Advice from Station Editors on How to Make Serious Stories Shareable

Nov 13, 2013

How do you make a serious story shareable?

Through the Local Stories Project, we’ve found that serious stories can be just as -- and sometimes more -- shareable than fun stories. See our definitions of serious and fun stories.

Neither type of story is better than the other-- a mix of both kinds of stories is good for your audience; but sometimes it just seems harder to get people to share the serious stories.

Station editors in the Local Stories Project deal with this every day in their newsrooms, so we asked for their advice:

Identify the Shareable ‘Thing’ in the Story

If you were talking to someone in the hallway about a story, what would be the one thing you’d just have to tell them? Figure that out when you’re trying to create a shareable story.

KPLU Online Managing Editor Martha Kang pointed to Quartz Senior Editor Zach Seward's theory that audiences like to share "things" on the Internet.

“You don't make the reader work to find the nuggets,” Kang summarized. “You lay it out for them in an easy-to-digest manner.”


Example: Why won't this McDonald's move 20 feet into lower-wage Idaho?


Think Shareable From the Beginning

Shoehorning block quotes or subheads into a story or series after it’s already reported isn’t enough. Think shareable from the beginning -- that will help focus the pieces of a series around those '”things” that people will want to share, WAMU Web Producer Chris Chester said. If you're working on a series, identify one or two shareable pieces -- they can be the entryway into the series.

“Stick a foot in the door early in a project's production to ensure that at least a couple pieces turn out shareable,” Chester said

Don’t forget to ask yourself this question at the beginning of a reporting process: “Why would I (or a person in a group I want to reach) click on this story or share it?” Kelsey Proud, digital editor from St. Louis Public Radio said.

“Answer that question and use your results to guide what you use,” Proud said. “If you can’t answer that question – it’s probably not right for social media – and you may want to look at how it was reported, selected or otherwise produced to learn how to be more precise in that process.”


Examples: Mapped: How Many Meth Incidents Has Your Missouri County Reported This Year?

 How Do Medical Marijuana Laws Compare In The D.C. Region?


Tell Me This Story Matters 

Be clear about why your story deserves your audience's time and highlight the parts that apply to them personally.

Talk directly to the audience in serious stories. KQED has found success with stories that explain complicated issues or provide guides to common questions, often using versions of 'you' in headlines and text, KQED reporter Katrina Schwartz said.

 Those stories are shared a lot when they offer real utility, such as a guide to Obamacare for Californians or a local election voter guide

“Ultimately, I think the key to making people share is if they see the story affecting them personally,” Schwartz said. “Facebook is a personal network, after all.”

Example: More California Parents Opting Out of Vaccines; Look Up Your School Online

Headlines, Headlines, Headlines. Seriously, Headlines.

When in doubt about how to make a story more shareable, turn to the headline. 

“The best advice I'd offer to make a serious story shareable is to craft a top-notch headline that plays up the controversy or tension in the story,” Boise Public Radio Digital Content Coordinator Emilie Ritter Saunders said.

But don't get carried away with headlines, either - keep it simple and straightforward. 

“Resist the urge to cram too much info in the headline--but do it in a way that conveys the gravity and depth of the story,” WFPL Online Managing Editor Joseph Lord said. 

Examples: What You Need To Know About the Bluegrass Pipeline Proposed in Kentucky

Idaho Gets An F When It Comes To Economic Security And Leadership Roles For Women

This post is part of an occasional series highlighting stories and tips from stations in the Local Stories Project. Learn more about tips for creating shareable serious stories. Follow the Local Stories Project stations on Twitter.