Every time you write a new post, you share it on the social web, right? Well, how’s that working for you?
It’s unfortunate, but most Twitter and Facebook feeds look like a graveyard – no likes, comments, or shares. That’s because no one shows you how to use social media properly.
Today, I want to share with you the strategies that I have used to maximize the number of social shares I get from each post. Social media traffic can play a big role in growing a site as you might have seen in my 100k challenge.
Why is this important? There are 3 main reasons.
- You need to stand out: Facebook users share 2,460,000 pieces of content per minute. Don’t get lost in the sea of posts.
- People like people who are similar to them: Getting shared on social media exposes your content to your perfect audience – friends of your current audience.
- Shares may directly and indirectly benefit SEO: This is only going to increase in the future.
Want your Twitter feed to look like this?
Then read this post, take notes, and implement the step-by-step strategies I’m about to share. Here’s what I’ll be going over:
- Understanding the Psychology Behind Social Sharing
- How to Create Content that Triggers Emotions
- Removing the Friction Behind Sharing and Engagement
- Why Asking for Shares Is Important
- How to Use Images Effectively to Get More Social Impressions
- Why You Need Custom Titles and Descriptions
- Writing Headlines with a Curiosity Gap
- How to Share Your Own Content When Your Readers Are Online
You won’t get these results overnight, but I promise you’ll get better results than you’re getting right now, and one day in the not too distant future, you’ll have the social presence you’ve always dreamed of.
The Dangers of Annoying Your Readers
If you really want to maximize your initial rate of social shares, come up with an irresistible title, and put a social content locker so that no one can see the article until they share it.
The only problem with that is that 99.9% of your audience will be annoyed and dislike you for it even if the content is good. They won’t share future posts, and they probably won’t even read them.
You will have short-term success, but you should really be aiming for long-term success.
You can also use pop-ups to force the issue, but you’ll run into the same problem. Also, if you’re going to use pop-ups, there are more important things to ask for in most cases than social shares (like email addresses).
So what’s the solution? It’s possible to achieve the same great short-term social media results (sometimes better) but to do it in a way that also enables long-term growth.
It starts with these 8 ways to get more social shares on your website.
One caveat: Not all niches are built for social sharing. If you run a website about depression or a similar topic, it’s going to be much harder to generate any significant traffic.
1. Understand the Psychology Behind Social Sharing
Here’s the thing: you can’t really trick users into sharing something on social media.
Readers are the gatekeepers of their feeds because it reflects on them personally, and they spend a lot of time sculpting the appearance they want.
This means that you need to understand what content people share and why they do it if you want them to share your content regularly.
The New York Times Consumer Insight Group conducted a rigorous investigation into why people share content. While there has always been speculation, this investigation really gives us hard data to base our social media strategies on.
They conducted in-person interviews, hosted a one-week long sharing panel, and then surveyed 2,500 heavy online sharers.
They found out why people share content online and broke it down into these 5 motivations:
- To entertain or enrich the lives of others: 94% of people who share think carefully about how it will impact the lives of their connections.
- To define themselves: 68% of sharers say that sharing content helps them to show what they care about (to themselves and others).
- To network/grow relationships: People like to feel involved. That’s why 73% share content because it helps them connect to people with similar interests, and 78% share information to stay in touch with people in their networks.
- To feel a sense of purpose: 69% of people share because they feel more involved in the world. Who doesn’t like having an impact on other people’s lives?
- To support a brand/cause: 84% will share content that supports a cause they believe in. It may be a person, a message, or a product.
Notice that only one of these motivations is about the sharer themselves. Other than supporting a brand or cause they love, the motivations all center around connecting with others and feeling useful.
Psychology tip #1: Help your readers connect with others.
How can you do this?
- Make them look smart: Publish high quality content on the latest developments in your niche (studies, news, etc.). For example, What SEO Used to Be Versus What SEO Is Now.
- Make them useful: Publish content that is actionable and solves important problems (of their friends). For example, What Are The Best Times to Post on Social Media.
- Make them look cool: Publish content that makes it look like readers are connected to someone cool (you!). For example, How Spending $162,301.42 on Clothes Made Me $692,500.
Psychology tip #2: Readers need to trust you before sharing.
