How to create shareworthy content

Content marketing isn’t new.

Communications professionals have created branded content since the time of Edward de Bernays, coming up with stunts, events, consumer surveys, spoof stories, seasonal news hooks and advice articles to gain editorial coverage in mainstream media for their clients.

The content would be written as news announcements, photocalls, features or comment articles to convince journalists, editors and producers to use the story, idea or photo for their readers’ enjoyment.

Content marketing is a construct of the digital age. While it has been around since the days of de Bernays, the ability to measure the effectiveness of its impact in real-time was not possible.

With the advent of websites, blogs, email newsletters and social media channels any content posted can be quickly and easily evaluated in real-time; how many people have clicked on the content, viewed it, liked it, shared it. We can now see, and know definitively, if people are really talking about or genuinely interested in a story.

What makes engaging content?

While a hard news story or piece of content should include newsworthy considerations of “what, why, when, where and how”, the nature of breaking online news, social sharing, social post length and sites like Buzzfeed and Vice have all had an impact on what makes content shareworthy.

Take a look at BBC Online’s homepage when it launched in 1997 compared to the stories and design of the homepage now. The influence of the style and types of stories shared online and huge growth of sites like Buzzfeed is evident. BBC Online’s journalists and producers were told to actively create content more like Buzzfeed.

Lists, how tos, shocking stories, exposes, political news all sit alongside entertainment, humour and irreverent celebrity gossip with tabloid style, attention-grabbing headlines and images.

In 2014 eConsultancy published the Periodic Table of Content Marketing, a lesson in itself of how to make a dry subject more interesting to get more eyeballs.

Many of its insights and research into what content is shared online still ring true and reflect the editorial policy at Buzzfeed and BBC Online.

According to the table content widely shared online usually has one of the following traits:

  • Funny
  • Sexy
  • Shocking
  • Moving
  • Unbelievable
  • Controversial
  • Cool
  • Illuminating
  • Random
  • Zeitgeist
  • Cute
  • Uplifting
  • Disgusting


I would add “nostalgic” to the list above, as this often is often very moving and emotive for people too. While business stories won’t necessarily meet some of these characteristics, it’s worth keeping them in mind when developing content.

People are people. Businesses are made up of people and the one thing that unities the above list is that they all have a human interest angle. And this is what communications professionals have been advising clients on what makes a standout story or content from the time of de Bernays. It still does, regardless of the channel.