What Makes A Story Successful On Facebook?

By Justin Lafferty 

National Public Radio has been wondering: What makes a story tick on Facebook? The company examined its geotargeted stories throughout July, August, and September, and found that nine types of stories in particular tended to do rather well on Facebook: place explainers, crowd pleasures, curiosity stimulators, news explainers, major breaking news, feel-good smilers, topical buzzers, provocative controversies, and awe-inspiring visuals.

In February, NPR conducted a similar experiment with its station in Seattle, finding that the geo-focused content accounted for roughly 12 percent of page visits in a month.

This time, NPR expanded the test to include KQED in San Francisco; KUT in Austin, Texas; WBUR in Boston; KPCC in Southern California; and still KPLU in Seattle. The company found that geotargeted stories gained an average of 223 combined likes, shares, and comments per post.

Which kinds of stories did best on the social network?

Eric Athas and Teresa Gorman of NPR explained what made each kind of story special:

Place explainers:

Every city has traits, quirks, and habits that are begging to be dissected. These characteristics are well-known to locals, but no one ever stops to explain why they even exist in the first place. Place explainers investigate, answer, and explain these questions. In our project, KPLU tipped us off to this content type with its I Wonder Why…? series, which explores the “endearing, odd, even irritating” attributes of the Pacific Northwest.

Crowd pleasers:

When Austin was ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek as the eighth-best city in the country, Austinites cheered on Facebook with comments such as “Yaaay!! GO Austin!” and “Whether Austin ranks 1st or 100th, I still love living here :)” That’s exactly the type of reaction you’ll get from Crowd pleasers.

Curiosity stimulators:

The Curiosity stimulator is a 4,000-pound spider-robot named Stompy. It’s a woman who married a corporation. It’s the discovery of a hidden video game city.

News explainers:

News explainers make sense of the news. Rather than just telling you what happened, News explainers dissect why or how it happened.

Major breaking news:

But Major breaking news doesn’t happen often — a few examples from this project include the coffee shop shooting in Seattle, Hurricane Sandy, and the approval of legal recreational marijuana and same-sex marriage in Washington.

Feel-good smilers:

It’s a nighttime Austin marriage proposal that found its way to Reddit. And is there anything more feel-good than warm cookies delivered by bicycle to your door? Humor, which tends to make people feel good, also plays a role in feel-good smiler content. Cue Seattle’s Colonel Meow.

Topical buzzers:

When Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis serve coffee at a local cafe (and mobs of locals pack the streets to catch a glimpse), a topical buzzer rides the viral coattails of the story. The key to deploying a topical buzzer on your site: knowing when something is beginning to buzz.

Provocative controversies:

Have you ever come across a story about your city and found that you could feel your blood beginning to boil? That’s usually what happens when people encounter a provocative controversy — they get ticked off and highly opinionated.

Awe-inspiring visuals:

We already know people like to gaze at beautiful images. People love to goggle at beautiful images of their city. Awe-inspiring visuals capture that wonderment through photos and videos.

Readers: If you manage a page, what kinds of posts tend to do better than others?

Graphic courtesy of Russ Gossett.