No one will share something that might make them look bad. If you come across as sketchy, uniformed, or pushy, you won’t gain the trust of many readers.
How do you get readers to trust you?
While it’s not exactly simple, there are a few main things that you should do to make visitors trust you:
- Back up your points: You’ve noticed I back up all points with credible references.
- Give value: If you’re pushing products and services from the get-go, you’ll push away readers. Instead, write blog posts without constant sales pitches, and give away information (white papers, Ebooks, etc.) or tools (like Quick Sprout).
- Showcase social proof: When possible, show how you’ve helped readers like them by displaying testimonials, or demonstrate why you’re an expert by showing where you’ve been featured. Additionally, high social share counts make readers more likely to share a piece of content.
Psychology tip #3: Keep it simple
Did you know that most people don’t read a full post before sharing it? This chart from Upworthy shows that over 50% of their shares come from people who have read less than 50% of an article:
What this means is that a significant number of sharers quickly decide if the content is worth sharing based on the headline and introduction (remember that Upworthy posts are usually short).
If your content is complicated, it’s hard for a user to determine if it would make them look smart or help someone they know. I’ll go into headlines in more depth soon, but here’s an example of a simple and complicated version of a headline:
- Simple: 7 Studies that Show Red Wine Is Healthy
- Complicated: Epidemiological Studies Show That Red Wine Has Some Possible Benefits and Negatives, but Only for Certain People
Those are fairly extreme examples to illustrate the point. Make it easy for your reader to understand what you’re writing about.
2. Focus on Creating Content That Invokes Curiosity, Amazement, and Surprise
It’s not enough for content to just be written or formatted well if you want readers to share it.
Jonah Berger, in his New York Times bestseller Contagious: Why Things Catch On, boils down sharing to 6 key elements.
We’ve already looked at one—social currency—but emotion is also one of the pillars of sharing. Your content has to have an emotional effect on your readers if you want them to share it.
In 1980, a psychologist named Robert Plutchik created a wheel of emotions that describes all the emotions people have. You can see Plutchik’s wheel below.
Essentially, each color is a different basic emotion. Each layer is a different layer of intensity. For example, rage (in the center) is more intense than anger, which is more intense than the outer layer of annoyance.
There are also advanced emotions, which are listed around the outside of the wheel. They combine two emotions into one. For example, anticipation and joy together create optimism.
Fractl conducted a really interesting study of viral images. While you and I don’t typically rely on just images, the results are still applicable.
The team at Fractl broke down the emotions behind why many top images from the popular image site imgur went viral.
They plotted the final results on a modified Plutchik wheel to see which emotions were the key drivers of viral sharing. Here’s the final image:
It’s a little hard to see, but there were 5 emotions that came up far more often than any others:
You’ll also hear about other emotions or aspects of content behind sharing such as being unusual or remarkable. But these are just the same basic emotions in a slightly different light.
Overall, would you say those are positive or negative emotions?
Isn’t that strange? After all, go to the homepage of any news site and you’ll be hard pressed to find stories based on positive emotions.
Here’s a screenshot I took of CNN’s top stories:
It turns out that people are attracted to negative stories just as much (maybe more so) than positive stories, but they are much more likely to share positive stories.
While there are some exceptions (like news of disasters or outrage over incompetence), you should focus on content that evokes positive emotions for the most part.
Let’s look at some examples…
1) Interest: While these other emotions are pretty universal, everyone has their own unique interests.
It makes sense that you would have to find content interesting before you would share it. It also typically pairs with at least one other emotion that we’re looking at.
Take the post How Shopify Grew 10X in 3 Years (and How You Can Achieve Similar Results) as an example. If you’re interested in building a successful company, particularly a SAAS, this is going to be really interesting to you even if it does not surprise or amaze you.
2) Curiosity: If you ever want examples of great headlines that make you curious, look at Buzzfeed or Upworthy.
I’m not recommending you start going overboard with it, but getting readers curious about your content is necessary for them to not only read it but also to share it.
Let’s say you run a corporate blog or are thinking about starting one, and come across this headline: No One Is Going to Read Your Corporate Blog (Unless You Read This).
Are you going to read that? You bet you are: it makes you curious, and it’s also interesting to you because of your situation. Assuming you enjoy the post, you’re also fairly likely to share it.
