Want shares on your content? The data says to get emotional.

November 2, 2017

Written by NewsWhip
Reaction social media monitoring Facebook shares

Want to get your content shared? We look at the data behind why emotional storytelling drives shares on Facebook.

One of the most prevalent themes on social media this year has been the struggle to build a distinct identity on social media. How can you stand out in the news feed and how can you inspire your audience to share your content onto their network?

Earlier this year, we saw that while clickbait publishers are to be regarded as pure evil, “emotion-bait” is how publishers and brands are now creating genuine connections with their followers on social.

This could help twofold — one, through helping content get remembered, and two, by inspiring audiences to share.


For example, this video from UNILAD was shared nearly 858,000 times and its Ha-Ha reactions accounted for more than 50 percent of the total likes and reactions.

But which emotions are the most likely to prompt users to share? To find out, we looked at 60 top performing media Facebook Pages in September. We analyzed their shares compared to their reaction metrics, along with the top shared stories and their reactions.  

How many reactions to shares?

Out of the top 20 most shared posts, 18 of them had a specific Reaction account for more than ten percent of total likes and reactions. Of the top ten posts, Reactions were chosen 45.4 percent of the time, opposed to a simple like. This number decreases as we expand our few to the top 20, top 100, and top 200 shared posts.

social media monitoring shares facebook reactions

We’ve recently seen that users are using Reactions more and more. People are selecting a specific Reaction along with sharing a post, sometimes choosing that reaction more than the ubiquitous Like metric.


For this NowThis video, shared nearly 224,000 times, 59 percent of its total likes and reactions came from just the Sad reaction.

As we’ll see momentarily, appealing to your audience’s empathy is one of the top ways to resonate with followers and get your content shared.

Which reactions work?

Looking at the top 200 shared posts in NewsWhip Analytics, the reactions were distributed as follows:

social media monitoring shares facebook reactions

Out of the five Reactions, Love is used predominantly, followed by the Ha-Ha metric.
What we can get from this is that people want to feel good about what they’re interacting with, whether it’s through genuine joy, amusement, awe, or showing other related feelings like compassion and empathy.


What sort of stories tended to drive both shares and a high percentage of Love reactions? We sorted the top 200 posts across the 60 publisher Pages to get an idea of the trends. 


This post had nearly 38 percent of its total likes and reactions come from the Love metric. Looking further, we can see that the Dodo has mastered getting the love flowing.

love social media monitoring shares facebook reactions

Even beyond the Dodo, all of these posts are about animals. Examining these posts and others that drove a high percentage of Loves, we can see that they tend to be inspirational, heartwarming, or just plain cute.
Interestingly, four of these posts use heart emojis in the captions, perhaps encouraging the reaction use.


For many, social media offers a break from real life. It makes sense then, that entertaining content can see so many shares. In fact, the Ha-Ha reaction actually drove more than half of several posts’ total likes and reactions. 


This video from NowThis saw nearly 58 percent of total likes and reactions come from just the Ha-Ha metric. Again, like we saw with the Love metric, eight of the top ten posts with high Ha-Ha reaction usage also use the joy emoji.

haha social media monitoring shares facebook reactions

All of these posts were videos, telling a quick and funny story through the visual format.


In our data, we see time and again, that out-of-the-ordinary content performs well in the news feed. Posts that connect to a bigger event, and let people feel that they’re part of it, also do well. The top shared posts that also drove a high percentage of Wow reactions embody both these points.


This post from the TODAY Show saw 45 percent of its likes and reactions come from the Wow reaction. Looking at the top ten, we can see that the top eight posts were all related to extreme acts of nature.

wow social media monitoring shares facebook reactions

Beyond the top eight, ABC News’s post of a skier’s parkour routine also drove a high number of Wow reactions. Showing something people won’t see in their everyday life, something that really awes them, can drive shares. Even brands like Red Bull have seen enormous success on social by embracing this tactic.
The tenth post, from UNILAD Tech, illustrates another best practice we’ve written about. Futuristic tech content also tends to perform well, as we’ve seen from the virality of NASA and others.


As we mentioned before, we see the Sad reaction often being used when readers want to share their support or express sympathy.


This was the second most shared post out of our ranking, from ATTN:. With 832,000 shares, the Sad reaction accounted for nearly 45 percent of total reactions and likes. 

sad social media monitoring shares facebook reactions

The top posts tended to be about real human tragedy, through big events like recent natural disasters and the Holocaust.

Smaller events also drove the reaction, through stories that people could feel genuine empathy for, be it the passing of Chester Bennington or a woman’s childhood abuse from a Catholic orphanage.


The angry reaction accounted for a post’s majority reaction just six times in the top 200 shared posts.


This video from NowThis showing a nurse being forcefully arrested saw 56 percent of its total reactions and likes come from the angry reaction.

angry social media monitoring shares facebook reactions

Content that drives both shares and angry reactions usually illustrate something that sparks outrage, something that is unjust and shows abuse against everyday people.

Animal cruelty (real or perceived) can also get both shares and the angry reaction, like this video from UNILAD of a cat’s fur being dyed to look like a dragon.

What to remember

Emotional content has an advantage when it comes to distribution. Some publishers have mastered this like the Dodo, which saw 24 percent of its average reactions and likes per post come from just the Love reaction. Here’s what to remember:

  1. Highly shared posts see a higher percentage of reaction use, with a single reaction sometimes driving more than half of total likes and reactions
  2. On average, positive emotions do consistently well: Love, Ha-ha, and Wow
  3. The Sad reaction can also drive shares, when its used for sympathetic content
  4. Sympathetic (or outrage-inducing) content works for the Angry reaction too
  5. Using emoji in captions can help suggest an emotional reaction

To discover the most shared posts across web and social right now, take a look at NewsWhip Spike.

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