Content Consumption vs. Content Sharing: What Brands Need to Know

Content Consumption vs. Content Sharing: What Brands Need to Know

There’s a big difference between the content your audience consume versus what they share online. In order to make their content marketing strategies maximally effective, brands need to know what it means when consumers choose to consume rather than share it – and when to prioritise producing one kind of content over the other.

According to a new research paper published by Outbrain, the relationship that exists between consuming content and sharing content is surprisingly low. By looking at over a billion data points, the authors analysed two types of user interactions with online content – private engagement (measured in page views and click-through rate) and social engagement (measured in Facebook shares and shares on other popular networks). They then show that, whilst it may be common sense to assume that content that receives lots of clicks will be shared more often, the truth is that this is often not the case. So why is this? And what can content marketers learn from the results?

Content marketers use engagement levels to make decisions about their content strategy. However, if it’s the case that certain types of content can receive extremely high private engagement rates without eliciting a similar amount of social engagement, then brand marketers should have an understanding of the sorts of content that may have this effect (or, indeed, the opposite effect) so as to decide whether it is worth producing them. According to Outbrain’s paper, lots of content is of this type. For example, content, which focuses on sex, crime and celebrities, is often consumed in vast amounts, but predominately privately. Whereas content, which focuses on books, music and careers, is often shared, though not always privately consumed (Content that focuses on parenting and movies has a much stronger consuming/sharing correlation).

High Private Engagement/ Low Social Sharing





Medical Issues



Low Private Engagement/ High Social Sharing








High Private Engagement/ High Social Sharing


Local Issues


Healthy Living



Put in these terms, the research seems correct – certain topics can be of interest to users but they may not feel comfortable sharing them, and vice versa; social media users may not wish to be identified with everything they read, and may like to be identified with content which they don’t. Whilst it may be hard to create content that achieves high levels of both types of interactions, depending on your brand and content marketing objectives, it may be wise to focus on either content that achieves lots of social shares or content that is consumed privately in large amounts – or attempt to balance both. This will ensure that your creative content production remains effective and aligned with your content marketing objectives.

Though the authors present only the raw data, without giving recommendations for how brand marketers should understand and apply the results, some immediate implementations spring to mind. For example, getting high levels of social shares is desirable for brands seeking to grow their social media follower base and improve brand/message awareness. Such companies, then, would do well to align their branded content with the topics that are most likely to generate shares. On the other hand, companies seeking to improve click-throughs and page visits would fare better if they focused on content designed to be consumed privately. If you’d like some advice about which topics work well for each of these objectives, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

As social media becomes an ever more important aspect of modern life, our understanding of how people actually use it will continue to get better. Those attempting to use social media to reach consumers should be aware of the insights that new scientific research into social media use offers. This paper is a great example of how the combination of digital data and behavioural science can deliver unprecedented insights!

If you’d like to learn about what other factors can affect social sharing, take a look at StoryScience’s new whitepaper – The Science of Sharable Content.

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