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Top six ways to ensure your conservation content gets shared

Ray Dearborn's picture
on March 11, 2015 - 1:04pm

In three years at Upwell, we’ve played a lot with content. We’ve remixed, rewritten, repackaged, curated, and amplified. We’ve looked for the most shareable content - the most captivating videos, the powerful images, the inspirational quotes - and tried to get more people to see and share. We’ve also looked for the content that was important and groundbreaking, but not yet shareable - the scientific studies, the policy papers - and tried to find ways to make it shareable.

Over the years, we’ve told you what we've learned about how to package your content so it’s the most shareable. Here are our top tips.

1. Always appeal to high energy emotions

Videos that merely educate are less shareable than those that tell a story that will captivate. There are a wide range of emotions you can appeal to, from awe to humor to fear to schadenfreude. When crafting your content, whether it’s a blog post, an image, or a video, think about what emotion you are trying to inspire.

Last year’s controversial Facebook experiment, which manipulated the emotions of Facebook users, showed that the emotions of your peers on social media influence your own. While we hate to use the findings of an experiment that toyed with basic notions of privacy, we did take away that if we want to inspire hope for the ocean, we should communicate hope. And, indeed, we have read that high energy emotions (like awe and excitement) are more likely to be shared than low energy emotions (like sadness or contentment), and positive emotions are more engaging on social media than negative emotions.

In our research into the online conversation about California’s marine protected areas (MPAs), we learned that social media posts that conveyed love and a call to protect MPAs were more engaging than those that merely educated audiences about MPAs. This is why we’ve invested so heavily at Upwell to promote the theme of #oceanoptimism, and we hope Team Ocean will carry this on. 

2. Make sure your visuals not only tell a story, but communicate a value

By now, we all know that we should be sharing images or video with almost everything we post on social media. The goal of an image paired with your content is to visually convey a story, and importantly to do it in one highly-sharable glance, so that people are encouraged to click and learn more. We have found at Upwell that images that show humans interacting with the ocean help tell a story better than those that merely depict ocean creatures.

A story that conveys a value is even more shareable. (Think: not just “this fisherman is battling ocean acidification” but “this fisherman’s battle with ocean acidification shows us the consequences of our actions.”). Words superimposed over an image help convey a story and value, but the image chosen is just as important: it also ideally conveys essential elements of the narrative frame we’re strategically spreading. The postures, the background, and the demographics of those persons depicted all heavily set the story for the words we place on the picture.

People share because they wish to associate their personal (or brand) identity with the narrative depicted, and to tell their peers and friends that they think it’s a story worth listening to. Climate Access’s Ten Steps to Improving Energy Efficiency Imagery include great lessons for imagery in social media, even for those who are not focused on energy efficiency in their work. 

This image, shared hundreds of times on Facebook, communicated not just information, but a value.

3. Provide shareable content with scientific reports

It’s a story we’ve all heard before: a scientific paper comes out and the media covers it in a way that the paper’s authors disapprove of. Either the findings are skewed or misreported, or the visuals paired with media coverage don’t tell the whole story. Most often, this isn’t due to a lack of integrity on the part of the journalist - instead, it is because the “so what” isn’t communicated clearly in the press release.

It is journalists’ jobs to find that “so what,” and if you don’t tell them what it is, they will try to find it on their own. Additionally, the graphics and photographs shared with scientific papers are often not high resolution or don’t immediately communicate the top findings, so journalists often turn toward stock imagery to pair with their articles. Check out Compass Online’s tips for sharing your science to learn more about how to arm journalists to explain your research correctly.

4. Adapt to the limits (and preferences) of your social media platforms

Even if your content appeals to emotions and values and it includes captivating imagery, if it doesn’t load correctly on Facebook, or if your image is cut off on Twitter, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Think: how many videos have you watched because they’re right in front of you, versus videos that you had to click two or three times to view? If you are sharing a video on Facebook, use Facebook’s proprietary video platform, as it plays automatically in the feed. If you’re sharing a video on Twitter, share it using YouTube because viewers won’t need to leave Twitter to watch it. Utilize Facebook’s og: tags to define what text and what image show up when someone shares a link to a page on your website. If you have a viewpoint to express, think about where you can share it that will encourage the most attention - it may not be your own blog, but instead might be one that has a highly engaged audience built in.

These steps take extra time (e.g., uploading your video to multiple platforms, and combining analytics for all platforms during reporting), but they lead to much higher engagement in total, and ultimately, more impact. If you use your own proprietary video platform, unfortunately your videos will not be playable on major social media networks. Think about how you can reduce the number of clicks between your audience and your content to one. Even two or three clicks can prevent you from getting your message across. 

5. Unbranded is best, but less branding will do

People don’t want to share advertisements - they want to share content. Studies have shown that “Millennials,” the internet-native generation, feel more aligned with issues and causes than they do with organizations and brands. We’ve seen time and again that it isn’t necessary to put your logo on every image you create and share on Facebook, particularly if it is attached to a piece of content that communicates your value. In fact, unbranded content has the potential to be shared more broadly and ultimately generate more traffic toward the content you are sharing and more support for your cause. While you may be required to include your logo on public communications, use it only to support your message, and don’t lean on your brand to carry the message. Check out’s Facebook page for some great examples of unbranded and minimally branded content.

6. Simplify, simplify simplify.

When Upwell was creating images to share in our campaigns, we’d often go through ten versions before settling on one. Most often, we were trying to find a way to reduce the amount of text on the image, but we were also looking for the right image - the one that conveyed the right tone and message in the clearest way. We were also in constant pursuit of shorter, more digestible videos we could share, like MBARI’s anglerfish video that went viral late last year. 

As passionate communicators, we want our audiences to know everything about an issue, to understand it inside and out. But when we create content that we want people to share, we can’t overburden that content with information. Choose one captivating idea, one opinion, one quote, or one statistic or fact, and lead with that. If you can “hook” people with that one idea, they will be excited to learn more. Want to know more about how to do this? Check out this story on Beth Kanter’s blog about an image that was worth 25,000 shares. 

For more on Upwell’s approach to content packaging, especially as it relates to ocean content, check out the case studies beginning on page 61 of our Pilot Report

While Upwell is closing this month, we know that the lessons from our work have been integrated into the outreach of Team Ocean. Follow Team Ocean on Twitter to find great content to share.