The Formula for a Perfect Social Share Message

How to get it right every time

March 31, 2015

What if I told you that your social share message is all that’s keeping your content from thousands of new readers? I see this firsthand at Naytev where we automatically test thousands of alternate share messages for dozens of major publishers.

Our team is in a unique position to identify what messaging drives the greatest social engagement and new readers. This post highlights winning strategies our team has identified for creating high impact share messages.

  • 1. Pair Headlines With Images That Together Tell a Good Story

The most impactful factor of a share message is how well the image and headline play off one another, hands-down. Your brand’s reach on Facebook relies on attractive images to pique readers’ interests. A good image is designed to make your reader pause on their quest to the mythical bottom of the news feed.

Below is an example of effective image selection from one of the message tests we ran for a client. It illustrates the content’s purpose: teaching readers how to make gumbo from scratch. Our winning photo generated a 15% boost in traffic for the article.

“Glamor Shots” and Close-ups Attract Readers

We recommend using photos or illustrations of people, places and things related to your content. Rich colors and angles help set your images apart from the norm. Got data? Well-designed infographics with limited text are perfect for Facebook. If the web page that you want people to share has only one or no images, we recommend trying additional images in your share messages that can be sourced from services like Getty Images, Shutterstock, Morguefile, Gratisography, and the Creative Commons search engine (look for images approved for free commercial use).

What images don’t drive engagement: logos. When presented on Facebook, logos look like placeholders or transparent attempts at marketing. They often drive attention away from the content. Simply put, we recommend staying away from logos.

Below is a prime example of a rich image vs. a logo. We left the headline and description as-is, but replaced the Punisher logo with a powerful, emotive photo of the Norwegian armed forces mentioned in the article. The result: a whopping 156,000+ extra reader sessions.

Complement Headlines With Related Photos, Not Logos

  • 2. Write Varied Headlines That Offer New Perspectives

Your headlines need to tell a great story. When considering alternate headlines, think of additional elements of the story that you can share. Descriptive language that provides context to your share image will strengthen your story.

A default headline like the one below, ‘Battle Royale at Chuck E. Cheese,’ is made to be shared, but by playing up the situation’s sheer absurdity, this message scored our clients over 10,000 additional clicks — a 200% improvement.

If the Default Message is Broad, Try Highlighting Specific Details

If your content is short or highly focused, find a new subtopic by broadening or narrowing down your scope with each message. New messages can still be about the same topic as your default; just make sure you’re mentioning something new. Here’s an example from an article about activists protesting against e-cigarettes:

Highlight Several Key Story Angles From Your Content

The default message in this example gives readers specifics: who is being scrutinized by whom, and why. The winning message still focuses on the same people, but widens in scope. Instead of the columnist affecting the activists, we highlighted the activists’ negative impact on their constituents.

The top message below drove a 148% engagement boost for our client. Alternatively, you can include key people mentioned in your content, but not included in the default headline. Simply including relevant celebrities’ names can drive a large engagement boost.

Capitalize on Celebrity Mentions

  • 3. Use Data, But Keep It Conversational

If you have data, use it. Spend at least one message breaking down the data involved in your content in a conversational, “human” way. Highlight an interesting data point you would be tempted to share with your friends, online or off. One way to personalize the numbers contained in the Apple Watch story below is to give the audience what they want.

When reading this story I immediately thought of my bank account (“How long would I need to save in order to buy the cheapest one?!”). Unsurprisingly, our message focusing on the “entry-level” Apple Watch outperformed the default, driving over 14,000 additional reader sessions.

Use Headlines to Answer Burning Questions

  • 4. Make Your Readers Feel Something

There’s a saying in the San Francisco poetry community: “If your words can make me feel feelings and think thoughts, then you’re onto something.” This applies to headline writing, too! Every good story entices the reader to feel or think.

