To answer this question we reviewed two billion articles and Facebook posts that were published this year. We set out our findings below, including:
- The content (articles, videos, and blog posts) that were most shared on Facebook
- The viral Facebook posts that gained the most engagement
- Expert reflections on the findings and the lessons for content marketers
“It's both terrifyingly interesting and interestingly terrifying”
According to VICE, TNW Conference is quite the event
Reality check for the rest of us: These top articles and posts were exceptional outliers and we cannot expect to replicate their success. However, we can learn from them to gain deeper insights into the kinds of content that engage Facebook audiences. In this post we discuss the implications for content creators with commentary from marketing and publishing experts.
The two tables below show the most shared content on Facebook and the top viral Facebook posts this year. The links to the content items are in the discussion of the articles after the table.
The most shared content on Facebook 2017
As we can see below Facebook audiences readily share entertaining, inspiring and heart-warming content published outside the platform. Music videos topped the charts this year with three of the top ten posts. We can also observe a strong tribal element when it comes to the sharing of political and opinion content. There were two political posts in the top ten.
The most viral Facebook posts in 2017
When it comes to Facebook posts, the top posts were almost exclusively videos. Only three of the top 20 posts were not videos. The most popular topics were:
- Practical hacks (five of the top 10 posts were practical tips)
- Awesome and inspiring content
- Food and recipes (five of the top 25 posts were food posts)
- Cute animals
- Music videos
Four of the top 20 most shared Facebook posts were in Spanish. One of the top 20 posts was in French.
For a detailed analysis of the most engaging videos see our previous analysis of 100m Facebook videos.
The top content shared on Facebook in 2017
For shorthand, we often refer to total shares though technically the Facebook figure is engagements as it also includes Likes and Comments, both of which can cause content to be shared. You can argue that a share is stronger engagement than a like, and a comment is stronger still, and we should weight them, but that’s a long argument, and it’s nearly Christmas. So let’s keep it simple.
To find out more on the headlines that engage people on Facebook, see our review of 100m headlines and the top phrases that engage people on Facebook.
To search for the most shared content on any website or for any topic go to BuzzSumo.
The most shared content on Facebook this year was a YouTube music video ‘Despacito‘ by Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi featuring Puerto Rican rapper Daddy Yankee. This song reached the top of the charts in 47 countries and was the first song primarily in Spanish to top the Billboard Hot 100 since 1996. Never heard it? Yes, you have. The video has been viewed 4 trillion times, yep that is trillion. But why not add one more count to the pile and give it another whirl.
Music videos remain one of the most shared forms of content. This video by Ed Sheeran was the second most shared content on Facebook gaining almost 10m shares.
The third biggest music video was the Thai video ‘I’ve been crying’ by Prue Nakarin (ทุกคนเคยร้องไห้ – ป้าง นครินทร์) which gained over 4.5m interactions.
Videos by Coldplay, Taylor Swift, and Enrique Iglesias also gained over 3m Facebook interactions. Disclaimer: BuzzSumo makes no endorsement of the quality or earworm-ness of these tunes. What do we know? Less than Tay Tay it seems.
Breaking news and exclusives
People are quick to share breaking news on Facebook. Over 44% of Americans get their news from Facebook (fake or otherwise). However, the sharing can be very fragmented as there are often tens if not hundreds of articles on the same news story. In this example, the initial exclusive reporting of the suicide of Chester Bennington by TMZ gained over 7m Facebook engagements. This particular story may have gained extra traction as it is about a musician, but also because it was a very tragic human story.
Viral quizzes still appear to do well though we are seeing less engagement than in previous years. Possibly this format’s hitting a saturation point, though this quiz from Women.com gained over 5m shares.
As we have reported in previous studies, viral quizzes may get shares on Facebook but no one links to them, possibly because they’re more just fun and not evergreen referenceable content. This quiz got backlinks from only seven domains according to Majestic and only 16 links from five domains according to Moz despite over 5m shares. If you want to build content that gains links there are better forms of content than quizzes.
