What stories drove the most engagement on social in 2018? We looked at the data to find the most engaged, the most commented on, and the most shared stories of the year.

2018 was a turbulent year for content on social, with a number of changes and tweaks to algorithms keeping publishers on their toes with what was going to work and what was not for the year, and that was not always an easy task.

We looked at the data for 2018, and pulled the numbers for the most engaged, the most shared, and the most commented stories of the year.

Full disclosure, we focused more on the news side, meaning we filtered to highlight more mainstream publishers and discounted articles that were more pure clickbait-focused or from content farms from our ranking. We wanted to get a real sense of what stories broke through the noise last year, and what differences, if any, there were between the most shared, the most commented, and the most engaged in raw terms.

So, let’s dive in.

The most engaged stories of 2018

The most engaged story by some considerable distance came from the Daily Mail, and involved a McDonald’s worker body-slamming a customer that threw a milkshake over her. This drove well over 5.5 million engagements.

Beyond this, one theme that jumps out is the sheer number of obituaries and announcements of deaths that were featured in the most engaged articles of the year. Eight of the top twenty articles, or some 40 percent, were either focused on announcements of deaths or obituaries for public personalities.

Anthony Bourdain’s death garnered the single most engagements, with CNN’s story producing more than 5 million, though the death of Stephen Hawking was the more engaged overall, with the engagements spread out over multiple publications.

These engagements mostly came in the form of likes and reactions, with the obituaries not featuring so heavily in the breakouts by shares and comments.

Beyond these announcements, uplifting stories tended to do well, with Lad Bible and UNILAD both featuring for the type of light, entertaining news for which they have become known.

Interestingly, despite the ubiquitous nature of politics last year in the media, there were relatively few political stories, with the New York Times only featuring twice, once for a resolution about breastfeeding, and once for the “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” op-ed, which received around 1.8 million engagements.

The most shared stories of 2018

We only began separating out comments and shares from overall engagement in April of this year, but as only one of the top stories of the year was affected by this, we thought it worthwhile to still include in the analysis to highlight the differences in what is shared and what is commented upon.

So how did they differ from the overall most engaged articles?

The answer, at least on a surface level, is not a great deal. The top three articles are all the same, albeit in a different order, and many of the articles seem familiar.

What is notable, however, is the far higher number of local news articles that people have shared, rather than commented upon or reacted to. This shows the community aspect of Facebook and social media more generally in action, as people shared stories about missing children and potential criminal activities to their networks to make sure that they are aware.

In our regular engagement numbers, it is unusual to see any local news appear in the top ten, so to see three different local stories from three different local outlets appear is certainly an interesting difference.

The most commented stories of 2018

The most commented stories of the year again superficially resemble the most engaged, with a little added whimsy. Rainbow unicorn pool floats and fairy lights for beards appeared in the top ten list, partly as things such as share comments come into play, where users tag their friends to bring their attention to the post.

The anonymous op-ed drove a good deal of commentary from the public, with the piece ranking third overall in number of comments, as compared to 15th in terms of overall engagement. More than one third of its overall engagement came from comments, which is unusually high for a story of that magnitude.
Politics in general did feature more heavily in the comments in terms of the ratio to other stories, appearing four times in the top ten most commented stories.

Beyond those things, questions performed well, with the infamous Yanny vs. Laurel debate from BuzzFeed driving close to half a million engagements, and this was also a pattern that was repeated outside of the top ten.  

So there you have it, the most engaged, shared, and commented upon stories of 2018. While there were some similarities there were also significant points of difference between what got reactions, what got shares, and what got comments. The shares tended to have a local focus, whereas comments were driven by share-tagging and questions.

Want to see the most engaged stories for yourself? Take a tour of NewsWhip Spike.  

Benedict Nicholson

Benedict Nicholson is the Managing Editor at NewsWhip. An Englishman in New York, he is interested in the intersection of PR, brands, and journalism, and the trends and innovation around that.

Email Benedict via benedict.nicholson@newswhip.com.