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Viral Content: Inside the Minds of Online Content Consumers

Deconstructing Viral Content-Inside the Minds of Online Content Consumers

As a content marketer, trying to figure out how to create content that your audience will share can be quite a challenge.

When it comes to predicting online content consumer behavior, it is always useful to look at past behavior trends.

An article by Noah Kagan and Buzzsumo presented stats based on the analysis of over 100 million articles.

Here are some notable findings:

  1. Long-form content gets more social shares than short-form content. Long-form articles contain more information and insights, providing a more wholesome read than short-form articles.
  2. Having at least one image in your post leads to more Facebook & Twitter shares. An image helps break up a wall of text, creating visual interest and reduce reader fatigue.
  3. People love to share lists and infographics. Having lots of info in easily-digestible formats is a good way to make your content understood at a glance.
  4. People tend to share content that looks trustworthy. Readers want to know that the content they’re consuming comes from a credible source, so that it also reflects well on them when they share it.
  5. Getting one extra influencer to share your article has a multiplier effect. If something is worth sharing, it’s definitely worth sharing again.

 So what exactly makes consumers share?

1. Consumers are particularly attracted to visuals.

Pictures in a sea of words attract attention like bright neon signs:

Text with and without pictures
Images definitely add visual interest to the article

We naturally read more infographics because they’re a faster and more interesting way to consume content than plain text.

Additionally, sites like Pinterest and Visual.ly give users additional excuses to share your infographics.

2. Consumers enjoy sharing engaging, good quality articles.


Buzzsumo reported that there are 16 times more short-form (< 1000 words) than long-form (> 2000 words) articles out there. Despite being outnumbered, long-form articles still get shared more often than short-form ones. What gives?

We think that we naturally want to share good quality stuff with our peers.

We do not share long-form articles more merely because they are long. It is unlikely we’d look at a post and go, “Oh boy, 2000 words! I’m so going to love this!”

A great post filled with substantial research and good information takes time and effort to be produced, and are more likely to be longer in length. Most short-form content require hardly any effort and contain even lesser value, and thus are less likely to be shared.

Therefore, we think that people share long-form content more because we naturally share quality stuff, and more long-form articles are of that standard.

However, we think there is a caveat to that.

From a previous post, we also know that there is no correlation between social shares and people actually reading. We don’t always share what we read. Rather, we share what we want others to think we read.

Regardless, spending the time and effort to create witty and informative articles is the right way to go. It will get the attention and shares it deserves.

3. We crave credibility and social proof.

Ostrich Pillow Kickstarter Expert social proof Social Proof ReferralCandy

When we see something being shared by someone influential, we automatically perceive it to be good.

We assume that influential people are busier and better at filtering out bad content than we are, which makes whatever they’re sharing worth reading. Even if we do not end up actually reading it, we are likely to share it.

According to the stats, having an author byline or bio accompanying the article resulted in up to 42% more social shares on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. The author doesn’t have to be someone famous; the mere presence of a byline or bio does the trick, as supported by research conducted at the Nielson Norman Group.

This works because our brain uses mental shortcuts to make evaluations faster.

 Instead of spending hours researching an author’s background to ensure that the information reported is credible and accurate, heuristics draw upon our own experiences and knowledge in order to make quick evaluations, at the expense of definite accuracy.

Knowing this, you can not only understand how to boost your own credibility, but also wary of your own biases.

Ultimately, consumers want you to thrill them with great content.

Yes, even with information overload or content shock (or whatever you want to call it), people are always willing and even eager to encounter truly great content that’s worth reading and sharing. They are able to filter through the bad content and get to the truly meaningful ones. These findings illustrate this fact, and should help you nudge your content closer in that direction.

Be sure to include visuals, and push yourself to create content with solid research and valuable insights. Also, put yourself in your consumers’ shoes, and use your knowledge of heuristics to test if your content will be well-received.


Read next: 24 Juicy Tips for Ecommerce Content Marketing from Inbound Marketing Pros [Infographic]

Samuel Hum

Samuel Hum

As a finalist in Esquire's Best Dressed Real Man contest, Samuel is ReferralCandy's fashion eCommerce expert and resident sartorialist. He is obsessed with human behavior, social psychology, and handstands. He is also the lead calisthenics trainer at Weightless.


  • Well done post: informative and insightful. It’s an increasingly noisy market and you have to “hit consumers over the head” with images that get their attention, engage and/or inform. And, as you pointed out in the post, “shareability” is increasingly important too for garnering mind share.

  • Well done post: informative and insightful. It’s an increasingly noisy market and you have to “hit consumers over the head” with images that get their attention, engage and/or inform. And, as you pointed out in the post, “shareability” is increasingly important too for garnering mind share.