3) Amazement/Astonishment/Awe: All of these emotions are very similar. There are 2 common ways that this can work.
- People can be amazed at the topic itself, like in my post I referenced earlier – How Spending $162,301.42 on Clothes Made Me $692,500.
- People can also be amazed at the content as a whole, like The Beginner’s Guide to Online Marketing. In fact, all of my guides fall under this category. They are so complete, so full of value, and so useful that readers are left in awe. That guide has been shared well over 1,000 times and has attracted links from over 135 domains.
4) Uncertainty/Surprise: Ever come across an article that left your jaw dropped because it was so unexpected? Curiosity often pulls you in, but the surprise is what leaves you feeling excited during the article or at the end.
For example, when you read that I ignored marketing when building Crazy Egg and KISSMetrics, you were probably surprised. You might have been so surprised that you wanted to share this feeling and revelation with like-minded marketers.
Taking it a step further, if you can combine a curiosity-driven post with an unexpected (delightful) surprise, you have a winning formula on your hands.
Take my post How I Generated 518,399 Visitors and 16,394 Leads from 77 Webinars. You’re probably curious and interested in it, but there’s no real surprise or uncertainty of how I did it.
If I wanted to include an element of uncertainty, I could have changed the title to “How I Generated 518,399 Visitors and 16,394 Leads with an Underrated Tactic”. In this case, I felt the impressiveness of the results from only 77 webinars outweighed the impact of a surprise.
Use trigger words to stir up emotions. Those examples we just looked at were mainly based just on headlines. While that is an important aspect, and we’ll dive into that later in this article, your content itself also needs to connect with readers on an emotional level.
Trigger words are words that people associate with emotions. You read something like “overcome” and think of all the challenges you’ve faced and how you successfully dealt with them.
Here are some trigger words for health and hope:
But realize there are trigger words for all emotions, so choose your words carefully.
Also remember that the most viral pieces of content will invoke more than one emotion.
3. Remove the Friction Behind Sharing and Engagement
A Wharton business study revealed that there are 4 basic types of social sharers.
Going even further, these sharers can be divided into sub-types. Some will find a great article and write up a thoughtful description before sharing, while others feel that’s too much work.
It’s generally a good idea to remove friction behind sharing. This is a concept in conversion optimization that means that you want to make it as easy as possible for a reader to take a ‘good’ action.
To do so, you can add social sharing buttons to your website around your content.
i). Adding sharing buttons to your website: It might seem simple, but many sites out there have never bothered to test adding sharing buttons to their posts. In addition, there are right and wrong ways to do it.
If you’re a large enough company, it probably makes sense to hardcode these buttons into your site to minimize the effect the buttons have on your loading time.
Otherwise, there are many great options out there, both free and paid. Most have both a WordPress plugin and standalone code for any other website.
Here are 2 popular WordPress options:
The actual button design doesn’t really matter as long as the network it belongs to is obvious.
ii). Choose a good spot for the buttons. Unlike banner ads, having social sharing buttons in a predictable location is good.
As we saw earlier, most sharing happens at the beginning and end of articles. You should have buttons available at both the start and the end.
You can either put them under the title…
…and right under the post:
Or you can have floating buttons that stay on the side the whole time.
iii). Check for mobile compatibility. Some buttons do not show up well on mobile and either block content or cause people to accidentally click them (which will annoy them). Find a plug-in and layout that shows up as intended on all devices.
iv). More is not better: If you give people too many choices, your sharing rate will likely go down. Notice that both on Quick Sprout and on this blog, I only include buttons for 3 networks. When I increased that to 5 on Quick Sprout, my social sharing rate went down by 29%!
The following graph shows a breakdown of social shares by network:
Facebook and Twitter are by far the 2 most popular networks.
However, keep in mind that audiences of different niches are different. To find out which social sharing buttons you should include, check out the top sites in your niche.
For example, if I were starting a recipe blog, I would go to a site like Allrecipes.com.
Then, click on any piece of content and take a look at its social shares. I clicked on Charlotte’s Tortellini Salad and saw this:
For this niche, Pinterest and Facebook are the 2 most important social networks, followed by Twitter and Google Plus as distant runner-ups. Now just check a few more posts to confirm your findings, and you should know which buttons you need to include.
