What stories get shares vs. likes on Facebook?

By   |   April 13th, 2017   |   Reading time: 6 minutes Digital Journalism

What makes readers click a share over a like? With organic distribution so important on social, we look to understanding the content that makes a difference. 

In the battle for social media engagement, a share goes a great deal further than a like. But is there a difference between the content that gets the most likes and the content that gets the most shares for publishers on Facebook?

We looked at 12 publishers’ main Facebook Pages to find out. We wanted to learn what makes readers just click “like” and keep scrolling on their news feeds, and what stories make them want to share on to their friends.

We analyzed the Pages for the content with the most likes and reactions against the content with the most shares in March 2017. The data comes from NewsWhip Analytics, which allows us to run these highly focused social media monitoring reports.

How much overlap is there?

The first component we wanted to examine was whether the most liked posts were also the most shared posts. If a post is highly successful in one aspect of engagement, shouldn’t that carry over to the other aspects?

We found that there was a discrepancy between most of the publishers’ top ten liked/reacted posts and their ten most shared posts.

likes shares on Facebook

Digital natives see the most overlap between their most liked and most shared content. BuzzFeed, NowThis, Upworthy, AJ+ all had the most overlap for their top ten most liked posts and top ten most shared posts in March 2017. 

For AJ+, eight of their top ten posts were in their top shared and top liked/reacted to posts.

AJ+ likes shares

For traditional publishers, BBC News was the only one to have half of its top liked/reacted posts also be in its top ten shared posts. The others all had three or less posts in both categories.

Why is this the case? One interesting component we noted is that the digital native publishers and BBC News saw far more videos than link posts as their most engaging content.

Does the content type vary between most shared and most liked?

Is there a disparity between what types of content accrue more likes and reactions against most shares?

We widened our scope to look at the 25 top posts for these publishers for likes/reactions versus shares. Out of the 12 publishers we examined, only two, Washington Post and USA TODAY had more videos in their top liked posts than their top shared posts.

videos shares publishers likes

Only Huffington Post saw its 25 shared posts all come from link posts.

What does this mean then, about the other nine publishers’ Pages? Like we’ve noted for Live video, there’s a longer window of opportunity for engagement involved with video. The longer a user is spending time with content, the more chances there for choosing an interaction.

Meanwhile for link posts, a user might like a post link or otherwise, on their news feed, without ever clicking through. We’ve seen this with Instagram, where photos get a disproportionate amount of likes than videos get.

Want to get shared? Be relatable

We looked closely at the differences between the top shared content and the top liked. Shares are important for distribution, as its gets content into other users’ news feeds organically. This is important as social platforms emphasize user-to-user distribution more and more in algorithms. 

For most publishers, their top shared content is relatable to readers’ own lives.

Washington Post Likes Shares

The most-shared stories from Washington Post were more about issues that directly affected the average American — immigration, racism, autism, women’s rights, and blue collar labor.

For 11 of the publishers, many of the stories driving significant shares were human interest stories that dealt with topics readers could understand personally. Some stories appealed to human empathy rather than a highly-relatable experience.

USA TODAY was the only publisher’s Page that offered a reversal of this trend.

USA TODAY likes shares

Its most liked content was around human interest, science and medicine, pop culture, and tech stories, while its most shared were on politics and harder news.

Politics are still popular. But differently so for likes and shares

For the Huffington Post, its two most shared stories were had to do with how Trump is affecting Americans on relatable levels.

huffington post likes shares

Along with this were stories on other political issues that impact the average person, such as women’s’ rights, tax cuts, health care. Many of the other publishers saw a similar pattern. Stories that honed in on how politics had a direct impact on specific individuals and areas, were more shared.

Meanwhile, political content that had to do with opinions and commentary, were often more in the most liked column than the most shared column. For example, note the story “George W. Bush Gushes About His Fondness for Obama” from the above table.

Offer something unique

We noted before that the digital publishers saw a good deal of overlap between their most shared and most liked posts. What was in their secret sauce?

upworthy likes, shares

For Upworthy, these human interest stories appealed to common life experiences like parenting, but also stories of the triumphant human spirit like a woman who couldn’t take part in the Olympics during World War II.

Some of these stories offered something people wouldn’t see everyday. NowThis, Upworthy, and AJ+ all posted videos that offered snapshots into other people’s lives or interesting things like “rainbow bagels”. 

So what did get likes?

Human interest stories did well for likes, but there was certainly some variety here too.

For the traditional publishers, their most liked/reacted posts included more straightforward news stories, especially ones focused on politics.

NBC news likes shares facebook

As we mentioned before, these often included headlines from either politicians or celebrities commenting on politics and related issues.  CNN, the Washington Post, and Huffington Post, all saw this pattern as well. 

Accolades and awards were often in the most-liked/reacted ten posts rather than the most-shared posts, such as NBC News’ story above on Former President Obama receiving the JFK Profile in Courage Award.

How to get users sharing

Likes, reactions, shares, and comments are all valuable metrics for understanding your audience. But if you’re trying to promote organic distribution, it’s key to know which content will do best. Everything comes down to how your specific audience will react, so experiment with the best practices to see which ones work.

Let’s recap our findings for share-worthy content:

  • Be relatable, even hard news can have accessible angles to the everyday reader
  • Show something out of the ordinary
  • Tell stories that appeal to readers’ empathy, or stories on triumphs of the human spirit
  • Try to post more video, because of the longer window of opportunity for engagements

Experiment with these findings and let us know your results on Twitter. If you would like to take a look at how your and your competition’s content breaks down between likes, shares, comments, and reactions on Facebook, try a demo of NewsWhip Analytics.

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