The Real Top 40 of 2011

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Lori Lewis has spent considerable time studying Facebook’s most shared stories of this year (actually the first 11 months). It’s a fascinating look at Facebook, consumers, and ourselves. Please leave us comments below.

I am frequently asked by Jacobs Media clients, “What works on Facebook?” And that speaks to trying to identify the types of posts that generate likes, comments, and…emotion. Recently, Facebook compiled the Top 40 Most Shared Stories Of 2011.” Everyone talks about “best practices” on Facebook, but the reality is that there is no one formula for success. Every person and every brand in the social media world needs to define its own style of communication.

But Facebook’s list is telling, and hey, we love lists. The thing that really stands out in Facebook’s version of “AT40″ is that you don’t see stories on The Kardashians, “Dancing with the Stars,” or Lady Gaga despite the number of people following them on Twitter.

And with the exception of an infographic on Obama’s and Bush’s effects on the deficit and a story called The Psychology of Revenge: Why We Should Stop Celebrating Osama Bin Laden’s Death,” hard news coverage on the economy, the jobless rate, and other big CNN items are typically not the type of topics that people share the most on Facebook.

Instead, they are often think pieces – unique, human sides of a news story, with occasional pictures or video that elicit real-life emotion and feelings. This might also explain why NPR has been so successful during the past decade. With all the big news stories that we’ve been subjected to, they typically find a way to provide perspective, a personal angle, and a way to better understand the world around us.

For example: We were all moved by A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs.” We were also intrigued by the second most shared story, written by educator Ron Clark who penned, What every teacher wants to tell parents.” Clark made some pretty in your face statements to parents such as, “For starters, we are educators, not nannies.” It wasn’t just parents who connected with Clark’s piece. That’s because whether you have children or not, we were all in school once. It’s a story with a powerful emotional connection. It was for everyone.

Many of these opinionated pieces on the list tap into our tendency to share because it’s someone else saying something that perhaps we’d like to say out loud. Or maybe we just don’t know how to articulate it. Like the content piece A Message to Women from a Man: You Are Not ‘Crazy,’” in which Yashar Ali writes about “gaslighting” – that is, emotional manipulation. Ali notes how “We are conditioned to believe that women’s opinions don’t hold as much weight as [men’s.]” Imagine the freedom women felt when they read that article! You mean we aren’t over-reacting? That sometimes people are just knowingly manipulating women emotionally? It wasn’t just women sharing this story – it was everyone. Once again, a mass appeal topic with a very human side.

These pieces provoke conversation. They stir it up. They move us.

There were a few pictures and videos that made the Top 40 Most Shared list. Whether it was satellite photos of Japan before and after the quake and tsunami, the dog who mourns the death of his owner, a Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan, the video of Sam and Ren ( the 17-month-old twins who carry on a conversation), or of course the video of Ted Williams who held up that roadside sign, “I’m an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times” – these are very real, sometimes raw personal moments that now play out on a global digital stage and affect just about everyone on some level.

Chances are, you remember most of these stories. They trigger emotions from all walks of life, for all kinds of different reasons.

Perhaps author John Steinbeck said it best:


Some people are so perplexed by what “works” on Facebook that they miss the simplicity of Steinbeck’s point. Even when I look at the most shared stories of 2011 at our company’s blog – I see the same thing. Stories about the rise of Pandora (that sure stirred it up in “broadcast radio land’), “Oh Denise,” the first artificial-intelligence D.J., and the so-called” Dying Rock Format” episode that triggered emotion from not just radio insiders but from everyone – because these stories are very personal.

It’s about the feelings the content generates and the amplitude of discussion it spurs. It’s about drawing from a unique experience that stirs up passionate, opinionated responses. It’s about human interest – everyone on all levels

About LoriLewis

Lori Lewis has spent considerable time studying Facebook’s most shared stories of this year (actually the first 11 months). It’s a fascinating look at Facebook, consumers, and ourselves. Please leave us comments below.