A word of warning: always keep in mind the point of the page. Social media buttons can distract from other goals such as signing up for an email list or checking out in an ecommerce store.
One test found that removing sharing buttons from a product page improved conversions by 11.9%.
In addition, if you show share counters beside each button, make sure they aren’t all zero, or they could act as negative social proof.
4. Ask for Shares, but Don’t Beg
This is such an easy thing to do, and it can instantly grow your social engagement by 40%+.
Dan Zarella conducted a study of retweets to determine why some tweets received more shares than others. It turns out simply asking for retweets (or “RTs”) is extremely effective:
Think about it: if someone you like and trust asks you for a small favor like sharing something, you’ll likely do it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a share either in your social media post or in your content itself. If you have a section that really evokes an emotion, it’s a perfect time to add a call to action.
i). Ask in your email updates. When you publish a new post, you send an email to your subscribers about it.
Finish off the email by asking for a share with a sentence along the lines of: “If you think your friends/network would find this useful, please share it with them – I’d really appreciate it.”
You’ll never bug anyone by doing that as long as you do so respectfully.
ii). Don’t want to ask? Mention other people instead.
You definitely don’t want to come off like a beggar by asking for a share multiple times every post. If you feature someone in a post, and then let them know about it, they will likely share it or interact with you in some way that can still get your post in front of their audience (depending on the network).
This has the added benefit of helping you build beneficial relationships.
5. Use Images to Stand Out and Get More Social Impressions
I’ve written about how you can use infographics to double your traffic.
People are drawn to images. It’s why posts that include pictures on Facebook get:
- 104% more comments
- 84% better click through rate
- 54% more likes
Even if you’re the most breathtaking writer, it’s nearly impossible to stand out from a never-ending stream of text. But a picture? Much easier to stand out.
It’s not just on Facebook, but any text-dominated social network. I’ve mentioned before that including a picture in my tweets resulted in increasing my Twitter traffic by 108%.
Buffer analyzed a small sample of 100 tweets and saw that tweets with pictures got 18% more clicks – still significant. In addition, they received 89% more favorites and 150% more retweets.
i). Don’t just use any picture. While you don’t need to be a designer, picking a random picture won’t guarantee results.
To start with, don’t use obvious stock photos such as the ones below:
While you can’t always do it, you should occasionally add a call-to-action to the image itself, which I’ve seen raise click-through rates by another 14%:
In addition, Social Media Examiner found that the best images are relevant to your topic, high quality, and include some sort of message that draws attention.
The message might be serious, like an actionable tip found in your post, or it might be a bit silly…
Finally, you need to make sure that you pick a picture that is an appropriate size. What’s the point of including a picture if half of it is cut off?
Here’s a great cheat-sheet for the ideal image sizes for each social network:
ii). To use photos on Facebook, simply click on the little camera icon when you’re posting an update on your page.
Facebook is amazing at pulling appropriately sized pictures from posts (when possible), but it can still be a good idea to create a custom-size picture for full control.
iii). To use images on Twitter, you’ll want to use an “expanded image”. Expanded images really stand out in a news feed and will lead to the increased traffic and interaction that we looked at a little bit above.
All you have to do is click “Add photo” when you’re writing a tweet, and you’ll get something like this:
In general, adding pictures on other networks is very similar. Look for an “add photo” or camera icon when posting to attach your picture.
Where can you get great images?
Option 1: Buy Them
The easiest way to get a great quality image is to simply use a stock image. Typically, these will cost a few dollars each on sites such as:
Option 2: Make Them
If you have the time and enjoy learning about design, you can always make your own. While Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator might be a good option if you have design experience, the simplest way to make amazing images is with Canva.
They’ve even published an extensive guide to creating your own social media images.
Option 3: Find a Designer
If you have no time or desire to learn about design, hire a pro. It doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think.
6. Customize Your Social Meta Tags
If you were to do any one thing listed in this post, do this.
Incorporating custom titles and descriptions helped me increase Quick Sprout’s traffic from Facebook by 174%.
Here’s why it works. If you just paste a link, social networks will pull data from your page’s default meta values. You end up with something like this:
But when you write a custom title and description, you get a much more attractive end product that will grab more attention and engagement from followers:
How to do it: Open graph (og) meta tags. They serve the same purpose as regular meta tags (that you should still fill out), but when your link is shared on social media (by you or a fan), the open graph data will be used instead.
