When I evaluate book proposals, one of the many factors I think about is a book’s shareability. I know that no matter how many ads or paid tweets or web banners a publisher creates, they will not have as much swaying power to a potential reader as a simple recommendation from a friend. Word of mouth works. As a consumer myself, I’m more likely to buy a book when a trusted friend, respected colleague, or favorite blogger recommends it than if it’s pushed at me by a company that doesn’t know me personally and doesn’t know what I might like.
So if you’re creating something that you want to be consumed in some way—a book that you want people to buy, a blog post you want people to read—you need to create content that inspires evangelists: people who will share your work for you in an authentic way. Shareability is completely based on what that content makes the reader feel. Sharing is an emotional decision. So what are those emotions? What is it that makes someone tap that “Share” icon? What makes a reader text a link to a friend? What makes your lunch buddy swear never to talk to you again unless you watch/read this thing?
After studying many blog posts that go viral and many books that suddenly become bestsellers, I’ve realized there are three qualities that shareable content has in common. I should note that this applies mainly to non-fiction content. I enjoy fiction, of course, but my area of expertise is really non-fiction. (I’d be really interested in hearing your theories about what makes shareable fiction, though!)
Shareable content needs to be relatable, aspirational, and reliable.
One of the books I share all the time is Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. If you page through my copy, you’ll see that nearly every other page is littered with marginalia: notes to myself, stars, underlined quotes. That’s because there were so many times while reading this book that I thought to myself, “YES! That’s exactly how I feel; I just never thought to express it that way.” There is a level of shared understanding. I think, “This author gets me. I’m not alone.” We are on the same page (literally and metaphorically).
Shareable content should leave readers with the feeling that we have something in common. That feeling of mutuality, commonality, empathy, whatever you want to call it, is so powerful. It inherently demands to be spread.
I often hear authors and bloggers talk about “Tweetable” content: Sentences or phrases that capture this element of relatability, but are short enough that readers could easily quote it in a 140-character tweet. It’s a smart way of crafting sentences, making it easy for people to share them. For example, this sentence from Daring Greatly is perfectly Tweetable:
“If we own the story, we get to narrate the ending.” – Brene Brown
Authors shouldn’t write entirely in 140-character sentences, though. Not every sentence can or should be “Tweetable,” because one of the reasons those sentences are so powerful is that they stand out. They’re balanced with longer, meatier sentences. Tweetable quotes are like spices, to be sprinkled throughout the main dish, adding flavor and excitement to the more nutritious pieces.
You might also experiment by using what I call “highlightable” content—sentences or even short paragraphs that are too long to be tweeted, but still pack an emotional punch. Highlightable content can be just as powerful at motivating people to share. For example, these sentences are way too long to be tweeted, but I’d sure use them in a blog post, read them out loud to my friend, or snap a picture of the book page itself:
“It doesn’t matter if the group is a church or a gang or a sewing circle or masculinity itself, asking members to dislike, disown, or distance themselves from another group of people as a condition of ‘belonging’ is always about control and power. I think we have to question the intentions of any group that insists on disdain toward other people as a membership requirement.” – Brene Brown
Shareable content doesn’t just inspire a feeling of “Me too”; it also creates a sense that “You have what I want.” With Brene Brown’s book, the title says it all: I want to be daring greatly, too! Show me how!
This is the seductive quality that is easily seen with food blogs, design shows, and Instagram stylists. They paint a vision of a life I want to have for myself. They give me a glimpse of who I want to be, and who I could be. This vision isn’t too far out of reach; it’s attainable and doable. This type of content makes a promise: “Read this/watch this/follow this/buy this, and you’ll be happier in this one area.” They are careful not to promise too much, because then it wouldn’t be believable. They promise just enough to inspire action.
Sometimes the promise is much more subtle, as with Brene Brown’s book. The promise is a change of perspective, a mindset shift, more satisfaction in one area of your life. For example, I often share Alexandra Franzen’s “Your life is a hot date. Show up.” In fact, this post is so meaningful to me that I put it in my bio (see below at the end of this post!). I love this post because it inspires a subtle shift in my mindset: What if I woke up and began every day with “hot date ferocity”? What if I took the energy and excitement I feel when I’m going on a date and applied it to even the mundane parts of my life? I’d get so much more done! I’d be so much happier doing those mundane things!
Aspirations are calls to action. They demand a response. Usually that response isn’t limited to striving to attain that aspiration; there’s also a level of declaring your aspiration. This is what Pinterest thrives on; people pin those scrumptious-looking balsamic vinaigrette brussels sprouts and DIY gold glitter lampshades and 5 Secrets to Beautiful Tanned legs not just so they won’t forget, but so that other people can see what they care about and what interests them. It’s tiny, subtle way of saying, “Look at what I will attain.”
It’s not enough to make a promise. You actually have to deliver on that promise. Your content will not be shared if you lose your readers’ trust.
Michael Hyatt is a great example of someone whose work I find completely trustworthy. Michael writes about building a platform, writing, leadership, business ethics, work/life balance, and general life skills. I started following Michael when I learned about his book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, which gives authors and writers solid advice for building one of the most valuable resources an author can leverage: their clout, credibility, and celebrity. Michael himself is the past CEO of Thomas Nelson, a very well respected Christian publisher. Under Michael’s leadership, Thomas Nelson became a thriving publisher, and probably the best known in its field. If you watch Michael’s videos or listen to his podcasts, he talks often about his past experiences because he knows that they build his audience’s trust.
Michael Hyatt makes promises and fulfills them. His newest project is a book called Living Forward, which offers what Michael calls his recipe for a “designed” life. Michael promises that if you feel your life is either drifting or driven, you can achieve balance by making use of the Life Plan within his book. I pre-ordered it because I highly trust and respect Michael himself; he’s proven himself to me many times before.
Sharing content doesn’t just say something about the content itself; it also reflects upon the person who shared it. Readers need to have confidence and faith in the author in order to feel comfortable sharing that person’s content.