The story behind the story

The online world thrives on shares – the more the better

Piyush Sharma
Updated: Jan 17, 2018 11:49:21 AM UTC

Piyush Sharma is a versatile business leader working at the intersection of business, civil society, academia, social and policy impact. His current pursuits include being an Executive-in-Residence at the Indian School of Business (ISB) besides being a global CEO coach and a C-Suite + Start-up advisor.

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Image: Shutterstock

The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read - Oscar Wilde

However, today, with technology enabling engagement, writing is fun a it aids mutual growth. The online world thrives on likes and shares – the more the better. In this blog, I share my learnings as a publisher and content evangelist, on what makes a content piece go viral.

The golden rule is to treat your content like a game -You don't just write for your audience. Your direct audience is only a channel. You write for your audience's audience - user generated content gone minimal. Like a follow through on your swing in golf, it is self-sustaining and effortless. You don’t waste people’s time. You get retweets, shares, forwards and what have you.

All writing therefore needs to pass through a self-replication index test. Does it lend itself to the share-worthiness test of easy copying. What is true for human genes is true for human memes. You have to appeal to the re-tweeter’s need to appear funny or intelligent or informed or whatever. The power of content is what the reader imagines about the content.

What makes stuff share-worthy is relevancy, timeliness and interest quotient of content. Everything flows from there. Relevancy needs to address speaking to personal interest, addressing a broad demographic and telling a story of change. Every great story is a story of change. Sounding enthusiastic helps and so does using quotations which are succinctly stated and perfectly contained ideas. A great quote can convey a complex concept in just a few words, and in an age of information-overload, this is extremely useful obviously - to cut through.

Other things help too– the platform, your network, right headline, perfect photograph, etc

Purists can lament the art v/s content debate – original thought v/s an inspired copy-paste patchwork with list of hyperlinks or hashtags, lasting v/s momentary appeal, niche v/s mass, quality v/s quantity, etc.

Writing creatively has to be for personal satisfaction but coloring it right for search engines needs to be developed as a skill.

Tell a story therefore but don’t tell it too prose!

Those who succeed - the best of them - are able to achieve a healthy balance between both.

Oscar Wilde’s lament sums it up well – “What the artist cannot see is the obvious. What the common man can see is the obvious. The result is the criticism of the journalist”. What stands out gets remembered; what blends in gets forgotten.

The “White bread” content (not healthy, but very tasty) - the kind of content that is easy to digest, a fun read gets shared more than “Wheat bread” content (not tasty, but very healthy) - the deep dive kind of content that breaks down some difficult topic. The wheat bread content on the other hand gets a lot of references.

The secret to great writing is great reading material. The test for great reading material is its shareability and comments.

Piyush Sharma is a global Tech, Media and entrepreneurial leader with a reputation for value creation and catalytic growth - across large billion dollar enterprises and start-ups.

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