Sharing an article on Facebook is similar to talking to someone you’ve just met.
When you meet someone new you generally say “Nice weather” or “Did you watch that latest episode of Game of Thrones?” Perhaps you’ll say something funny. Maybe you’ll give them a compliment. But you definitely won’t say “Obama needs to get out of office” or “The funny thing about sexism…” Because you just don’t know how the other person will react.
We say light-hearted things because we don’t know the other person very well and we don’t want to get into an argument.
And the same is true on Facebook / Twitter / Google Plus. Most people have lots of social media “friends” that they don’t really know altogether that well. So they don’t feel comfortable sharing serious articles with them.
It’s a royal pain in the ass because we, as writers, want to write important articles and have them read by people all around the world via social media. But it won’t happen.
It won’t happen because serious subjects are for intimate conversations and perhaps lectures. They’re not for broadcasting to every person you know.
In fact, people are so adverse to sharing serious articles that even a technical article on a fun subject probably will not be shared.
I’ll give a great example of this: Video games.
I’ve worked as a games journalist for ten years now. I’ve written many gaming articles for both print and online. And I know one thing without doubt: They are immensely different beasts.
You have to write different articles for magazines and newspapers than you do for your blog.
This is something most magazines have yet to grasp. Even the very best gaming magazines struggle to achieve high numbers of social followers. GamesTM, an absolutely top-notch magazine, has just 3.5k Facebook LIKES and 15k Twitter followers (not much when you consider Grumpy Cat has 8 million followers). EDGE has around 35k. Even the larger websites like Polygon only have half a million, and that’s after a decade of non-stop effort.
You have to write different content for social media than you do for mags and newspapers. And the simple fact of the matter is that the type of content that social media handles well is (unfortunately) fun, simple, and not mentally stimulating.
Incidentally, the same thing is true for videos as it is for articles. You can post a video of a cat falling in the pond and a million people will see it overnight. Post a video that (for instance) takes a scientific look at the anatomy of that cat and you’re likely to not receive any shares at all.
What you’re ultimately left with is the fact that social media simply can’t handle serious subjects.
And that is not surprising.
When you read a book, mag, or newspaper, you read it privately. People don’t know what you’re looking at, so you feel free to explore those pages however you like. You can read that medical article about skin infections because no one knows you’re reading it. It’s a totally different kettle of fish when you ask someone to share an article with every one of their friends.
And that really is the crux of the matter: You’re asking people to share articles with everyone of their friends. And in fact, it’s not just their friends, it’s their co-workers, family, random people who happened to send them friend requests…
If you want to succeed in social media you have to be aware of the fact that you are, essentially, asking your readers to share what they’re reading with the whole world.
And other people will judge people on what they share.
Imagine if your 18 year old male friend shared an article about knitting for grannies. You’d wonder what the heck was up with them.
People are highly sensitive to the ways other people perceive them. If they think there’s any chance that by sharing your article they’ll look bad, they won’t do it.
But you can be smart here.