Harnessing the Power of the Blind Share

60% of people will share an article without reading it — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t engaged

In today’s busy world, readers don’t always take the time to read an article in full, but these audiences aren’t necessarily disconnected. People “blind share” content — that is, they share content without reading it — to say something about themselves and about the world around them. Publishers that understand these motivations can communicate ideas in a way that will travel and take hold.

There are three reasons people share content without reading it.

People blind share themselves

First, people use content to say, “This is me. This is my culture, my passion, and my lens on the world.” In fact, 68 percent of people say they share content online to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about.

This has huge implications for writers and publishers. It requires us to reframe the way we compose content. It means that when we write a piece, we can’t just ask, “What do I want my readers to understand?” but instead, “How can I show that I understand my readers?”

This does not mean publishers should only write from their audience’s worldview — it means starting from a place of shared understanding to widen our audiences’ perspective and to challenge the status quo. Some of The Atlantic’s most popular Science articles take this approach. For example, a recent post “Why Hawaii’s Newest Eruption Makes Volcanologists Nervous,” uses a national news story as an entry point to introduce audiences to volcanoes’ impacts on the earth’s geography.

People blind share brands

Another reason people blind share content is to show support for a cause or brand. Most of us would hesitate before sharing an article from a publication called, “The Daily Deception,” even if we had read and liked it. Yet people blind share content from mainstream publishers every day because they know and share those brands’ values.

As publishers, this means we have to bring our values forward in our content to draw in audiences with those same values. When The Atlantic published “My Family’s Slave” in June 2017, editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg wrote, “We recognized that this was the sort of journalism The Atlantic has practiced since its inception. The magazine was founded in 1857 by a group of New England abolitionists eager to advance the cause of universal freedom.” That legacy of advancing equality made The Atlantic a natural home for the piece, and the article went on to be named the most engaging article of 2017.

Publishers can establish this type of brand loyalty by communicating their values through their history, mission and slogan — but also at the content level. The best articles are those that get a publishers’ values across quickly, through a headline or an opening image.

People blind share quick-depth

The third reason people blind share is because they are busy. Audiences struggle to keep up with the dozens of news stories published each day, so they share content that can be grasped quickly. As publishers, we have to lift up important concepts, so that readers can understand the full value of a piece, even if they only have 30 seconds. This means paying attention to the content surrounding an article: the visuals shared on social, the headline, the description in the link preview, and the distribution strategy. These short pieces act as a preview for the fuller story and enable audiences to re-engage when they have more time.

Sharing ideas that resonate

As publishers, it’s our job to help audiences develop a fuller sense of the world around them. When we show people we understand them, share brand values they can trust, and offer quick depth, we make it easier for audiences to connect with our ideas and to share those ideas with others.

For more on connecting audiences in today’s busy world, check out “Maximizing the Micro-Moment,” or subscribe to our newsletter to receive a weekly roundup of the top trends and insights at the intersection of media and technology.