There’s a ton of optional open graph tags that you can include, but there are 5 that you should include on every page of your website:
i). og:title – The title of your post.
Example: <meta property=”og:title” content=”How I’m Going to Achieve the $100k a Month Challenge without Using My Name”/>
ii). og:type – The type of your content. Can be anything from “post” to “video” to a city. Here’s a full list.
Example: <meta property=”og:type” content=”article”/>
iii). og:image – The URL of a featured image you’d like to use.
Example: <meta property=”og:image” content=”https://www.quicksprout.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/quicksprout.png”/>
Note: You can create a tag for each image in the post. If you do, the social site will try to pick the best sized image.
iv). og:url – The canonical URL, a.k.a. the URL of your post.
Example: <meta property=”og:url” content=”https://www.quicksprout.com/2015/05/11/how-im-going-to-achieve-the-100k-a-month-challenge-without-using-my-name/”/>
v). og:description: The small blurb that social media sites will display after your title tag.
<meta property=”og:description” content=” Last week I posted about my setback on the $100,000 challenge. Some of you were happy with the results so far, while others were disappointed about how mu”/>
You can manually add these in the html if you’d like, but most SEO plugins, like Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin, have spaces for these fields under each post in the editor for the basic tags:
Keep your description brief: Remember, most people prefer visual content, so don’t write a giant paragraph before you share your link on any platform.
Track Social measured the engagement rate of posts on Facebook depending on how long the description was (note: this is the description above the image, not below the title).
What they found was that shorter descriptions led to up to 66% more engagement overall.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include any description at all—just be concise.
Use hashtags where appropriate: Most major social networks (other than LinkedIn) support the use of hashtags. Twitter is probably the most important network to use them on as tweets that include hashtags get up to 2 times more engagement.
Twitter also published an analysis of 2 million tweets to see what caused people to retweet. As expected, photos ranked high with a 35% boost in engagement, but hashtags also ranked high with a 16% boost.
Hashtags, those things that start with the pound symbol (e.g., #marketing), are a way that users can search for content they’re interested in. If you tag your shares with the right hashtag(s), you can get a small boost of traffic and engagement.
Picking good hashtags can be tricky. While some recommend using the most popular hashtags, often they won’t be relevant to your content.
Instead, go to the search box at the top of Twitter, and start typing the topic of your content.
For example, if I wrote an article on content marketing, I would start typing “#content” into the box, like so:
From here, I’d pick one or two of the suggested hashtags, which are the most popular relevant ones.
Use emoticons. If you’d use emoticons when talking to a friend, use them in your descriptions.
AMEX OPEN forum found that posts on Facebook with emoticons get 33% more comments and shares, plus they get 57% more likes. This all goes back to connecting with your readers.
7. Create a Curiosity Gap With Your Headlines
I told you we would get to these—it just took a little bit.
Your headline is typically the most prominent part of any shared content on social media. It’s what your readers, and the followers of your readers, will first see and judge your content by.
There are tons of guides to writing a great headline, but the most important part, when it comes to social sharing, is the curiosity gap.
The curiosity gap: The information between what we know and what we want to know.
Ever heard of the TV show Game of Thrones? It’s the most pirated show ever. At the end of almost every episode, one big piece of information is revealed. Something that you know will be important, but you’re not sure how yet.
In order to find out what happens, you have to watch the next episode. You are willing to put in the effort to find a way to watch the next episode when it comes out in order to satisfy your curiosity.
We want to use this exact same principle but with our headlines instead.
i). Tell them something: In order to induce curiosity, you need to establish a topic. You can do this in both your headline and your content, although you obviously have limited space to do so in a title.
For example, take this headline from Upworthy, the masters of creating curiosity-driven headlines:[Blockquote]“A ‘Daily Show’ correspondent asks a millionaire about inequality and gets an unexpected response.”[/quote]
In this case, the ‘what’ is the correspondent for a well known show asking a millionaire about a hot financial topic – inequality.
It’s important that you set the stage with an interesting topic to your audience. This example headline appeals to a broad audience concerned with the inequality between rich and poor. Since Upworthy’s audience cares about social issues, this is very interesting to them.
ii). Allude to the answer, but don’t be too specific: Now you have to open the gap. Once you have an interesting topic, you need to create the gap.
