That’s all I had to show for a new blog post I’d worked three weeks on.

I stared at the screen in frustration.

8 hours later, a decent amount of promotion, and just 20 shares.

I’d assembled key automation strategies I’d learned over a 9-month span and laid out the information, with many accompanying screenshots, in a blog post that went live on my site that morning.

What happened?

content social shares don't equal reads

The Day I Learned the Truth About Social Shares

As I twiddled my thumbs, I decided to randomly email the blog to my list. I’d already shared it in all the social groups I’m in, and our online profiles (my promotions done at 10 am that morning).

So, at 2 PM on a Tuesday afternoon, I sat down and scheduled a very simple campaign in ConvertKit. It took me <10 minutes. The email content was dead simple, just a few lines about why I liked this blog post I wrote (straight from the heart, because I put my heart into writing it):

email campaign convertkit

2 PM rolled around. Sent.

I hit refresh in ConvertKit’s broadcast section. 25 people read the email in the first 5 minutes of sending. 5 people clicked through. Refresh. 55 people. Refresh. 60.

I checked back in an hour. 200 reads. Over the next twelve hours, 557 people on my list opened that email. In total, 12.5% of my 4,444 email subscribers read it. 60 clicks. 12 unsubscribers.

sending a convertkit email

On average, I’ve been getting a 10-11% open rate on the same list, and a 1% click rate, so those stats were good for my list. (This list is five years old and needs some serious cleaning).

P.S.: It since climbed up to 13% open rate as of September 16.

That evening, an email and a comment on the piece landed in my inbox from a marketer I revere—the CEO of Scoop.it, Guillaume Decugis. The comment he left was very well thought-out and added a lot to my blog. That same hour, I received another reply asking about our writing services.

The next morning, a chat message came in thanking me for the article and asking me to explain a step I’d detailed near the end. Another comment came in the article discussing how the tool I’d mentioned, Commun.it, looked like it should be avoided. Buffer even came in and left a comment on the blog post, thanking me for mentioning them. On LinkedIn, I had several more messages from readers and group comments.

The comments I was reading told me these people had read my article—to the very last word. I was ecstatic. This piece I painstakingly put together had actually helped several people.

I looked at my social shares again after the whirlwind of messages from readers.


Really, though?

And then it hit me…

Why am I looking at the number of social shares?

Why am I sitting here, counting numbers?

Isn’t it nothing more than…a figure?

What does it represent? What does it mean?

Relationships and conversations is what I really want to happen around my content.

And wait, didn’t some of that already start around this very content piece already?

Why Shares Don’t Matter a Fragment as Much As Real Conversation Does

Another content piece on my site has had over 1,000 shares since it was posted live last December.

But not one comment. Or a real inquiry dropped in my email. Or a chat message left from a reader on what they learned from it (or what they didn’t learn–I welcome both).

Not anything like what I’d received in less than a day on yesterday’s piece.

24 measly shares on my about carefully written and planned blog on automation in content marketing, and yet there was real conversation and even some ROI happening from it.

So, which content piece returned in more value for me?

The one with 24 shares, or the one with 1k? You can guess my answer.

What if we have it all wrong—it doesn’t matter how many social shares you have at all, what really matters is are you reaching real people, are they reading the whole thing, and are they gaining something from it?

Shocking Fact: What If A Lot of People Sharing Aren’t Actually Reading What They Share?

I write content for several highly sought-after guest blogs. On one site, each piece gets on average 800-1,000 shares. The minute the new pieces go live, I get incoming Twitter notifications like nobody’s business: “@JuliaEMcCoy wrote a new piece on XYZ at Acme.” Times that by 200-300 people in the first hour it was published.

I’ve asked myself, have any of those people read my piece?

It’s especially suspicious when the tweet goes out literally moments after my piece went live. Wait, you can’t read THAT fast, can you? A 1,500-word piece read in 30-60 seconds?

Hey, I’ll admit it. I’ve shared content I haven’t read in full—but, I can tell you truthfully, I’ve never shared a content piece I haven’t read at least a part of. And I mean more than just the headline. I’ll even share a content piece if a major statistic stands out from it in the body.

But, what if the majority of the shares going out are from people that haven’t even consumed a part of your article?

This scary theory has already been put to the test…and here’s what was found.

In 2014, NPR ran an experiment. They wrote and published an article entitled “Why Doesn’t Anybody Read Anymore?” to Facebook.

npr joke

The results were overwhelming, in the comments and shares. People pointed fingers, debated the topic, accused the rise of cell phones and the use of ebook devices as the reasons why reading was on the downtrend. Society had fallen. Everybody confirmed and summarized the worst about the new generation.

The content of the article, if people had actually clicked through and read before commenting or sharing, was:

Congratulations, genuine readers, and happy April Fools’ Day!

We sometimes get the sense that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven’t actually read. If you are reading this, please like this post and do not comment on it. Then let’s see what people have to say about this ‘story.’