Encouraged by the success of this post in January, Women.com ran another version, “Can You Pass This Advanced Grammar Test?”, which gained 3.7m shares. Following the old publisher adage, ‘if it works, do it again’ the site published over 200 quizzes this year, 19 of which gained over 1m shares each.
Another popular form of the quiz is the personality type. Thanks to Cosmopolitan and many other magazines for this format. The trick about this is to ensure the answer makes the user looks intelligent, unique, and all round amazing, so they share the results. What State Should You Move To Based On Your Personality? gained over 3m Facebook Interactions. See you in Idaho.
Travel and adventure
One theme that runs through popular Facebook content is travel and adventure. They tend to be inspirational, visually beautiful, and divert us from reality (possibly the point of Facebook?).
This next article promoting a train ride through America’s most beautiful sites clearly resonated with over 3.8m Facebook engagements.
Feeling good is good for you, and good for Facebook engagements. This heartwarming story of Mexican bakers supporting the victims of flooding after Hurricane Harvey was widely shared on Facebook, gaining over 2.4m engagements. It was the top post from The Independent newspaper this year.
There are other examples of heartwarming, feel-good stories that were shared on Facebook. For example, a video of Garth Brooks giving his guitar to a fan who had cancer had over 2.6m Facebook engagements. The top post on the New York Times this year was this post on Harvey and Irma, a couple married for 75 years who marveled at the storms bearing their names. This post gained over 1.1m Facebook engagements. Maybe they’ll adopt Stormzy and smash the record next year.
Study and research findings
Articles that report the findings of studies tend to do particularly well on Facebook, including ‘science says’ style articles.
This article below reported on a research study from MIT, Northwestern, and University of Florida about the criminal propensity of siblings. This is the type of content that families may share for fun as much as for the value of the research. My eldest actually shared this post on Facebook and tagged his younger sister. It’s a nice example of research and tribal posts combined, and a great way to get at your siblings through social media. The post gained over 2m Facebook engagements.
A similar post, “Study Shows The More You Hang Out With Your Mom, The Longer She’ll Live”, reported on research from the University of California, San Francisco showing that loneliness plays a large role in the decline so often associated with old age. This post also received over 2m Facebook interactions. Another example is “Scientists Say That Being Forgetful Is Actually A Sign You Are Unusually Intelligent“. This post got over 1.4m Facebook engagements (approximately – we forget the exact figure).
The article below covered a more controversial research report on the impact and effectiveness of flu vaccines. This was a study report which may also have been shared by people to inform their friends. The post gained over 1.9m Facebook engagements.
Cute animal videos
Trends come and go but cute animal videos are forever. They’re well known as one of the most popular forms of content on Facebook. Marking a change from cat videos, this video of a seal that likes its tummy tickled (don’t we all) gained over 1.9m Facebook engagements. Cats: You need to up your game in 2018.
As we will see below, some of the most popular Facebook posts were also animal videos.
Tribal political posts
The most shared article on Huffington Post this year was a political viewpoint “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people“.
Tribal political posts have grown over the last year.
Two of the most shared gained over 3m Facebook engagements each. The first was this article by American Bacon on ‘President Trump requiring ‘welfare to work’ – the free ride is ending’. The second was this article ‘20 Million Muslims March Against ISIS and The Mainstream Media Completely Ignores It‘. Both are strong opinion articles. The latter article takes a specific view or opinion of the events. Some might argue a more accurate title would be “Millions of Muslims take part in mass pilgrimage of Arbaeen – in spite of Isis”. The petition to impeach President Trump also gained over 2m shares.
It appears people share content on Facebook to support their particular political tribe or viewpoint. Often political posts have far more shares than likes or reactions. There is some evidence that the more partisan the content, the more that particular tribe will share it. That has echo chamber side effects of course – the more you like content that fits your tribe, the less divergent viewpoints you’ll see. Hey, we didn’t make the algorithm, we’re just reporting on it.
Inspiring or amazing images are well shared on Facebook. This stunning image from Bored Panda received over 1.6m engagements on Facebook:
This next post describes the highs and lows of being a mom. It is a powerful post by Bethany Jacobs with a message to all moms. The post gained over 1.6m Facebook engagements. It’s an appeal to the most powerful tribe in the world.
