Announcement: BPD Finalizes Acquisition of Revive: Premier Firms in Healthcare Marketing and Communications Join Together, Creating a Powerful Bench of Integrated Expertise and Services for Healthcare Organizations. Learn more

7 Tips to Help Your Branded Content Go Viral

October 20, 2017
Content, Social Media

As digital marketers, we need to be continually monitoring performance and adjusting our strategies to match. So when BuzzSumo studied more than 100 million headlines to find those that performed best on Facebook, you can be sure we were paying attention.

The results will likely be surprising to some. So let’s unpack the findings and the implications for your healthcare content marketing together.

The study analyzed the headlines of 100 million articles that gained the most social shares from March 1, 2017 to May 10, 2017. It’s important to note that this study was related to organic posts, not Facebook ads. Facebook has very strict policies for how to address their users in paid posts. Check out Facebook policies for ads in the personal health space.

Organic posts do not have to meet the same guidelines, but do have best practices to minimize the risk of negative commentary. It is beneficial, where possible, to partner with an experienced content provider to help you navigate Facebook ad restrictions – especially since their policies and restrictions change often. 

The BPD Social Team pulled out seven key takeaways from the study that you can adjust for healthcare marketing and put into practice as part of your overall content strategy. 

1. Make The Headline A Priority

Ask most writers about their process for content creation and they will talk about the time and energy they put into crafting a compelling, concise and creative article. They will speak to their process or the amount of research they put into it. All too often, the emphasis is on the body copy and the headline is considered last. 

This study proves what many content strategist already know – the headline truly makes a difference and should be a critical part of your overall content strategy. So, make sure you take as much time and effort to hone your headline as you do your content piece.

2. Focus On The Proper Headline Length

Over the years, there have been various schools of thought about the ideal length for article headlines. Many favor brevity – much like the seven-word limit for billboards. Others feel, especially in the digital space, the more words the better for search engine optimization (SEO).

After analyzing 100 million headlines and comparing the number of words to the average number of Facebook engagements, there is now a clear winner (at least for organic posts). The results show that headlines with 12 to 18 words receive the highest average engagement on Facebook. If headlines are longer or shorter, the engagement begins to decline. 

Source: BuzzSumo 2017 Review of 100M Articles

3. Pay Attention To The Characters Within Your Headline 

The study also looked at the number of characters in the ideal headline based on average Facebook engagements. As shown below, the optimal character length for headlines ranges from 80 to 95 characters.   

Source: BuzzSumo 2017 Review of 100M Articles

4. Start And End Your Headline Strong

Capturing your audience’s attention is critical to the success of your branded content. We know that most important words in a headline are the first three words and the last three words.  This headline study wanted to dissect and determine which three word phrases (trigrams) were the most effective to begin and end a headline. 

The following charts represent the top most popular phrases that start and end headlines based on the number of Facebook interactions. 

Source: BuzzSumo 2017 Review of 100M Articles

5. Be Strategic With The Number You Use In Your Headline

It’s no surprise that the top 2 phrases begin with numbers. Having a number as part of your headline was a proven tactic long before the BuzzSumo study. This study dove deeper – identifying which numbers were most effective in generating social shares. The top 5 numbers to use to generate Facebook engagement are: 10, 5, 15, 7 and 20

Source: BuzzSumo 2017 Review of 100M Articles

6. Sparking Emotions Attracts Engagement, But Don’t Over Do It

The research proves that emotionally-driven headlines remain at the top of the list for driving engagement—especially when complimented by an equally emotional image or video. Emotionally-driven phrases include “Make you cry” or “Shocked to see.” 

Headlines that inspire curiosity and voyeurism are also impactful. These phrases speak to what others are “talking about” or “reacting to” or that begin with “This is why.” They work because they draw the reader in. 

Quizzes encourage intrigue and the desire to take action. In healthcare though, make sure you stay clear of tying a quiz into anything that could be perceived as diagnosing the participant. This is completely achievable with the right content. But if there is any doubt, consider running the content through your legal department. 

7. Don’t Overdo It — Make Sure The Headline Fits The Content

When you’re trying to write a headline between 12 and 18 words with high emotional impact, strong trigrams and the “right” number – it can be easy to start straying away from what your article is actually about. Be mindful not to sensationalize the emotions you are aspiring to generate with your reader. And, above all, your headline needs to be true to the content you are delivering. Overdo it and your headline can be seen as clickbait.

This is where having an experienced content creation partner can assure that your headlines are staying within the guidelines.


So what do you do with all these insights? Start by sharing the findings your content creators and design teams. Challenge them to implement some of the approaches that generated the most shares in the study:

  • Longer, more engaging headlines
  • Restructuring content as a list with a number in the headline
  • Positioning a product or service line to that the headline can begin with “best” or end in a definitive declaration such as …“right now” or “X minutes?”

Most importantly, make it a part of your content strategy to test out your own variations – develop mini A/B tests to clarify what works best for your market and, in particular, for your different audiences. 

Source: BuzzSumo 2017 Review of 100M Articles

Jason Brown

Jason is CEO & Chief Strategy Officer of Brown Parker & DeMarinis (BPD), an internationally-recognized advertising agency that is on a mission to make health systems and hospitals the most beloved brands in the world. A pioneer in hospital marketing, BPD works with clients to unlock the power of their Purpose inside and outside their organizations, resulting in highly engaged employees and physicians and dramatically higher brand preference and service-line volumes.

Want to know more?

Get in touch