Another study, a global survey by SurveyMonkey and [email protected], found that people share for two reasons: to promote an issue or a cause, and secondly, to keep in touch. Another big reason (13%) was “because it defines my personality.” Wait—not because of the content itself?

To back that up, a study by Adweek shows that 68% of people share to get a “better sense of who they are and what they care about.”

Now check out this. The CEO of Chartbeat, a major measurement tool for content creators, said this a couple years ago:

He shared this graph:

do we read what we share

If attention spans are on the downtrend—from 12 seconds to 8, how much more true are Tony’s findings today?

How To Know For Sure Your Content Has Been Read, Not Just Shared

So, how do you know if you’re creating content that’s being read, not just shared?

Two reasons. Simple.

One, if your content sucks, it won’t be read. Sorry to break it to you. Jon Morrow has a fantastic list of 20 warning signs of sucky content so you know if you’re in the red (or not). Not breaking up your content enough, a high bounce rate, focusing on SEO not great content, not capitalizing on your best ideas, are a few of those signs.

The biggest sign your content is being read is if you are actually hearing from readers. You’re on the right path, if so. And I don’t care if it’s one comment or fifty. One real comment from a real reader tells you that someone out there thought your content was good enough to not only click through, but read the whole thing and then leave a comment. You’re on the right path. Aim for more of that every time.

Real reader feedback, in the form of comments, emails, and messages means that your content is worth being read. And that’s worth more than just the figures on your social share bar.

A Few Ways to Create Content That Actually Gets Read

1. Create your best content, consistently

Once you find real readers, they’re going to want to have a reason to read.

And you have to be creating darn good content to keep them coming back. Your best, in fact. Nothing less.

It’s been said once…

It’s been said twice…

And it’s been said way more than twice around the web….


Screenshot of this Kissmetrics article

neil patel

Screenshot of Neil’s article here

(Yes, the tweets shown may in fact be a blatant promotion of our amazing #ContentWritingChat that happens Tuesdays at 10 AM CST on @ExpWriters. You’re welcome. 😉 )

And, you can’t just create your best content one time — you have to repeat that over and over, to provide consistency that readers will come back for.

joe pulizzi quote

Joe Pulizzi, CMI

How do you know you’ve created your best content?

Well, how proud are you of it?

Would you share it with every last person in your lists, and say proudly, this is what I wrote!

Being immensely proud of what you create often means it really is your best.

2. Create useful content

Right next to asking yourself if it’s your best, you need to ask yourself, how useful is this content piece to my audience?

You can be really proud of something that isn’t fully audience-relevant and useful, so make sure whatever you put together in the form of a guide is long-form, addresses every question, and goes in-depth enough.

Satisfy curiosity and offer complete answers.

Did you tell us about a tool? You better show us what that tool does, how it worked for you, and any ROI or real results you got from it. And include screenshots along the way. Oh, and if the tool costs money, it would help us to know what constitutes a free trial and what the paid subscription looks like.

Go in-depth.

More on this in my 12 step guide on creating engaging content.

3. Get visual–and go beyond general or average

If we were in the ‘90s, you could probably get away with just a well-chosen stock image per content piece. But today, you better have a king and a queen in the game with visuals if you want to win at content marketing chess.

One thing I’ve noticed in the blogs I love, as well as those that rank the most in reads, are the amount of graphics they add. We’re talking screenshots of every single detail they talk about. And where it applies, embed codes for even more interaction: embedded tweets, like I’ve done in this piece, not just screenshots of a tweet. Embedded Facebook, Instagram posts. Custom graphs to represent the numbers written down.

In this post by my friend Joanna Wiebe at Copyhackers (shared almost 4.9k times–and featuring 139 comments), there’s even a visualized, linked table of contents so you can get around the massive content quickly. And check out the images. Man. You’d almost think it’s full of ads till you realize she’s talking about how copywriting formulas happen real-time in common ads, and she’s visualizing every ad she’s talking about. Killer!

Here’s some unique ideas for visuals, besides the requirements of visualizing (screenshots, charts, etc) everything you talk about.

Never say never, because the opportunities for visuals in your content are endless. Truly.

never say never

Stop Counting the Numbers On Your Social Shares Bar

What if that detracted you from things that really matter?

As in going and getting more readers?

I could have stopped at the dismal 20-share count. But instead, I sent a random email at 2 PM to my list. We’re also emailing the piece again to our list in a newsletter roundup going out soon. And emailing it in a couple weeks to another separate list. (Email is where it’s at. I have a guide on email copywriting here.)

With every comment, email, and chat message that came in, I took the time to reply and thank every single person.

And that’s what made the difference.

Focus on actions that result in real traffic, reads, and more ROI–and don’t just think about a number that increases or decreases, but doesn’t mean squat in the end goals your content should be focused on.

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