Political stories want you to feel pride for your country, responsibility toward your party, or disdain for the “other guys.” Social justice stories want you to feel inspired or enraged — sometimes both. Tech stories want to make you think about the latest new devices and features and consider how they might affect you or your business.

The utility (and fun) of creating and testing share messages lies in exploring how different versions of a story resonate with readers and drive action.As long as your headline stays true to the article’s content, you’re free to get creative to reel in alternative — or even opposing — viewpoints.

For example, say you’re a blog publishing viral content, and your article is named “10 Ridiculously Stupid Tweets From Will Smith’s Scientology Educated Son.” This title invites readers to mock 16-year-old Jaden Smith for his questionable declarations on Twitter. If you think that headline is a bit harsh, some of his 5.6 million Twitter fans would likely agree with you.

We have found that toning down messaging can lower reader apprehensions about sharing, boosting share volume and message engagement.

Swap Negative Headlines for Positive Ones (and Vice Versa)

The toned down headline in the image above is something Jaden’s fans wouldn’t mind clicking on! Simply modifying the article’s tone from “shamelessly negative” to “sarcastically positive” ultimately drove 157,000 additional reader sessions for this article.

  • 5. Avoid Hyperbolic Language and Clickbait Headlines

If you take anything away from this article, let it be that we discourage using clickbait headlines.  Clickbait headlines are characterized by hyperbolic statements that promise readers a transcendent experience upon viewing the content within. They often include words like “epic,” “surprise,” “hilarious,” and “amazing,” and are best read in the voice of a stereotypical teenaged girl who describes nearly everything the same way.

In other words, the headline is trying — obviously, and much too hard — to elicit an emotional response that its accompanying content simply doesn’t deliver.

Write Honest Headlines, Not Clickbait

Whomever’s surprised by the story above probably doesn’t get out much. (Spoiler alert: It’s a cafe.) The last thing we’ll say about clickbait is that lacks distinction and doesn’t drive brand loyalty. Staying true to your voice enables your content to stand out, command loyalty and build brand value.

  • 6. Use Facebook Descriptions to Supplement Headlines

In a perfect world, the image captures your readers’ attention, and the accompanying headline makes them want to read your content. But what if they’re not yet convinced that your content is worth ending their stroll down the News Feed?

Readers on the fence about reading your article will look to your Description to make up their minds. Use the Description space below the headline to share statistics, quotes from professionals, punchlines, and other pertinent information.

Facebook Descriptions Help Convince People to Read More

  • 7. How to Change Your Social Share Messages

There are two ways you can change your social share messages:

  • Standard: Change your “Top-Down” share messages on your brand’s social media pages.

Posting on your Facebook fan page and Twitter profile is where most people still focus their time. However, with social networks systematically cutting your page reach, it has never been more important to focus on the organic sharing already taking place on your website.

  • Recommended: Change your “Bottom-Up” organic share messages on your website.

Social networks are a key point of discovery for your content, and organic sharing is increasingly the primary source of this discovery (not  “Top Down” posts from a brand’s social media page). The way your content appears on social when people share it is hard coded in your site’s open graph (OG) tags. Changing your OG tags is prohibitively resource intensive, especially if you want to manually change them multiple times and for pieces of content.

Naytev enables you to easily modify and test different ways of how your content will show up when people share it on Facebook and Twitter. The examples we shared in this post are sourced from messages our team has created and tested for a variety of major publishers. 

Key Takeaways

In short, keep these practices below in mind when crafting your share messages:

  • Images: Match Facebook headlines with rich images.
  • Headlines:
  • Offer a fresh perspective in your headline messages.
  • Use scope to identify your next message.
  • Present data with a conversational tone.
  • Convey an emotion to your readers.
  • Practices to Avoid:
  • Don’t present logos with Facebook share messages.
  • Stay away from clickbait headlines.
  • Descriptions: Use Facebook description to supplement your headlines. Following these recommendations will empower you to create compelling share messages that consistently drive more engagement.