Researcher Satu Vasantola published a paper with the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism recently about the type of content that gets shared online. 
Using NewsWhip data and other methods, Satu looked at the content output and social performance of the BBC and Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.
We talked to Satu to find out what she learned about the type of content that is shared by both sites’ readers.

1) Can you tell us a little about the main findings behind the report?

I analysed the most shared content of three media organisations. One of the most striking features was the absence of news. News is not that widely shared, unless in breaking news situations. The again, features are shared a lot. In Helsingin Sanomat, only 17% of the most shared articles were news, and yet we know from the metrics that the absolute majority (up to 85%) of the articles are produced in the news departments. The feature departments produce only 15% of the HS articles, but they account for 67% of the shares.
In addition to features, video, visual storytelling and data journalism are becoming more popular. Most publishers have found the power of video and visual storytelling, but data journalism is forgotten by many. Still, developing new ways of data journalism is a way of producing richer and more interesting content. It is also a way to build a brand and personality, to differentiate from other publishers and to create a closer relationship to the audience.

2) What did you find out about the form of headlines used by the BBC and HS?

reuters institute findings

There is a clear difference in headlines between the BBC and HS. The vast majority of the most shared BBC headlines were traditional fact-based news headlines. They told what happened to whom, where and when. Besides that, the BBC had a few (16%) mysterious headlines. Other headline types were practically absent. HS material, on the contrary, all the different headline types were share quite evenly. Fact-based headlines were the most common type in HS too, but it was only slightly bigger than personal, opinion, mysterious and provocative headlines.

3) You found that short BBC articles were more likely to be shared, while longer HS stories did well on social. Why do you think this is the case?

reuters institute findings 2
This is a difficult one, because I only checked the length of the most shared articles, not of all the produced articles. So, it is possible that it is simply because the BBC is producing more short news than Helsingin Sanomat. Another possible explanation could be hiding in the social media platforms. Twitter, where it is common to share and comment on news, is more popular in the UK whereas Finns use Facebook more, which is focused more on personal users.

4) What type of content worked well for both sites on social media?

There are many kinds of stories that do well on social media, but I would like to pick one: in-depth, analytical, long-form content. That’s very good news for publishers and journalists. The hunger for good journalism is not dead at all.
People also share funny stories, provocative views and articles about awesome people they admire. But even more than these, the audience loves the individual angle. Pure facts and figures are not enough, people want the facts to be served with emotions and stories of individuals. This doesn’t mean cheap emotional stories, but stories that cleverly combine (inter)national and personal details.

5) What advice would you give news publishers looking to increase engagement with their content on social media?

The big questions are how much and what kind of news do our audiences want? Do we really need to produce the same amount of news every day?
The Paris attacks showed again that people want to read and share news if there is news to tell. If there is nothing really new and important to tell, they are not that interested. Quite logical, isn’t it? But most news organizations produce the same amount of news whether anything has happened or not. Do we have other possibilities? The national broadcasters have to meet their responsibilities of public service, but commercial publishes could also find other solutions – for example, they could concentrate more on features, than news, and more on analysis over speed.
Read the full report here


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