Practical and health content
Health content is a perennial favorite on Facebook, including the secrets to a long life. This next post was a practical and informative post using lemons to demonstrate what breast cancer can look and feel like.
This topical opinion post on The Atlantic gathered over 700,000 shares, but also over 2,600 links. Many of the statistics in the article have been widely challenged, but the question “have smartphones destroyed a generation?” clearly resonated with Facebook audiences.
Opinion posts on in-vogue topical discussions appear to get shared widely. This next post from The New Yorker explored why facts don’t change our minds. Ironic given some of the fact-free content that’s gone viral this year. The post gained almost 500,000 Facebook engagements.
Secrets of Life and Love
The secret to a long and happy life is another perennial favorite topic, especially when they’re in the “science says” category. We have picked out a couple of examples below:
The most engaging Facebook posts of 2017
We would emphasize again that these posts are the outliers; they are the very topmost engaging posts.
Many of the pages publishing these posts have huge audiences. For example, First Media Blossom has had more than 31m people like their Facebook page. This potentially enables their posts to achieve very large reach. That said, not all First Media Blossom content achieves such high levels of engagement. And, some posts from sites with smaller audiences also perform well. The most engaging post relative to page audience size was MTV Australia’s video about the millennial generation which achieved over 100m views and 2m shares, with a page audience of 770,000 likes.
This Facebook video of practical everyday hacks was the top Facebook post in 2017. It had over 400m views and was shared over 12m times. It also had over 3m likes and reactions and 186,000 comments. We have no stats on whether people actually decluttered anything after sharing this. But it feels good to know it’s possible.
This post was by no means a one-off for First Media Blossom; they had three posts in the top five most engaging posts this year driven by their large audience. Two of their other practical hack posts, 5 Surprising hacks and 8 ways to transform your wardrobe, each gained over 5m shares and 240m views. This post by Bright Side on awesome ideas for old T-shirts also gained over 4m shares. Leverage a trend, be consistent, and build an audience. That’s how to organize.
People are awesome
This Facebook video posted by People are Awesome (19m page likes) is a celebration of the amazing things that people can do. It gained over 500m views and over 10m shares, likes/reactions, and comments.
This Facebook video posted by GaryTV is a compilation of animals and people being affectionate to one another. It had over 380m views, it was shared almost 10m times, received 3.6m likes and reactions, and attracted over 250,000 comments. In terms of engagement relative to Facebook page likes, this post did better than Blossom and Bright Side, as it gained more engagements than the 6.5m people that have liked the GaryTV page.
Also in the top ten Facebook posts was this video of a cute Panda from iPanda which gained over 6m shares, likes/reactions, and comments.
Music and entertainment
As we saw with the top content above music videos are very popular and get highly shared. This video posted by Tyra Banks was shared over 4m times and had over 5m likes and reactions. Also an example of people being awesome.
Tyra’s Facebook page has had over 8m likes, and her post of a heartwarming video of a young girl singing was also in the top 20 posts with over 5m shares, likes, and comments.
Maybe recipe videos are the ultimate FB post: They’re visual, a hack, appeal to a huge cooking tribe, and inspire us to act. Our previous analysis of 100m Facebook videos found that food videos received more engagements on average than any other topic. Thus it was not a surprise to a see a food video in the top ten posts this year. This video posted by So Yummy had over 270m views, almost 5m shares, 2m likes/reactions, and over 130,000 comments.
This video from Blossom on surprising things you can make with only two ingredients was also in the top twenty posts with over 6m shares, likes, and reactions.
The top non-video post was this set of food recipes. It was also the top Facebook post in Spanish this year with over 5m shares. This post also did well relative to the 3.9m people that have liked Anna’s Facebook page.
The top French post on Facebook this year was also on food. This video on making l’omelette tartine gained over 4.3m shares, likes, and comments.
