You will probably share this without reading it

Last year Dan Zarella did some research into social sharing, and something fascinating emerged.  He discovered that 16% of us regularly retweet content without having read what we’re sharing.

Some further analysis by Chartbeat has supported these findings.  They found that many of us are sharing content online that we either haven’t read fully, or in many cases haven’t even read at all!

They looked across the sites they monitor to try and determine how many tweets an article had compared to how many people made it all the way to the end of the article.  You can see from the chart below that there was very little comparison between how much of the article was read and the number of tweets made about the article.

All of which probably isn’t that surprising.  We know for instance that the longer people have to focus on something online, the less likely they are to complete that task before being distracted away to do something else.  This trend has only deepened with social media.
If nothing else, it emphasises the importance of having an excellent headline that tempts people to share your content.  That was certainly one of the findings from a study by MIT last year.  They provided 10 tips for securing more retweets based upon their research, with an attention grabbing headline securing 40% more retweets than normal.  If it’s relevant to your followers, they showed that this was likely to give your chances a 41% boost.
Of course, we should say that the Chartbeat research showed that the vast majority of readers make it to the end of an article, so maybe all those retweets aren’t so effective after all, but then research from Penn State showed that high traffic numbers made bloggers feel more motivated about their task, so maybe it doesn’t really matter after all if people make it to the end.

30 thoughts on “You will probably share this without reading it

  1. Very much the nature of the web isn't it? There's so much content out there that people have very short attention spans.

  2. This is just how it is though. If you want to keep up with what's happening you have to be economical with your time. I always have several tabs open when I browse, so for something to catch my attention it needs to be really good.

    • Yes, it's an interesting point Nick. With many people just coming onto one page to read a particular article, they can often have a successful experience, even whilst rendering a 'bounce' in the analytics.

  3. Great insights Adi. The social proof of share counts oftentimes doesn't correlate with people who have clicked through on the post, although the distribution of social shares will oftentimes increase reach to the point that readership will come. But as you say – sometimes it doesn't (even if it makes us feel good!) Great piece.

    • Thanks for stopping by Jim. It's always interesting to see at what stage social shares are triggered. I knew about the sharing via headlines alone stat, but having the extra information on how many shares derive from various portions of content is particularly interesting.

  4. Those who blog would do well to remember this statistic. Also, it should inspire them to practice the rules of good journalism (that, unfortunately, few professional journalist practice these days). Headlines have to be "grabbers". (I prefer questions.) Content should be presented in order of diminishing importance. As to those who retweet without even reading, please feel free to continue that practice as often as you like with my tweets.

    • Thanks for stopping by Jack. It's great in many ways that we now have an increasing array of stats available to us to show just how people are finding the content we create.

  5. I think there are cases where it makes sense to share a post without reading it, depending on the source and the target. If I think a follower of mine will find a post valuable and it has been shared by someone who consistently shares valuable and relevant stuff, (Jim Dougherty is a good example 🙂 ) then I will forward it. Sometimes I go back and read a post, after someone has thanked me for sharing it with them. I think this could actually be a good way of checking what is worth reading. 🙂

    • Yes, I think you're right there Churchill. Jim is a regular poster of good quality content, and as such you can often trust that what he writes will be worth sharing. Reputation does allow slight shortcuts to be made.

  6. I was tempted to retweet this article without reading it, but nah… LOL
    I seldomly share any content without reading it, to be honest. I have done it a few times when going through my Triberr stream, and only with engaging titles and, more importantly, because I knew the author or had shared previously his or her content, knowing the quality level usually there.

    In many ways, though, these findings are not so different than how we behave with traditional media, where we tend to read titles, and only a fraction of readers go through and read every article all the way to the end. But for sharing, one must use caution because one might end up sharing viewpoints or authors which may offend one's audience.

    Good stuff Adi, as usual. Cheers from Quebec,

    • I think for many of us in the industry this is something we kinda knew already, but it will no doubt come as a surprise to some who have come from a more traditional media background, where such behaviour is much harder to identify.

  7. Ironically, I read this post Adi. Usually I share yours because I know its not crap. I think if people look at their shares relative to visits to their post it's about a 1:1 relationship. Most of us would need three days to read all we share in a day. If you don't read my content, I'd rather you share that not share. 🙂

  8. Great topic, Adi! I'm not sure if this is my first time leaving a comment here or not – however, thanks for sharing such a engaging post. Here's my take on it.

    Rarely do I ever find myself on the fence, but this post has me spit right down the middle.

    I see your point clearly, but I also see how we (bloggers) can end up getting sucked in, writing for our readers and not expressing who we are.

    The great thing about the internet is that the material or content will always be available to our readers. It would behoove us to remember that not everyone works from home, is accessible to get online at all times of the ay, and might not have had the day to read the content. Who knows… it could literally be a host of various scenarios. Then there's the case of one's personal preferences and interest part of the discussion.

    As for me, whenever people share my material without reading it, I am simply grateful they felt compelled to do so. It tells me that they trusted me as a writer, which rightfully deserves my heartfelt gratitude and thankfulness. At least, that's what I am non-verbally expressing and more than likely thinking when I find myself sharing a post without having read it. I have in some way or the other likely made contact with the author, and they overtime have consistently gained my trust and support.

    However, that shoe always seems to fit a little differently when it's our turn to wear the same shoe, doesn't it. :))

    • Thanks for stopping by Deone. I suppose the key takeaway is that the number of shares is not really a good metric for determing the success (or otherwise) of a piece of content. You should aim to go a bit deeper.

  9. It's not a good idea to share stuff without reading it. If you want to provide quality to your audience, you want to know what you are sharing. Moreover, if you get a response, you want to be able to respond quickly and authoritatively.

  10. Clearly a cheeky/catchy headline entices you to read. Old school journos and editors would know this from newspapers. I think the same rules apply about your social media content.

  11. I'm actully surprised by the number, 16%. I thought it would be between 20%-25%.

    I suppose at the end of the day a retweet is a retweet but I can't help but wonder how much of an effect a lower percentage than 16% could have on a campaigns numbers–if any.

  12. I think that a catch headline makes you want to read but sadly our attention span has gotten small due to the endless distractions online! I think that providing valuable content that your target audience want to read, bookmark and share is key to engagement. Thanks for a thought provoking post.

  13. What gets me is the whole 'RTs do not equal endorsements' nonsense. That kinda suggests that they're not bothering to read what they share. Why would you retweet something you don't agree with?

  14. I can't understand why you'd do it. Twitter is supposed to be a personal and social network, so why would you share something that you can't reliably endorse?

  15. What’s funny is that even in an article such as this, that seeks to describe and uncover the reasons why people do not finish an article, I find myself skimming down through this, only slowing my descent to pick up on a word or sentence that I determine to be relevant an important.

  16. You’ll be pleased to hear that I read all the way from start to finish. I think we have all become “skimmers” we even do it with books, jumping through paragraphs only gleeming the information that jumps out.

  17. I usually read an article by scrolling through it and read the conclusion first. From that I can usually see if it interesting or not. If interesting I go back to the beginning again and read through it all.

  18. Because my Twitter account is a business account, I make a point of not RT anything without reading it. I need to ensure the info in the link will be valuable to followers and doesn’t contain inappropriate content that could potentially harm my brand.

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