Why “How-To” content is your ticket to evergreen shares

August 29, 2018

Written by NewsWhip
how to

How-to’s, guides, explainers, and other service journalism can do some serious heavy lifting when it comes to SEO and social engagement. We look at how to “how-to”. 

Facebook and Google are still the biggest referrers for publishers and media. How can you create content that thrives on small but sturdy referrers as well?

A new trend has emerged with smaller referrers like Reddit, Pocket, and Flipbook, cultivating hyper-niche audiences, with a very different set of consumption behaviors.

Platforms like Pocket, for example, encourage intentional, closer reading. Because of this, long-form and evergreen content can thrive there. According to Atlantic 57, the Wall Street Journal has even started advertising evergreen articles in Pocket, taking advantage of the unique tone of the platform.

That said, Facebook and Twitter remain strong signifiers of what users want to read and engage with. We saw that this Washington Post story was the most engaging article for the publisher this month, clocking in at approximately 3,000 words.

Washington Post Jimmy Carter

At the time of writing, this article has ~800k Facebook engagements. 

By understanding the qualities of distributable, evergreen content, you can create stories that continue to get discovered and shared by social audiences.

Indeed, we’ve seen that this July 2017 story from the Atlantic, has continued to drive social interactions.

life span atlantic north korea
Over the past 90 days, it’s seen a resurgence of Facebook engagements, according to our platform Spike.

What is service journalism? 

Service journalism refers to stories that answer a common question. Or, to put it simply, it’s “how-to” content, explainers, and guides. These stories can be promoted continuously and drive readership regardless of the news cycle.

The New York Times is a leader in this space, investing heavily with its Guide pieces. An article from Digiday stated, “The Guides often are among the Times’ most popular articles of the day, and they are twice as likely to get repeat visits as regular news articles.”

The Guides started with Cooking and Well, the Times’ personal health desk, and have been extended to other beats, including business, travel, and climate.

In our data, we found even more areas where there are “service” pieces for the Times, including op-eds. Here’s a look at those pieces, ranked by Facebook engagements:

new york times service journalism
Interestingly, a few of the top ones have been politically charged. They’re around topics that are continual and pervasive in today’s society — gun control and pseudoscience.
Others are about health, particularly mental health, and wellness. 

Service journalism is “on-brand”. Anyone can get in on it 

Service journalism works when it’s a natural fit for the publisher. We saw more high-level, lofty guides for the New York Times, down to edgier guides on VICE.

Below are 20 engaging how-to’s across a variety of publishers in July 2018.

service journalism how to
The New York Times had five articles on this list. We also see that BuzzFeed is a natural here, appearing on this list four times. Beyond those two, there is a good deal of both hard and soft news publishers creating these pieces too.

What we can understand then is that any publisher can get in on this strategy. 

How does service journalism stack up? 

We already looked at the evergreen nature of service journalism. But when it comes to specific behaviors on social media, how does it stack up against breaking news and other articles?
Our data revealed that service journalism drives a higher percentage of Facebook Shares compared to other articles.

service journalism shares
Looking at the service articles and their shares as the percentage of total Facebook engagements, it’s a higher percentage than even the publishers’ top 10 articles for the month. Quartz saw its service pieces drive shares that accounted for nearly 40 percent of total Facebook engagements.

For its top 10 articles, that was only 14 percent.

These stories are shareable at their core. They’re relevant to readers’ lives — whether the article is something about wellbeing, something actionable, or something inspirational or aspirational. 

Brands doing service journalism 

As we’ve seen, there is a huge window of opportunity for the variety of service journalism pieces out there.

For brands looking to get in on content marketing, service journalism can be an accessible and social media friendly way to start.

Just look at traditional finance brands like Wells Fargo, Citi, Discover, and Chase, which have all started campaigns to teach finance basics for both personal finance and small business owners.

This blog from Chase drove more than 3,000 Facebook engagements, nearly 22x greater than the brand’s average this year.

Much like publishers, there is a wide variety of industries getting into service journalism and how-to guides. Other brands like REI, Red Bull, Marriott, KLM, Coldwell Banker, Cisco, SAP, and the Home Depot are all getting in on it.

Below is their top service piece and how it stacked up to their average engagements per article.

brands service articles how-to facebook
All of these brands saw their top service article outperform their average engagement number.
Pinterest is another place where these brands can thrive with “how-to” content. This article, “Simple DIY Wooden Lanterns“, from Home Depot drove 5,908 pins, for example. 

Service journalism on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and beyond 

Beyond being great for SEO and peer-to-peer distribution, service pieces also perform well natively. We regularly see tutorials for crafts, recipes, or “life hacks” go viral on Facebook, which we analyzed separately here.

Even brands have an opportunity here:

This video from REI, “How to run 100 miles” has driven more than 3.4 million views on YouTube.
Beyond video, service pieces work well for platforms like Pinterest. Even platforms with big motivational content trends like LinkedIn embrace this kind of content.

It comes down to telling a good story like the REI example above or delivering an applicable and readily actionable guide.

Instagram Stories and Snapchat have been another way to share digestible, useful guides and explainers geared for audiences on-the-go.

Refinery29 Snapchat 

The above explainer from Refinery29 condensed a relatable story into a quick, five-Snap snippet.

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