People share content to show support for their tribe, whether it’s their sports team, their political allegiance, their co-workers, or just people like them e.g. bald men, firstborn children or people with ginger hair. It’s possible to be all three in which case there’s probably a special post just for you. The next three top Facebook posts were all tribal posts in some form.
The top Facebook image post of the year was this one from FC Barcelona, which gained over 5.5m shares and likes/reactions. It was also another example of Spanish content in the top 20 Facebook posts of the year.
b) Generational content and perspectives
This Facebook video posted by MTV Australia focused on the millennial generation. It was viewed over 100m times, shared more than 2m times, and attracted over 80,000 comments. In many ways this could be argued to be the top Facebook post relative to the size of its own page audience; 770,000 people have liked MTV Australia’s page, but this video gained over 2m shares and 100m views.
This post created a lot of heated debate between different generations. For example:
c) Political content
This Facebook video posted by Attn:Video of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s message for Donald Trump about the Paris Climate Agreement was viewed over 77m times, shared over 2m times, and attracted 35,000 comments. There’s passion and rage in here which can inspire tribal engagement if you’re on his side.
Inspiring technology and ideas
People love to share inspiring new technology and ideas. This video post of a boat removing plastic and flotsam from water was shared over 3.8m times and had over 1.4m likes and reactions.
Finally, when I spoke to various people about this research they expected Buzzfeed’s or Donald Trump’s Facebook posts to be near the top. For the sake of completeness, the top Buzzfeed post was a video on the power to live and forgive which gained 3.5m engagements and was viewed 177m times. The top post by Donald Trump was his statement on immigration policy which had over 1m engagements, primarily reactions ranging from love to angry. Controversy and strong opinion continues to provoke engagement.
Summary and reflections
At the start of this post we made clear that these top posts are outliers – they are exceptional and we cannot replicate their success. We should also note that when it comes to Facebook posts, it seems that the size of the audience of the Facebook page is important in helping to achieve reach, even though organic reach is relatively low. Thus, building your Facebook page audience is important.
The research demonstrates that people on Facebook actively share and engage with:
- Music videos, in multiple languages – the top videos were in Spanish, English, and Thai
- Practical videos demonstrating hacks and tips
- Food and recipes, particularly videos
- Awe-inspiring videos and images
- Heartwarming, supportive, and uplifting content including human stories and animals
- Tribal content including political posts, sports posts, and opinion content
- News and findings from the latest studies and scientific research
When it comes to Facebook posts the top posts are almost exclusively videos. What is also interesting is that for many consumer publications, the level of interaction they get when they post directly on Facebook is much higher than for the content published on their own sites. For example:
- Cnet top three website articles had interactions of 80k, 74k, and 65k. Their top three FB page post interactions were 268k, 167k, and 106k
- Mashable top three website articles had interactions of 964k, 783k, and 728k. Their top three FB page post interactions were 2.2m, 1.7m, and 1.2m
- BuzzFeed top three website articles had interactions of 1.4m, 916k, and 873k. Their top three FB page post interactions were 3m, 1.6m, and 1.2m
While traditionally content gains more likes and reactions than shares, this is not always the case. In the examples above there are many where the Facebook post has had far more shares than likes. Good examples are posts on food recipes, new technology, climate change, and the millennial generation.
Mari Smith, the world’s premier Facebook marketing expert, encourages marketers not to gloss over these research findings too quickly: “It might be easy to think that viral success on Facebook is only achievable for B2C, or only for celebrities, or only for brands with major budgets.”
“But there’s absolute gold in this data-backed post that goes hand-in-hand with Facebook’s strong focus on a video-first strategy for the past two years. Facebook is absolutely giving video content — including Facebook Live — high priority visibility in the News Feed.”
