Shareability: A True Story on How Social Media Posts Go Viral

Len WilsonChurch, Marketing, TechnologyLeave a Comment

By Len Wilson with Chris Derrett

The primary indicator of the power of a social media message is its “shareability.” In the following story, we share a few tips on what we discovered about how a Facebook Page message goes viral.

My church hired a social media coordinator, Chris Derrett, around the same time I started as Creative and Communications Director. Chris and I began to figure out the church’s social media situation together. Prior to his arrival, the church had been using a social media service, primarily to generate Facebook page posts. The results were really poor. In spite of a good history that had acquired over 2000 followers on the page, we had little engagement. 

We identified some problems with the approach the social media service was using: the post cycles were quite irregular; there was no “voice” or sense of a human behind the posts; and most posts were in effect advertisements. 

Chris and I devised a plan to improve the experience for our church members. Our plan was essentially a straight content marketing approach to social media. The core philosophy of content marketing is best summarized in the phrase “help, not hype.” We shifted away from advertisements to stories and snippets of information to help those connected to our church community with their daily faith journey. We looked for high applicability in our ministry messaging. We began to mine for quotes and scriptures that were helpful to people’s daily lives. And so forth.

For a time, it worked. We posted all kinds of content, and engagement increased, as noted in the chart of our 2017 median organic (non-paid) reach below:


The first half of 2017 grew tremendously. Then summer hit. Of course, summer in church life is always choppy. (Click here to see a data analysis demonstrating the impact of summer on worship attendance. The same choppiness is present in both charts.) By back to school in August, however, it appeared that we’d recovered well.

Then, in late August, Facebook famously made some changes in its algorithm. Presumably, the changes were a response to the controversy of the 2016 election, with the intention to reduce recency and the potential for fake news. However, the result was a negative impact on the ability of businesses to reach a wide range of people with organic (non-paid) content marketing. Immediately, we noticed fewer posts organically appearing on people’s news feeds (see chart). Through the fall, our organic reach steadily declined. Our content marketing social media plan was failing.

Then in January 2018, we shared a video we’d produced. The video highlighted a ministry in our church named Spark Tank. Spark Tank was a matching funds initiative that encouraged the people of the St. Andrew community to think creatively in mission. People would dream up a missional idea then apply for matching funds. The example we posted told the story of several new sets of washers and dryers which had been purchased for an underprivileged elementary school in the city of Dallas. The students of the school wore uniforms, but they often came to school in dirty clothes, as their home environment wasn’t conducive to keeping them clean. The school needed washers and dryers to help provide clean uniforms to the children. Our Spark Tank initiative supplied the machines, as well as a retrofit install to match the 1930s plumbing code of the building.

Like the other clips we’d posted throughout the fall, it didn’t do much at first. But then something happened: someone shared. And then another person shared. Within a few days, suddenly we’d reached 4532 people: not full blown viral, but not bad, especially considering our previous performance.

The most interesting thing, though, is something Chris discovered while looking at the analytics. Check out the chart above. The chart shows the first five days of engagement. The green box Chris highlighted includes engagements on the post through our church’s Facebook Page. The blue box is the engagements on shares. 74% (153 out of 208) of engagements (reactions, comments and shares) were generated through shares. The lesson was obvious: most of the action happened off of our page.

There are three levels of response to a social media post: Ignore, the Golf Clap and the Share. The Ignore happens when someone begins to engage with (watch or read) your post on their wall, then abandons it, or worse yet hides it, or hides you, or posts it as spam. The bottom of the chart below shows 2 people hiding our story of changing children’s lives. (Who would do that?) 

The second is what I call the “Golf Clap”: In this scenario, someone shows some level of support. 22 people gave us a golf clap after engaging with our post of the video. (Ironically, data shows that most people who provide a golf clap response don’t watch the whole video.) 10 even said they “loved” it or were “wowed” by it. 

As social media marketers, we get excited by the golf clap response. But I want to encourage us to think bigger. That’s not the real measure of engagement. The real measure of engagement is the Share. Shares make a story viral. The goal of social media is what I call shareability. I hope you see that I am using the word “share” in both a literal and a figurative sense. The mark of life-changing communication is how much a message gets shared from person to person. The goal is to create stories of life change so powerful that people are compelled to share it with others.

Here’s the kicker: Messages survive and grow in a community and sharing spreads through communities. When people believe in something, they tell other people—but not just random people; they tell their friends about it. And if it’s really great, they run to share. They can’t wait. 

Shareability has always been the primary indication of the power of a message. What happened on Easter morning? “Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So, they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples.” (Matthew 28:7-8) The first thing the women did was share the news of Jesus’ resurrection. What they had discovered was so life changing, the first instinctive response they had was to tell their friends. People share when it is life changing.

In fact, my definition of “Viral” is what happens when a message jumps from community to community: when it leaves its root community and finds a new one through the power of shareability.

Takeaways? Here are a few tips to create shareability:

  1. Tell stories of changed lives and stories that have the power to change lives.
  2. Monitor shares, not likes or loves, as your primary metric of success
  3. Look for opportunities to expose your post to new communities, not just the same ones that usually support you

To learn more about shareability, contact me at

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