Notice how the headline didn’t say “…asks a millionaire about inequality and he said it was bad.”
Not only is it rather boring but it also tells us exactly what he said. Part of a good story is how you tell it, not just what it is.
Instead, the example headline concludes with, “…gets an unexpected response.”
All of a sudden, you don’t know what the heck the millionaire said. Unexpected? Could go many ways.
Use words and phrases like:
- you’ll never guess
iii). The bigger the gap, the bigger the satisfaction: The more we don’t understand something, the more uncomfortable it becomes.
This is closely related to a psychology concept coined by Dr. Leon Festinger called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance essentially means that when people do not have a clear explanation for something, they will feel discomfort and seek to smooth the gap.
Think about how you feel when you finally finish a project that’s been causing you a lot of stress. You feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your back.
Going back to our example headline, it wasn’t just “an answer” (small gap), it was an “unexpected answer” (bigger gap), which could be anything.
iv). Not too big and not too small: Bigger is better, but only to a degree.
When a curiosity gap is too small, no one cares, or the solution might be obvious. For example, in the headline “The Number One SEO Ranking Factor”, there’s some curiosity, but most people interested in SEO will know the answer (or think they know it) and won’t bother clicking.
But when the gap is too big, it can be unbelievable, and readers will automatically dismiss it. Take the headline “This One SEO Ranking Factor Saved My Life.” No one is going to believe that.
Let’s find a happy medium: “I Used This Underrated SEO Ranking Technique to Triple My Search Traffic in 90 Days.” Do I have your attention now? I bet I do because now there’s a healthy amount of curiosity. The claim seems plausible, and I didn’t give everything away.
8. Share Content When Your Audience Is Most Active on Social Media
All social media platforms have their own internal clocks. Users are more active during some points of the day than others.
If you post at the wrong time, you’re going to miss most of your audience, which is bad for many reasons.
So while you can’t control when your readers share your content, you can influence it, and you can control your own posting schedule.
There are general rules, and there are specific rules when it comes to timing.
For example, in general, the best days to post on Facebook are Thursday and Friday, while the best time for shares and clicks are 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. respectively.
Here’s an infographic I created a while back that shows the general rules for all the major social networks.
General rules are a good place to start, but you really need to figure out the specific times that work best for you.
Every audience will behave differently, which is why you need to test to determine your optimal schedule.
i). How to determine your posting schedule: Luckily, there are some great tools that will analyze your followers to find the specific times that you should be posting.
Buffer is well-known as the leading tool for scheduling social media posts across multiple networks.
If you click on the “Schedule” tab, you’ll notice that there’s now an optimal timing tool that you can run:
All you have to do from that point is set how many times you want to post, along with the network, and it will analyze your followers to come up with the best times.
This was a big part of how Hubstaff increased their social media traffic by 350%. Here’s what their optimal graph looked like:
Alternatively, use Fanpage Karma. It’s a very different tool from Buffer, more focused on analytics.
One part of the tool is a component that analyzes the best time to post. It can do this on all major networks, just like Buffer.
To use it, just create an account, click “Insights” on the top menu, and search for a page on the selected network (or any fan page). Here’s a search for Buzzfeed:
Next, click on “Time & Types,” and scroll down to the “Engagement per daytime” section. It should look like this:
The big green circles are the best times to post.
ii). How often should you post? It depends on the social network.
On some networks, like Twitter, the majority of your audience will not see your post the first time you post it. Feeds move so fast that you can, and should, post again without annoying people.
Dan Zarella’s research was used to create the following graph that shows that you should post about once every two days on Facebook to optimize your like count.
But again, some pages can get away with posting more, while some might want to post less depending on their audience.
When it comes to Twitter, data from Social Bakers suggests that about 3 tweets a day is best:
There’s no tool that will give you an easy answer about the frequency of posting you should be doing, so you will have to experiment.
Getting more social shares doesn’t require you annoying your readers.
In fact, the opposite is true. The more you delight them, the more they will be inclined to share.
Take this time to create great content for your customers, and then move on to optimizing how your content is shared on social media.
Track your results, and you too can double your traffic.