“Facebook is on a mission to establish itself as a leading digital streaming television-style platform, essentially competing with YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and more. And, whereas short-form video content on Facebook won the day historically, the company is encouraging longer form video now, as exemplified in this study that BuzzFeed recently conducted with a 14-minute video (mentioned earlier in BuzzSumo’s post here). Facebook is now heavily testing mid-roll video ad breaks as well as pre-roll ads, of 5-15 seconds and so we’ll start to see an increase in reach, visibility, and shares of longer videos. “
“Savvy businesses will achieve much greater organic reach and derive much better ROI for paid promotions by focusing almost exclusively on video content going forward. But the key is to create video content that is highly “thumb-stopping” and highly shareable. BuzzSumo’s detailed analysis here provides amazing food for thought to dramatically improve your video content in 2018, whether you’re an SMB or major brand, and whether you’re industry is B2C or B2B:
- How can you convert your content and expertise into short, practical tutorial-style videos? Around 90 seconds or more is ideal for Facebook.
- Can you put the spotlight more on storytelling by real people in your business for video content? E.g. customer success stories, staff spotlight, heartwarming ways that your business impacts the community, etc.
- Be sure to use stunning imagery and video footage that grabs attention in the first three seconds. (Check out wave.video for a great video app that includes access to 2.5M assets.)”
Matt Navarra, Director of Social Media at The Next Web, believes the findings “underline a lot of the suspicions and predications many people made earlier in the year. Video may be expensive to create, and may take greater effort for publishers to produce, but the reach and engagement they drive is still phenomenal and desirable.”
“The bigger concern that is bubbling beneath the surface for 2018 is how those publishers who pivoted to video will fare if/when Facebook’s algorithm gets tweaked again to favor whatever Mark Zuckerberg’s next business objective is.”
“Content creators have exhausted their tolerance and patience when it comes to dancing to Facebook’s ever-changing and disruptive algorithmic tune. Unfortunately for them, they are somewhat powerless and have little option but to play the game, or leave the party. For now.”
“The top content in 2018 will likely follow a similar formula to the results shown in this analysis. However, Facebook’s VR ambitions may shake things up a bit next year, and the development of its video platform ‘Watch’ may shift the needle towards long-form video being the stand-out format for hit content in 2018.”
Actionable marketing expert Heidi Cohen believes the findings from the research “underscores that marketers must be present and human on this global network. Take your 2018 Facebook marketing cue from the Cluetrain Manifesto: “Be human!” Facebook isn’t about pushing your latest promotion or content. Rather Facebook is about reaching out and engaging with your audience during their “me” time.”
- Be present on Facebook. Don’t limit yourself to your company page. Participate in groups and encourage employees to have individual pages that build community. (Of course, make sure that you outline your social media guidelines!)
- Use videos wherever possible and other visuals to break through. While headlines are key, people are visual beings. Figure out how to transform your information into videos and images that provide new views.
- Find hooks to your products and content that tap into the top topics. The easiest are entertainment and heartwarming stories. “
Mark Traphagen of Stone Temple believes “the chief message to marketers from this study data is the value of understanding and tailoring your content and delivery to user intent. While we often think of “intent” as a search attribute, there is also such a thing as platform intent. For example, at Stone Temple we did a study of why video ranking is so different between Google Search and YouTube, even though both are Google properties. We concluded that the most likely reason behind the great difference in the two ranking algorithms is that users go to YouTube and search for very different reasons.”
“In a similar way, as this study has shown, people come to Facebook with a specific intent, primarily to be distracted and entertained. Of course, the predominance of celebrity, music, animal and human interest content testifies to that. However, the strong showing for certain kinds of data and research studies shows it’s possible to succeed with more serious content if you can present it in a way that is surprising, unexpected, or “gotta see that” interesting. The main point is to keep in mind that to succeed on Facebook your content and promotions need to be adapted to what people expect to get from Facebook, while not compromising your ultimate business goals.”
“On the other hand, you should always consider whether “going viral” is really the best goal for your campaigns. Obviously, none of us would mind having our content in next year’s Buzzsumo “Top Facebook Content of the Year” post! But the chances of that happening are slim. Perhaps a better goal is to pay attention to your specific target audiences and work hard to create content that will resonate with them. 100 engagements from people most likely to become your customers may be worth more to you than 10,000 from people who will never do business with you.”
We hope you can take away some inspiration from our roundup and plan for an even better 2018 on Facebook. We’d love to hear your reflections.