Shocker: People Do Not Read What They Share on Social Media

Shocker: People Do Not Read What They Share on Social Media

It all started with a live Twitter debate between movers and shakers in the online content field. Participants included people like Joseph Weisenthal, Executive Editor of Business Insider; Matt Yglesias, who covers economics for Slate and Felix Salmon, finance blogger at Reuters.

The topic was Upworthy, the sites content has become wildly popular and viral on Facebook. Then, in the middle of the debate, Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat tweeted this:

As a result, Haile’s remark went a little viral in its own right.

Haile’s company measures real-time traffic on sites like Upworthy, so his announcement did carry considerable weight.

If you run a blog or other site featuring regularly updated content, you probably assume social sharing is one of the best ways to get more people to read that content.

So it’s a bit shocking to find that might not be the case. But that’s not where the story ends.

Sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed have found that, yes, some people share without fully reading the article. But if someone actually does read to the end of a piece, they’re more likely to share on social media, The Verge reports.

So that effectively means there are two kinds of social sharers. There are those who share without finishing the article. And there are those who share because they really read and consumed the entire article.

Here at Small Business Trends, we find yet another wrinkle. We find there is often not a correlation between sharing and reading the article. That’s simply because those who consume an article may not be that active on social media.

That is especially true with “serious” business topics. Some of the most popular articles here on Small Business Trends have surprisingly few social shares. Yet, some of the most highly shared articles haven’t been read nearly as much.

Lesson: You can’t always tell from the number of shares.

Shocked Photo via Shutterstock


Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Executive Editor for Small Business Trends and a professional journalist with more than 20 years experience in traditional and digital media for trade publications and news sites. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has served as a beat reporter, columnist, editorial writer, bureau chief and managing editor for the Berks Mont Newspapers.

20 Reactions
  1. That’s true. That’s because some shares can be crafted. Unless the blog has a good grasp on its niche, that’s the only way you can tell that the shares are real. But still, we cannot deny that social shares somehow get people to read and participate. It can even tell Google that your website is wildly popular.

    • Hi Aira,

      Yes, social shares do spread content, even if some people do not read the articles. We get a lot of traffic from social sites, so some people are indeed reading based on learning of an article via social media. Social is definitely worth it.

      But on the other hand, what Shawn wrote about small business people reading but NOT sharing is true. Many people read and even share privately via email or print out articles (our stats on email shares and print outs have been way higher in some cases than the total number of social shares). We talk about that as we review traffic stats all the time in editorial meetings here.

      Also, we have over 5,000 average daily readers of email updates alone, and most of those do not share via social.

      Social sharing numbers tell you just one dimension of interest, and can be misleading.


  2. I would wager that the two types of sharers are the people that read the article and then share it, and the social media managers that are running 10 different accounts that each need 6-10 posts per day about a particular subject… we don’t have time to read every article, and we really don’t care. we just hope the article may be useful to the clients audience.

    • Hi David,
      I’m sure a lot of social media managers can relate. I also think there’s a difference here between those who distribute content and those who read it. For content creators, maybe the real question should be whether it’s important that those who share these posts also read what they share. In other words, is it simply that some people are sharing content and some are reading it? Or does no one read your content at all?

    • David, that is an interesting comment…because what you said, indicates that the “content” is not as important as just throwing content out there and like spaghetti, hope that some of it sticks to a wall, and will be shared.

      So then, it’s not really “content marketing” at all…it is “Quantity Distribution”…that seems like such a waste of time, when identifying the “what” in content specifically could be more effective.

      Then again, no one reads anyway…so does “content” really matter? Just a thought.

  3. “Upworthy is annoying, its founders admit” Finally, a little honesty from content mediators — haha.

  4. Well I read what I find interesting but many times I share articles that I haven’t read just because my friends might like it. I mean you can’t really read everything that you come across and that’s a shame 🙁

  5. Great points, Shawn.

    I don’t read each and every post I share…for two reasons.

    1. Time- need I say more?

    2. Trust- 80% of my shares are things that people that i know, like and trust, write or are sharing themselves.

    So, now you know.

    The Franchise King®

  6. That does not surprise me at all, because I’ve noticed it myself on Facebook, not just in regards to the person who shared it, but with some of the comments underneath it which make it apparent that some of those who comment on it haven’t read what’s been shared either.

    I read all content I choose to share.

  7. It’s all part of the gaming of numbers. Clicks, likes, shares, tweets are essentially meaningless. When factoring in all the spammy, autobot blind sharing, the groups that grab each other’s feeds to post at will .. the numbers really cannot be trusted. All noise noise noise; it’s why I wish more tools (Twitter clients esp.) would allow for more filtering – of feeds, certain apps, even the option to create a column w/out links, that would be dreamy. Me? I’m old school, a stick in the mud – I may not commit everything to memory word for word, but I do read what I share. FWIW.

  8. I’m not surprised, but I as Joel mentioned, trust is a big factor. I have friends where I read everything they share. They don’t share as much and I trust their curation. I have other friends who share tons and I don’t actually go to what they shared unless I’ve seen it from a few other friends as well because I doubt their tastes.