Words that share on Facebook

“Abbott backs gay marriage in Facebook update”

This phantom headline is from the future or an alternate reality. If it ever did eventuate, it would share its socks off. It contains four of the most common words found in the headlines of those stories that were shared during our three-month data capture of 13 Australian news sites.

Words that share

The 15 most common words in headlines of stories that received 100-plus Facebook shares were (in order):

  1. You
  2. Gay
  3. Facebook
  4. Baby
  5. Girl
  6. Teen
  7. Marriage
  8. Mum
  9. Life
  10. Sex
  11. I
  12. School
  13. Boy
  14. Kids
  15. Star
  16. Abbott

Words that don’t share

The 12 most common headline words for those stories that received zero shares were:

  1. Stocks
  2. China
  3. Syria
  5. Report
  6. Murder
  7. Budget
  8. Plan
  9. Markets
  10. Case
  11. Cuts
  12. Shooting

This comparison is pretty stark and one of the key factors that defines these two lists is direct relevance to the audience.

The issues of gay marriage and parenting, and subjects such as teens, girls, boys and school are more compelling to the sharing audience than China, Syria, murders, shootings and reports.

There are some interesting words to pull out of these two lists. One is “Facebook”. Others before us, such as Dan Zarella, have shown how “Facebook” and “Twitter” are among the most-shared words on their respective platforms. We think this is because social networks, like other forms of communication technology (such as the telegraph) have an inbuilt promotional advantage. The collision of these new platforms with traditional social life creates fascinating stories that are distributed by the platforms’ audiences and mainstream media.  The sample for our analysis of shareable words is for Facebook shares only, so it is “Facebook”, rather than “Twitter” that is shared.

We think “report” is shunned by the audience due to inertia. In the context of a document explaining or investigating some action, it is devoid of action by definition. Reports are just words – nothing happens, and the news audience does not warm to inaction. Also, “report” can be used to distance a publication from news it is conveying from another source. For example, Kim Williams to stand down as News CEO: report. Some audience members might prefer to share the primary source, not the rewrite.

There were also words duplicated across the most-shared and least-shared lists that cancel out each other. That is, because they’re duplicated, their inclusion or exclusion has no bearing on story shareability.

Some of these were: “man” (the most common noun across all three lists), “police”, “woman”, “US”, “Sydney”, “death”, “car” and “Aussie”.


Words that appeared in the least-shared list and another were deleted.

Our methodology:

  • Capture all stories published to the homepages of 13 Australian publications for three-month period between March-June 2012
  • Poll Facebook APIs for sharing data on these stories
  • Divide Australian stories (260,000 captured in total) into three groups:
    1. Those with 100+ Facebook shares (8000 stories)
    2. Those with 1-99 Facebook shares (92,000 stories)
    3. Those with zero shares (160,000 stories)
  • Sort each headline word from these lists by frequency using Textstat software
  • Delete all non-nouns
  • Include pronouns
  • Include some words that are both adjectives or verbs and nouns eg. “gay”, “teen” and “plan”. We did this because we think their inclusion is instructive.
  • Include the Top 30 for each list.
  • Delete words that appeared in least-shared list and another list. That is why the most-shared is a Top 15 and the least-shared is a Top 12.

Some clarifications from our Walkley Foundation Storyology presentation:

  1. Gillard and Abbot made the top 10 most shared list when we included all those stories with one share or more (combining lists 1. And 2.)
  2. Attack was included in the five unshareable words slide by oversight. As Attack was duplicated across the three lists it should have been deleted.
Andrew Hunter

About Andrew Hunter

Andrew Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Microsoft's MSN. Twitter: @Huntzie

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