The shareaholics of Upworthy believe they know what America cares about, and now they have an infographic to prove it.
The viral video aggregator on Thursday revealed its most-viewed topics for 2013, a first for the young website, according to a spokeswoman. The top themes will not surprise anyone who has come across Upworthy’s inordinately perky teasers on Facebook, but the stats do say something about the mechanics behind what makes for a shareable story. Gay and lesbian rights topped the list, followed by how the media depicts women, along with a host of social issues such as income inequality and health care. The results are consistent with the website’s philosophy that readers are more inclined to share stories about “things that matter,” as Upworthy’s chief executive, Eli Pariser, told CBS News this week.
The stats are being revealed along with an interactive infographic that looks at insights from the 100 most-viewed posts on Upworthy last year. The graphic features color-coded bubbles that, when clicked, reveal how many social shares its corresponding topic received. The most-shared topic, “standards of beauty,” received more than 4.4 million shares from nine posts. The next topic down, “cancer,” received 3.9 million shares from three posts. The top posts in that category centered on the 14-year-old singer Zach Sobiech, whose song “Clouds” became a viral hit shortly before he died of a rare bone cancer in May 2013. According to Upworthy, the website’s viewers helped push the song to No. 1 on Apple’s iTunes. “We think that’s a first for an unsigned artist,” an Upworthy spokeswoman said in a press release.
Founded less than two years ago, Upworthy has grown to become one of the most-shared publishers on the Internet. According to Thursday’s release, the top 100 posts on Upworthy.com for 2013 were viewed 387 million times. The website is owned by the privately held Cloud Tiger Media Inc. in New York City. Its phenomenal growth follows that of social media-focused companies such as BuzzFeed Inc., underscoring the media industry’s growing reliance on the social Web and an increasing need to parse the secrets of shareable content.
Navigating the social Web is still something of an emerging science. The now-famous presentations by BuzzFeed’s cofounder, Jonah Peretti, explained the importance of catering to the “bored at work” network. So committed is Peretti to the science of virality that he recruited the data scientist Ky Harlin to help improve BuzzFeed’s presence in 2010, as the American Journalism Review reported earlier this month.
Despite the increased attention on sites that are mastering the social Web, the question of long-term sustainability still looms. Just last month, an algorithm tweak by Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) caused a significant decline in the organic reach of Facebook posts from many marketers. While Facebook says the change is a way to draw closer attention to “high-quality content,” many marketers who now rely on the site complained that they have spent years building up fan pages only to see their reach gradually diminish at the hands of Facebook’s algorithmic tweaks. Critics say the latest change is a thinly veiled ploy to squeeze more ad dollars out of Facebook marketers. And Facebook, in a recent blog post explaining the change, essentially encouraged marketers to pay money to boost the reach of their pages. Either way, the change underscores the finicky reality of social publishing.
So could Upworthy be one newsfeed tweak away from virtual obscurity? Given that the social media revolution itself is barely a decade old, it’s difficult to make predictions. But as Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) became the undisputed gatekeeper of the searchable Internet, social media companies like Facebook and Twitter Inc. (NYSE:TWTR) are (at least for now) the caretakers of shareable virality, leaving social publishers entirely subject to their whims.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said the top 100 posts on Upworthy in 2013 were shared 387 million times. They were viewed, not shared, 387 million times.