59 Percent of You Will Share This Article Without Even Reading It
Congratulations on being a part of the 41 percent. We all realize, perhaps intrinsically, that the nature of modern online interactions is a bit superficial. We’ve all been guilty of sharing an article we haven’t actually read — or at least not all the way through — but few of us have attempted to quantify or consider the ramifications of this effect.
A recent study confirmed this phenomenon isn’t in our heads; in fact, 59 percent of all links shared on social networks aren’t actually clicked on at all, implying the majority of article shares aren’t based on actual reading. People are sharing articles without ever getting past the headlines. So why is this the case — isn’t the body of an article supposed to be the most important part? What does this mean for content marketers? And what does this mean for our society?
Attention Spans and Effort
First, let’s examine the motivations behind this phenomenon in the first place. Sharing an article is “supposed” to take place after a user has already clicked the link, read the article, and found it to be interesting or valuable (i.e., share-worthy). But there are two dimensions of online human behavior that make this difficult. The first is a factor of attention span; attention spans are at an all-time low, and most users make snap decisions about articles based on their first impressions, which happen to be headlines.
The second is a factor of effort. It takes considerably less time and effort to share an article than it does to actually read it. It also comes with greater rewards; sharing an article is likely to earn you attention from friends and social media followers, or demonstrate that you’ve read the article, whereas actually reading it doesn’t earn you anything extrinsic.
The Power of a Headline
In April of 2014, NPR pulled a prank on its audience. It published an article titled Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?, which wasn’t really an article at all. Instead, when you clicked this article, you were met with instructions to like the post only, and not comment on it. The implication was that anyone who commented on the article certainly didn’t actually read it — resulting in more than one layer of irony as social users (and proven…