On social media, we “comment,” we “like,” we “heart” — but now, more than ever, we share.

Recent data (from Shareablee, published in AdWeek’s Social Times) show that, in the United States in the first three quarters of 2015, there was a 50% increase in engagement actions on social media, particularly on Instagram.

Why are we sharing more?
Partly because we continue to spend more time on social networks. Partly because (most) marketers have learned that it pays to use photos and videos to make content more visually appealing. Whether it’s an increased audience size, an improvement in offerings or both, it’s working — and there’s a ton of data that proves it. End-of-year reports for 2015 indicate that engagement with top brands on Facebook may be up 43.5%, while brand engagement on Twitter may be up 105%.

There’s even more research into the details of what exactly triggers people to share. From behavioral scientists to psychologists, sociologists to The New York Times, there are reams of data about what we share and what we want to result from our shares.

It boils down, essentially, to our sense of self. We want our social presence to reflect who we are — or who we want to be — and what we believe in. We want to belong, and we want our opinions to matter, so we share content that we believe is likely to help us meet those goals.

The Shareablee research — similar to most findings — postulated four elements that drive content engagement. Posts are more likely to be shared (or engaged with in other ways) if they:

  • Tell a story
  • Evoke emotion
  • Offer utility
  • Provide social proof

How can we become “more shared”?
So how can we use this information to create better pharma content for our brands’ social presences?

Well, we know that content is compelling when it’s visual, narrative, emotional, useful and popular. And we know that users want to share content that reflects their persona.

But these desires are confronted by the dichotomy that healthcare content presents. On the one hand, health information lends itself very well to powerful, practical, emotional narratives. On the other hand, that same material can be uncomfortably personal; many conditions still carry a sense of stigma or shame.

So for our content to be engage-able and share-able, it has to be powerful — without being overpowering.

Done properly, our stories can help patients and healthcare professionals communicate, honor their dedication to health, and discover ever better solutions.

As pharma marketers, we walk lines between informative and discreet, between corporate and personal — “trying to be more like a publisher, less like a brand,” as Cleveland Clinic’s chief marketing and communications officer Paul Matsen described it to MM&M recently. It’s a delicate balancing act, to be sure, but an incredibly valuable one.