Stories about Adam Goodes have dominated sharing in a way we rarely see.
According to the Likeable Engine, Goodes stories accounted for a third of total shares from the 100 most-shared Australian stories in a 10-day period from July 24.
None was more shared than Stan Grant’s quiet but powerful interpretation of the booing controversy. Grant’s Guardian piece has netted almost 100,000 shares so far.
It was an outlier in the debate for two reasons.
First, it was shared three times more than any other Goodes story. In our data capture, the closest entry after Grant’s was a News Corp news article called ‘The Goodes, the bad, and the ugly fan …’ which notched an impressive 30,000 shares. (Shares include Facebook Likes, comments and shares, plus tweets and retweets).
Second, it was not a polemic. Most opinion fed into two distinct columns:
1. If you booed Adam Goodes, you were a racist
2. The booing wasn’t racist and/or Adam Goodes deserved it.
Grant’s piece was all the more powerful for its initial equivocation on these points:
“I have wondered for days if I should say anything about Adam Goodes.
“My inclination is to look for common ground, to be diplomatic. Some of the fault is with Adam. Maybe he’s been unnecessarily provocative. Racism? Perhaps. Perhaps the crowds just don’t like him.”
At Share Wars, we believe the sharing of news articles is driven by one of three motivations in the reader: Newsbreaking, Inspiring and Teaming (NIT). (Regulars might have noticed a change in terminology. Inspiring used to be called ‘Sharing’. And Teaming started out life as ‘Norming’. We’ve changed them to make our categorisation easier to understand).
In the NIT framework, Newsbreaking features the sharer as town crier. Here, breaking news is the currency and sharers accumulate whatever social capital comes with bringing new and important information to their networks. Inspiring describes a more traditional notion of sharing, an altruistic here’s-something-special-for-you type of distribution. ‘Inspiring’ stories provoke feelings of awe, shock and wonderment.
Most of the Goodes sharing, however, was driven by what we call Teaming, in which the user shares a news story to recruit people to their point of view (and in doing so, create a team). Were the boo boys racists or not? Are you Team Sam Newman or Team Goodes?
We’ve looked at the sharing behaviour around thousands of stories during the past four years and theorised that Teaming drives about 60% of total shares. Newsbreaking and Inspiring mostly split the difference (see chart below). Our methodology is a mixture of art and science and is described in more detail in our book All Your Friends Like This – How Social Networks Took Over News (out on September 1).
Of course, we’re not the only people onto the power of Teaming. Any news organisation that has been checking its sharing stats during the past few years will have noticed that stories that fire up readers tend to share better than those which do not.
There’s research behind this as well. In our book, Hal describes a seminal project at the Wharton School in the US that proved a story was more likely to be shared if the reader was “aroused”:
“Now picture this: Jonah Berger, the youthful marketing professor with the tight red curls, assembles a group of students for an experiment. He’s paying for their time, so he doesn’t mind giving them detailed instruction. One half of the group is to stay in their chairs, the other to run on the spot for 30 seconds. All the subjects then complete what seems to be an unrelated exercise relating to a news article and a decision whether to share it or not.
“The results come in. The students who jogged are more likely to share, regardless of the content.”
So when the heart-rate is up and the blood is pumping, people will share. Journalists can tap into this sharing effect by creating content that activates or arouses the reader.
That’s what we saw with the majority of highly shared Goodes articles. People were highly charged. Their pulse rates were up and not because they’d been jogging on the spot. They were angry.
I found some of the commentary around the booing controversy shrill and unconstructive. In some cases, Goodes’s plight was used as just another springboard by those on the left and right to have a go at each other.
The power of Grant’s piece is in making the universal personal, in grounding the abstract. It shows the effect the constant booing could have had on Goodes and other Indigenous Australians. It brought home the risk that the booing is reinforcing existing feelings of inadequacy and humiliation in the coming generations of Aboriginal kids who aspire to be the next Adam Goodes, Cyril Rioli or Greg Inglis. It was empathy inducing and constructive.
The fact that it was the most-shared Goodes story from the period is encouraging.
At the start of the Share Wars project in 2011, we said sharing would change journalism for the better. Why? Because people only share stories they value. As sharing becomes a more powerful distribution force, newsrooms would tilt resources towards creating more of this type of valuable content.
We’ve seen much since then to dent our optimism. Social networks have been the accelerant for hoax news, meaningless quizzes and other share bait. But the wide distribution of Grant’s piece gives me hope our initial thesis was not misplaced.