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14 Powerful Social-Media Sharing Strategies You Aren't Using

Build a bigger and more engaged audience by working smarter, not harder.
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We all want to be the go-to person with the latest news, the most intriguing viral content, or the hidden gems followers wouldn't have otherwise found. Easier said than done, though, right?

It actually might be easier than you think--as long as you take the right approach.

The following is a guest post from Courtney Seiter, a content crafter at Buffer, a tool that makes social-media sharing smarter and easier. (You can read her posts on social media, productivity, and marketing on the Buffer blog.)

Here's Courtney:

The currency of social media is the share, and some people just have a knack for finding and crafting the perfect share. The rest of us have to work a little harder. Really, great social-media sharing is a skill. And like all other skills, it requires a little strategy and a lot of practice to perfect.

Here's a road map to quality social-media sharing, including what to share, when to share it, and how to share.

What to Share

Every day, we're inundated with lots of stuff--stuff to read and watch and see and think about. Probably too much stuff, honestly. The average American consumes 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words of information in a single day. That means the biggest challenge of great sharing is to make sure your stuff is better than all that other stuff. Want to know if it is? Ask yourself these four simple questions:

1. Would my network thank me for it?

According to Ann Handley, head of content at MarketingProfs and author of Content Rules, this is a good place to start. Is the content so useful that your audience would thank you?

Beyond that, would your audience's audience thank you? We've written before about the power of thinking beyond your audience to the next level of connectivity--it's a great method for attracting a broad, engaged audience. Your audience will definitely appreciate getting content it can then share with its audiences.

2. Does it make me say, "Holy smokes"?

"Useful" is only one of the signs of great content. Content can also be so funny, so ridiculous, or so rage-inducing that you simply must pass it on. What we're looking for here is the "holy smokes" reaction, which Jason Falls explains.

You want your audience to think, "'Holy smokes,' this message is: incredible/sad/awesome/beautiful/intelligent/informative/some other declarative response. According to Jason, ideally your audience will think, "Holy smokes; I have to share that with my friends."

3. Does it pass my Facebook test?

Think about the way people in your audience share and the patterns you've observed to determine whether the content you're considering will get traction. Buzzfeed chief revenue officer Andy Wiedlin says he urges Buzzfeed clients that produce sponsored content to think about how the content will play in the confines of Facebook.

"People share things that make them look clever and cool. They are building their own personal brands," Wiedlin said. "We spend a lot less time thinking how to target and a lot more thinking about what people are sharing."

Rule of thumb: If you would want to see it in your own Facebook feed, you're on the right track.

4. Would I email it to a friend?

This important question comes from Buffer's Leo Widrich, who uses it as a guiding principle for our own blog. Leo explains:

"It's an extremely simple proposition, yet it has changed my writing completely. If I put myself into a reader's head and can picture him or her saying, "Oh, this is interesting... John will really like this," then I feel good about publishing it. If not, I will iterate, find more research, get more examples...until I can truly imagine that happening."

When to Share

Now that you have a good feel for the content to look for, what is the best day and time to share on each social network? (If you use Buffer, you've already got a jump on the answers for Twitter, thanks to our partnerships with Tweriod and Followerwonk, which help you find your optimal times.)

1. Test your data.

But anyone can determine the best times for his or her social networks with a little experimenting. One, determine when the largest percentage of your audience is online. For example, Facebook shows this information for brand pages in Facebook Insights under the Posts section.

You can also try posting the same content at different times of the day, at least an hour or so apart, and then pay close attention to how many clicks each version gets. (This post explains that experiment in greater detail, as well as a few more methods for finding your best times to post.)

You can also follow conventional wisdom, as long as you keep in mind your experience may vary given your particular industry and content:

2. For Facebook, focus on the end of the week.

Engagement rates on Facebook tend to rise as the week goes on; they're 18 percent higher on Thursdays and Fridays, according to a BuddyMedia study. Another study found that B2C marketers get 32 percent higher engagement on weekends.

And most studies indicate that afternoons (experiment with the window from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.) are the best times to post on Facebook.

3. For Twitter, try off-peak times.

On Twitter, swim against the stream to make your posts stand out by trying off-peak times--like on weekends, when click-through rates tend to be highest.

As for timing, considering the rhythm of the day for your audience--times such as lunch or before and after a meeting are when folks are likely to be taking a quick peek at Twitter, so try timing posts for the lunchtime period and for just before or after the hour to take advantage of the postmeeting crowds.

4. For Google+, try late-morning weekdays.

The Google+ crowd hits the site hardest on weekdays before noon. You can also try the free tool Timing+, which analyzes your Google+ posts to see which times garner the best engagement.

5. For Pinterest, it's all about Saturdays.

The crafters, cooks, and shoppers of Pinterest are busiest on the site late at night and on the weekends--particularly Saturday mornings, accordingly to bit.ly.

6. For LinkedIn, try before or after work.

LinkedIn is all about work, so it makes sense that the best times to post are weekdays, just before or after work.

Just remember: These are basic guidelines; use them as a start to determining when your particular audience is most engaged.

How to Share

Now that we've found our "holy-smokes-the audience-will-thank-us" content, and we understand how to time our posts, all that's left is to share our great finds the right way. That means developing a consistent style to show off your content in the best light.

1. Be consistent with post structure.

People are creatures of habit. We like to know what to expect.

Help your content's chances for success by creating a consistent style. (For example, if you pull a quote to share, always add quotation marks. That way, regular readers instantly know what they're seeing.)

Research by Dan Zarrella indicates consistency is also important on Twitter where link placement and tweet length are concerned:

  • Placing a link about 1/4 of the way into the tweet is optimal for click-throughs.
  • One hundred and twenty to 130 characters is the sweet spot for optimal tweet length.

2. Uncover the gems.

Maybe it's a great photo. Maybe it's a staggering statistic. Or maybe it's the perfect quote. Whatever gives you that "aha" moment when you read a shareworthy piece of content is the element to emphasize when you share.

"I read every story looking for the nugget, the gem that will make most people interested in the piece," says Callie Schweitzer, director of digital innovation at TIME. "It's the best quote or the best turn of phrase that will draw people in. And I've seen great responses like: 'Wow, I'd never read this, but that really brought me in.'"

On Twitter, in-line images are a great opportunity to add another "hook" to your share. On Facebook, don't forget you can edit multiple fields to take advantage of your quote, stat, or other "gem."

3. Develop a "type."

We've written previously about understanding your posts' general types, which may include things like:

  • Links
  • Images
  • Quotes
  • Retweets
  • Questions or comments

You might like to share pictures most of the time. Or you might like to share your own questions and comments to encourage discussion.

Whatever works for you, make it your staple share "type" and then identify a few supporting types to back it up. Once you've built your staple, you'll be able to focus in on and become known specifically for that type of content.

4. Give credit to creators.

When you can, give credit to both the content creator and the site where it originated; for example, "by @LeoWid via @Buffer." Though you might have to trace back a few steps to find the content originator, it's worth it to give credit where credit is due.

It's also nice to give a hat tip, or "HT," to the person or pathway by which you found the content.

Here's how Austin Kleon, author of the upcoming Show Your Work!, sums up attribution in one chart.

Not only is giving credit the right thing to do, it's also a small gesture that can help build a bigger relationship in the future with the creators of the content you love.

What tips did I miss for the what, when, and how of amazing sharing? Please share in the comments!

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Feb 11, 2014

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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