How was your 2016? Yes, it was a little crazy. The volume of social sharing reflected that. The act of social sharing became mainstream news itself in 2016. There were many stories about echo chambers, the sharing of false news and the impact of social sharing and news feeds on politics.
We have analyzed the most socially shared content this year and set out below 30 examples of the most viral content from across the different social networks. These top viral posts by their nature are outliers and exceptional. However, by analyzing these most shared posts, we can learn a little more about the characteristics of viral content and the steps we can take to improve the potential shareability of our own content.
We have excluded from our analysis games and forms, such as sign up forms to support the Clinton campaign. We have also excluded YouTube and Vine videos. Music videos can gain many millions of shares, for example over 8m for a Coldplay video. You can see the most shared Youtube videos here. The data for links and shares was taken on 5th December 2016.
The Most Viral Content of 2016
The top viral posts are dominated by content shared on Facebook, which is by far the largest and most used social network (see latest data from Pew Research). Pinterest also features in the top lists with some posts getting many millions of shares. By contrast shares on Twitter and LinkedIn are much lower and therefore we have identified the most viral posts on these networks separately.
1. New Alzheimer’s Treatment
The majority of the top viral posts on Facebook are made up of reports on the latest research findings from scientific studies. The most viral post was no exception.
The top post was this potential good news story on Alzheimer’s, reported by the Science Alert site, which gained the most interactions on Facebook. Interestingly the article received very few links. This is because most people linked to the original research rather than the new report. The original research article received over 400 domain links as we can see below.
Reporting on recent research is one of the top ways to go viral on Facebook. We will see many more examples below, from research on the intelligence of first born children to the cancer fighting properties of Dandelion Weed.
2. OCD Radar Quiz
Viral quizzes designed for Facebook continued to perform well. This was the most engaging from Playbuzz this year. There were many other quizzes from Playbuzz that received millions of interactions for example, this one on passing your elementary test:
Again it is interesting to note that the quiz received very few links. Viral quizzes can gain a lot of shares but rarely do they attract links. But if you want to create a buzz, quizzes are one way to do it.
3. 100 Inspirational Quotes
These inspirational quotes set out as images by Life hack were shared 3m times on Pinterest. Inspired by their success in February with their post Life Hack ran a similar post in March, 100 Inspirational Quotes That Will Give You Strength During Hard Times. This post received 1.9m engagements. Suggests we are all looking for something inspirational – and picture lists posts do well. A good example of right topic, right format generating massive engagement.
4. First Born Child Is Most Intelligent
This next post is a good example of research and science reporting that goes viral on Facebook.
Every family with children has a first born child, so this research will clearly appeal to a very large audience. The M2 site was reporting on a study by Leipzig University, that found first-born children get an IQ boost from having to teach their younger siblings and receiving undivided attention. Data was not available on how many shares came from first born children…
5. Donald Trump
You may have read something about the Donald this year. It was impossible this year to avoid posts about Donald Trump, and this open letter on Huffington Post received the most interactions.
People share on social media to define who they are, to support specific causes, and to reinforce their membership in their tribe. It is therefore no surprise that political posts are amongst the top viral posts with very high levels of engagement. I thought it would be helpful to group the Donald Trump posts together.
This post is unusual in that it is not published on a high profile website or domain.
This next post from Medium tapped into concerns about the future and what is likely to happen.
Michael Moore’s post below forecast that Trump would win the election and had over 1 million engagements and over 2,000 links from different domains. Big personality + strong opinion + list post format = viral post.
Whilst we are on the topic of the US election, the Five Thirty Eight forecast page by Nate Silver was also very well shared. This page was referenced by more sites than almost any other piece of content and was linked to from almost 5,000 different domains. Again it shows that authoritative data-driven posts do well in both links and shares, though we suspect pollsters will be less revered after this election.
The most shared post on the New York Times this year was this political viewpoint. Strong opinions can generate both links and shares as we see here:
Finally, we thought we should reference the discussion of widely shared false news stories during the Presidential election. BuzzFeed did an analysis of false news stories which included this particular post on Hillary Clinton actively selling arms to ISIS.
6. Healthy Snacks
Is that enough Donald Trump? Switching gears: Pinterest must be the healthiest social network as many of the most shared posts were about healthy food and exercises. This post also received over 380 links as well as over 2m shares. It has the classic elements: list post, promise of personal improvement in headline, and health-related posts do well in general as we saw with the Alzheimer post above.
7. Bald Men Are Sexier
This post follows a similar format to other viral Facebook posts namely recent scientific research that will appeal to a particular audience, i.e. Bald men looking for reassurance. That’s a large audience, trust us…
8. DNA Test Results
This video was very thought-provoking, it filmed biased people as they were given the results of DNA test revealing more about their own origins. The post had a very positive message in a year of rising nationalism and concerns about immigration. The post finished:
“We must never forget to love our fellow human beings for who they are, regardless of their appearance, origin, or nationality. Please share this important video, so that more people can learn this valuable lesson for themselves!”
