How do you get your content shared and then reshared? Columnist Mark Traphagen discusses how to cultivate an audience that will help your content spread like wildfire.

If you invest time in cre­at­ing high-qual­i­ty con­tent, you want it to get shared far and wide. Few things are more reward­ing than see­ing your work catch fire across the web. If you’re blog­ging for busi­ness pur­pos­es, get­ting your con­tent spread can play a major role in grow­ing your busi­ness.

So what do you think plays the biggest role in deter­min­ing whether strangers to your brand will reshare your con­tent? As the click baiters say, “The answer will shock you!”

The likely suspects

Who shared your content


If I asked you to guess the answer to my ques­tion posed above, I’d bet that you would respond with one or more of the fol­low­ing:

  • Qual­i­ty of the con­tent: Cer­tain­ly, qual­i­ty has to be in the mix. In the era of “Con­tent Shock,” read­ers know they have lots of con­tent to choose from and only so much they can actu­al­ly read and then put into their shar­ing feeds. In addi­tion, whether con­scious­ly or uncon­scious­ly, shar­ers are aware that what they share with their friends reflects on their own rep­u­ta­tions, so they are less like­ly to share junk.
  • Type of con­tent: Research released by Buz­zSumo reveals that cer­tain types of con­tent (such as research stud­ies, “how to’s” and case stud­ies) tend to get more wide­ly shared in the B2B space.
  • Brand and/or author rep­u­ta­tion: It seems log­i­cal that peo­ple will be more will­ing to share con­tent that comes from a brand or author they already like or trust. As I said above, shar­ers are aware that what they share reflects back on them, and they want to be asso­ci­at­ed with brands and peo­ple who are cool, well-thought-of and pop­u­lar.

While all of those almost cer­tain­ly play a role in pre­qual­i­fy­ing your con­tent for mass shar­ing, it turns out there is a hid­den fac­tor that almost no one takes into con­sid­er­a­tion.

Trust starts with your audience

Accord­ing to research con­duct­ed by the Amer­i­can Press Insti­tute, “when Amer­i­cans encounter news on social media, how much they trust the con­tent is deter­mined less by who cre­ates the news than by who shares it.” Put more sim­ply: Peo­ple eval­u­ate whether to re-share some­thing based more on who shared it with them than on where the con­tent came from.

The exper­i­ment looked at how like­ly and under what cir­cum­stances peo­ple were will­ing to reshare a piece of con­tent. When the con­tent came from a known and trust­ed friend, test sub­jects were much more like­ly to share it with their friends, regard­less of whether they knew or trust­ed the orig­i­nal source. The exper­i­menters com­pared this to a con­trol group who saw con­tent from known and trust­ed sources, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly shared by their friends. This group was much less like­ly to re-share.

Not only did the first group share more fre­quent­ly, but they were also much more like­ly to fol­low the orig­i­nal source and to sign up for updates from that source.

The value of your audience

Ml has great content

That find­ing car­ries a stag­ger­ing impli­ca­tion: When it comes to spread­ing your con­tent, your own audi­ence is either your great­est asset or your biggest bar­ri­er.

Typ­i­cal­ly in social media, we pro­mote our con­tent first and most vig­or­ous­ly to peo­ple who are already our fans. For organ­ic post­ing, they are the peo­ple most like­ly to see it any­way.

But accord­ing to Scott Strat­ten, pres­i­dent of UnMar­ket­ing, your real job is get­ting through to the sec­ond and third cir­cles of your fans. The first cir­cle is the group men­tioned pre­vi­ous­ly, those who already fol­low you. The sec­ond cir­cle is their fol­low­ers, and the third the peo­ple who fol­low the sec­ondary fol­low­ers.

The Amer­i­can Press Insti­tute study tells us that whether we break through to that sec­ond cir­cle (let alone the third cir­cle) is very depen­dent on who is in our first cir­cle.

Giv­en this new research, you should be ask­ing your­self these ques­tions:

  • How good is my audi­ence?
  • How like­ly are they to be peo­ple with good, rel­e­vant audi­ences them­selves?
  • How like­ly are they to be trust­ed sources to their fol­low­ers?

It does no good to have tens of thou­sands of fol­low­ers if they don’t hold up after you ask those ques­tions.

Evaluating your audience

Just how good is your social media audi­ence? Eval­u­ate your fol­low­ing on each net­work by these cri­te­ria:

  • Rel­e­vance: How well are your fol­low­ers aligned with your brand and its cen­tral themes? Are many of them in relat­ed indus­tries, or active in inter­ests or activ­i­ties that typ­i­fy your cus­tomers?
  • Influ­ence: Are at least some of your fol­low­ers con­sid­ered influ­encers in top­ics rel­e­vant to your busi­ness?
  • Reach: How often and how much are your fol­low­ers’ posts reshared by their fol­low­ers?
  • Engage­ment: How much does your fol­low­er base engage with your posts? For key fol­low­ers you iden­ti­fy via the first three met­rics, how often are they engaged by their fol­low­ers?

These cri­te­ria should give you some idea of the true val­ue of your audi­ence. The high­er your fol­low­ing scores in more of those cat­e­gories, the more like­ly it is they are con­duits rather than road­blocks to your con­tent.

Building a valuable audience

So what if you are just start­ing out in pro­mot­ing your con­tent via social media? Or per­haps the eval­u­a­tion out­lined above has made you real­ize your audi­ence isn’t as valu­able as you’d like. What can you do to build a fol­low­ing on social media that is more like­ly to help spread your con­tent to the right peo­ple?

Here are some steps to start with:

  1. Fol­low only legit­i­mate, rel­e­vant accounts. The first step is to clean up your own fol­low habits. What I’ve shared with you in this arti­cle is why buy­ing fol­low­ers or engag­ing in fol­low­er hack­ing schemes have so lit­tle val­ue. Since your first goal is to build an audi­ence out of the peo­ple you fol­low and engage with, make sure they are real and valu­able.
  2. Craft your con­tent and shares to your audi­ence. Don’t waste the pre­cious time and lim­it­ed atten­tion of your first-cir­cle fol­low­ers. Make sure they come to rely on you for only high-lev­el con­tent and inter­est­ing, sharable social posts. Strive to be the kind of account that peo­ple want to add to their “can’t miss” lists.
  3. Reg­u­lar­ly engage with your first cir­cle. “Engag­ing with your fans” has been repeat­ed so often in social media tips that it’s become a cliché. I hope, though, that this arti­cle has helped blow the dust off it for you. Your fol­low­ers are more like­ly to share your con­tent if they feel some per­son­al con­nec­tion with you.
  4. Feed your inner cir­cle. Obvi­ous­ly, no mat­ter how well you work on the qual­i­ty of your fol­low­ing, not every­one is going to car­ry the kind of trust and influ­ence with their friends that get their shares of your con­tent reshared. Learn to iden­ti­fy those who seem to have that mag­ic pow­er to push through to your sec­ond cir­cles, and cul­ti­vate your rela­tion­ship with them by reshar­ing their con­tent and engag­ing with their posts.

If you want to be suc­cess­ful in organ­ic social media, the qual­i­ty and rel­e­vance of your fol­low­ers are crit­i­cal. Invest at least as much time in cul­ti­vat­ing your audi­ence as you do in cre­at­ing your con­tent and social media posts.