally invested.

It is emphasised that these principals will vary from brand to brand. Different audience segments may respond differently to different principles. These responses may also vary depending on the consumer’s emotional state and their environment. StoryScience recommends not using the one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, analyse each piece of content as you go.

Universal Principles

There are several principles that are considered universal. StoryScience give these examples:

top 3 factors of sharing contentSocial Proofing

Consumers feel compelled to copy what others are doing, or ‘go with the flow’. You are likely already displaying the response your content gets (likes, comments, ect).You can also include user-generated content and celebrity/influencer quotes that endorse your brand.

Visual Bias

People have a built-in preference driven by our biology, cultural influences, and psychology. We can use these preferences to make a point with our content. For instance:

Items in the middle of view are more likely to be noticed. In the absence of a middle/center option, eyes are drawn towards the top left. (Unless the consumer is from a culture that reads from right to left.) There is also the horizontal bias, in which the retina is designed to search the world horizontally. Thus, vertically displayed information is down-weighted.


Social media users are much more likely to share content if they stand to gain some social benefit from doing so. A survey conducted by the NYT Customer Insight Team found the most common reasons people share content.

90% – Cause/Issue Awareness. People help spread the word about things they are passionate about by sharing it on social media.

78% – Developing Relationships. Sharing content can help people create and maintain online relationships with other people who share their interests.

69% – Self-Fulfillment. When a piece of shared content is well-received by others, the sharer will often feel rewarded.

68% – Defining Oneself to Others. Sharing content that people identify with helps sculpt their online identity.

49% – Network Value. When online consumers feel a piece of content is valuable, they feel they are improving the experience of their network by sharing it.


By understanding what motivates people to share content, it is easier to tailor your content to consumer’s needs. You will be able to identify which types of people are likely to follow your page by analysing your social media following. This will allow your content to be more geared towards the consumer’s sharing personas. The NYT Customer Insight Team found 6 personas of online sharers:

1. Altruists – These consumers are likely to share via email. Altruists hope that the content they share is helpful, reliable, and thoughtful. They also have a strong desire to stay connected. top 3 factors of sharing content
2. Hipsters – By identifying with the content they share, hipsters use social networks to share cutting-edge, creative content, and are often the first do so.
3. Connectors – Connectors share content creatively and in a relaxed fashion if they feel it will bring them closer to those they know.
4. Careerists – Careerists work to build a network by sharing valuable, intelligent content related to business interests.
5. Boomerangs – Boomerangs share content to get a reaction out of others. They also share it to validate their own opinions through positive engagement.
6. Selectives – Selectives choose the most informative and thoughtful content before sharing it with only specific people (often via email).

You will be far better equipped to get followers to share your content if you identify which personals make up your audience. Since it will likely be made up of a mixture, you will get the best results by appealing to more than one in a single piece of content.

Storyscience uses this example: ‘Know anyone who likes _____ as much as you do? Show them some love and share this article with them—we’re pretty sure they’ll show you some love back!’
This sample post appeals to three different motivations. Developing online relationships, self-fulfillment, and network value.


Your brand’s audience has a number of factors that determine if they share content, or not. These include the popularity of the subject matter, the format of the content (StoryScience says 360 video and interactive articles do particularly well), and the social platform the content is shared on. We have also been given an understanding of the brain’s of deciding whether or not to share. Marketers can use this knowledge to improve their campaigns and activities. Employing this up-to-date thinking can help your content stand out.

You can read the entire summary here.