8. Intelligent People
This next post was probably used in self-justification by many messy, sweary people during 2016. It follows the standard Facebook viral formula of research findings that will resonate with a large audience.
9. Women Need More Sleep Because Their Brains Work Harder
This next post follows exactly the same format in reporting on research in a popular way that will appeal to a particular audience. Eventually there will be a Facebook post with scientific evidence that vindicates every single habit.
10. Top 10 Abs Exercises
I mentioned that Pinterest users were healthy. This post received 1.8m shares on Pinterest. Having reviewed the post I wonder how many people actually viewed this content as the video took a while to load on each page and by having separate pages the content was not easily scannable. But it follows through on that aspirational format.
11. Stanford Victim Letter
This was BuzzFeed’s most engaging content article this year. It is worth noting that whilst small in relative terms, this was one of the most shared articles on Twitter this year with over 52,000 shares.
12. 4 Year Old and Widower
“Sometimes talking to strangers can lead to beautiful new beginnings.” This story touched many hearts as it made its way across Facebook. Previous studies have shown that people like to share heart warming stories.
13. Dandelion Roots And Cancer
More Science here. I am always nervous of new health breakthrough headlines, particularly those with a big caveat like ‘may’ in the title. However, these stories do get well shared on Facebook.
14. Old Music Outsells New Music
People are interested in trends supported with data. Combine a trend with a popular topic such as music and you have a potential winner. What was it Bob Dylan said “The times they are a changin.” There’s no prizes for statements like that…
15. Inflatable Irish Pub
Everyone loves an Irish Pub. Everyone loves inflatable things. Well, maybe not everyone. But 1.3m thought this was worth sharing…
It’s hard to analyze this deeper than just saying it’s fun. Entertaining content is one of the most popular forms of shareable content, people like to make other people happy.
16. Pecan Cheesecake Recipe
People love to share content about food and recipes. This example went viral on Facebook although most recipe content is shared on Pinterest. Here are the most shared recipes on Pinterest.
17. Penguin Reunion
We thought we would finish the main viral list with another heart warming story. It wasn’t one of the very top most shared posts but we liked it, and so did 900,000 other people.
Twitter is a much smaller network than Facebook and people also use it less frequently according to the latest Pew research. As a consequence we see fewer content shares on Twitter. However, it does appear that breaking news stories still gain a lot of traction, for example, this Daily Telegraph article.
This article breaking the news Prince had died also got over 60,000 shares on Twitter.
The most shared content item on Twitter was not news but this exceptional and fun Happy Chewbacca video. This video went viral on many different sites but this particular video was shared over 300,000 times on Twitter. Again, like the inflatable Irish pub, this is about spreading joy and making other people happy. That was important in 2016.
The profile of the most shared stories on LinkedIn is significantly different to other networks. They are very business focused and many of the most shared provide insights into improving your work performance. Here are the top three most shared articles on LinkedIn this year.
This article was published on LinkedIn and shared over 230,000 times on the network. This next article was published on Business Insider but still gained over 130,000 shares on Linkedin.
The title is a form of click bait as most people want to know what the two criteria are. The two criteria according to the article are ‘can I trust this person?’ and ‘can I respect this person?’
Like many of the most shared Facebook posts, it has a science/research-backed promise in the headline.
This next article was a business story about Nokia. Most people are aware of how Nokia failed to keep pace with the smartphone market and went from a thriving business to a failing business.
The CEO’s message as outlined in this article lacked a little self-awareness and the article was bombarded with comments from readers with all the things Nokia did wrong.
It is worth noting that the two articles published on LinkedIn received relatively few links.
What are the themes?
This is an eclectic collection from an exceptional year. Here are some patterns we’ve seen in the content that went viral in 2016?
“Science says” stories: The word “science” adds a veneer of credibility to any article. Lots of the most shared content quoted scientific research. Those posts either promised self-improvement, held out some hope for our health, or explained why a behaviour or characteristic is positive based on scientific research. We are all looking to be understood and articles like these seem to help.
Data driven content: Similar to science stories, articles which predicted or analyzed trends using data were well shared and well linked to.
Strong opinion and political pieces: This was a politically divisive year. To feel belonging in our tribes, we shared strong opinion pieces that bound us to what we believed in. These come with an echo-chamber health warning, but they do get well shared.
Heart warmers: Stories of inspiration, human kindness and just plain joy and silliness always do well, and in a year that had more than its fair share of seriousness, heart warming stories ticked a box for many of us.
Health and food: People share medical news and developments. They also share ways to stay fit, particularly short cuts, and recipes, both healthy and unhealthy.
The classic viral formats such as images, lists and quizzes also did well again this year. The big viral posts appealed to a wide audience and many appealed to a particular tribe in the widest sense such as women, bald men or first born children.
What Did We Miss?
We have only provided 30 examples of top viral content in this review. What did we miss? We would love to get your views on the viral content that impressed you this year.