The true power of social media is the ability to get dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people to share your messages, but people won’t share just anything. In fact, today’s online customers are more discerning than ever. That’s why it’s essential to focus your social media strategy only on the most shared content – the post formats that are likely to result in the most shares.

The good news is that, in 2018, there’s an enormous amount of data available to show us what types of content still consistently earn high levels of engagement.

The statistics on the most shared content

The stats for 2017 are in, and they show some pretty important trends for social media marketers:

Even from this handful of stats, examining only the largest social media platforms, the trend is clear: the future isn’t just digital, it’s visual. Without fail, the posts that become the most shared content on social media contain some visual component.

Ephemeral content

The other content format you need to be paying attention to is ephemeral content. Ephemeral content is visual content that is only available for a limited period of time. This is the type of content that drives Snapchat, as well as Instagram Stories, which now has 250 million active users.

As a small business owner you probably don’t want to sink a lot of resources into temporary content, but adding some ephemeral content to your strategy is worth considering. This is particularly true if your products/services are intended for a younger audience, as they tend to be most drawn to this type of content.

Paid advertising

Finally, we need to take notice of the increasing importance of paid advertising across social media. Facebook’s organic reach has dropped consistently and updates in early 2018 threaten to kill it entirely. Instagram’s still a great place for organic engagement, but their advertising profits are expected to grow to $7 billon in 2018, up almost $5 billion from 2016. Even LinkedIn ads saw significant growth in 2017.

The shift to paid ads will likely continue, and businesses that don’t create a social media advertising budget will be left behind.

The types of content that become the most shared content

The content you want to share varies by platform, but there are some things that work on any platform. Today we’ll take a look at three of them: breaking news, heartwarming stories, practical advice, and behind the scenes content.

Breaking news

It’s not easy to be at the forefront of breaking news on a regular basis, but news is one of the most successful forms of content across social media. It’s particularly popular on Twitter, where responses to breaking news comprised eight of Twitter’s top nine Tweets in 2017.


Luckily there’s some good news for you, hidden right in that last sentence: responses to breaking news. Your responses might not get the same level of engagement as Barack Obama’s, but you don’t need to break the news yourself to get like-minded souls sharing your content.

That said, always think before you post a response. You still need to balance the personal and the professional, and your responses need to match the tone of the event. Your personal nature might be to turn upsetting things into a joke, but on social media, responding to a tragedy with a joke will land your brand firmly in controversy.

Heartwarming stories

Heartwarming stories work because they make people feel good, and everybody likes feeling good. More importantly, we like passing that feeling on, because it makes us feel even better. Many of the most shared content on social media in 2017, like this story of Mexican bakers supporting Hurricane Harvey Victims, featured heartwarming stories.

Hurricane Harvey pan dulce we are going to take to those in need. Bakers we're stuck inside for two days! We will announce when we open our stores again.

Posted by El Bolillo Bakery on Monday, August 28, 2017

Don’t have a heartwarming story to tell off the top of your head? Don’t worry: you can use one that’s already gaining social media traction. Share it on your page with your own personal take on the story, and invite people to share it and expand the conversation. Curated posts can be just as valuable, sometimes even more valuable, than content you create yourself. Most top social media marketers’ content streams contain as much as 25% curated content.

Practical advice

What’s another way to make people feel good? Help them solve a problem! In fact, this is so effective that five of the top shared posts on Facebook in 2017 are videos featuring practical tips.

Some of your practical advice can even be directly related to your brand, like tutorials showing how to use your products, but keep this to a minimum.

Behind the scenes content

One of the major reasons why people are drawn to social media is because it allows them to form more personal relationships with the celebrities and brands they care about. They want to get to know you and your process.

Behind the scenes videos are particularly effective on YouTube, with some YouTubers like Philip Defranco routinely publishing behind the scenes vlogs.

Practical ways to create shareable content

91% of retail brands are already using at least two social media platforms. Of those, 60% are already using video marketing. Even more are using visual marketing of some kind, with 25 million business profiles on Instagram alone. The competition is fierce.

This means that it’s not enough to simply create photos and videos on the fly and post them across all your social media accounts. You need to make sure you’re producing consistent, high quality content that appeals to your audience’s emotions.

Here are some tips to help you produce the most shared content on social media:

1. Invest in your social media marketing

The ability to share your brand for free might have been the original draw of social media, but that ability is growing smaller every year. If you want to capitalize on the organic reach you still do have, you need to produce quality visual content. This means you either need to learn graphic design, photography, and videography, or pay other people to do these things for you. You may also need to rent or buy equipment and software.

If you’re running a small business this might seem like one more thing ready to break the bank, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to see results. We’ve had great results commissioning simple WordPress comics for our ThemeIsle and CodeinWP blogs, like the one below:

Our most shared content - A funny post on acne

You can learn more about this experiment, and our other social media experiments, in Episode Two of our ongoing social media case study. For now, let’s stick with the basics. Short comics like this one attract people’s attention because they’re unique and funny. People want to share them so their social media connections can laugh too. And they don’t have to cost a lot of money. Consider working with a skilled art or graphic design student if your budget is really tight.

You’ll also want to set aside at least a small budget for paid social media advertising. This doesn’t have to be an enormous amount, but it should be at least enough to run some advertising experiments in 2018. Facebook advertising is growing more expensive, but you can still run a good test for less than $100.

2. Adapt blog content for visual media

You need to up your visual content game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean creating content from scratch. You can use research you’ve already done for a blog post and adapt that into visual content instead.

We did this with our article about the best times to post on social media. Here are the share counts for the original article (tallied by SharesCount:

original post shares count

And here are the numbers for the infographic that we made with the same data:

infographic shares count

As you can see, the infographic version got more than 15 times as many shares as the original article. You can use your own research to achieve something similar.

3. Curate excellent content

You know what else you don’t have to do? Create all the content you share on social media. In fact, most successful social media accounts don’t create all of their content. Some of it is curated from other sources, like this article The Creative Penn shared about technology that used to be science fiction:


You can easily curate content relevant to your brand with a tool like Hootsuite, which lets you monitor keywords and influencer accounts related to your business. This can help you choose the content that’s already getting the most shares on social media and join the conversation.

Final thoughts on what goes into producing the most shared content on social media

The data is clear: the posts that become the most shared content on social media in 2018 use high quality visual elements to tell a story. You’re only going to get noticed if your content meets today’s standards, and paid advertising might soon become mandatory.

If you want to significantly expand your reach on social media in 2018, be prepared to invest significant time and at least a little bit of money to make it happen. But don’t be disheartened: it is still possible to get noticed on social media, even in 2018.

What were your most successful social media posts in 2017? Let us know in the comments section below!