Love it or hate it, you can’t ignore the success of BuzzFeed, the wildly popular online media company. Every day it offers up an addictive mix of animal photos, celebrity gossip, and political news that attracts more than 150 million people a month.

BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith recently spoke at the 2014 conference of The Communications Network that I attended along with Jennie. Smith says this huge audience results from creating content readers share on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. Online networks, not Google Search, account for 75% of BuzzFeed’s traffic.

Most traditional media companies rely on search engine optimization alone to get and grow an audience. Smith says this is a mistake.

“What people search for is very different from what they share,” according to Smith, citing research showing that health, lifestyle, and sexual topics dominate private online searches. “People share things they are proud of.”

Short of creating a viral cat video that attracts millions, how can you persuade your nonprofit’s target audiences to share your content with others?

Here are five principles we follow at Prichard that you can use to spread your message far and wide across the Internet

1. Write Great Headlines

Your first job as a writer is to attract and keep the reader’s interest. Eight of 10 people will read your headline, but only two out of 10 will read the rest of your copy.

With a compelling headline you can beat those odds and inspire people to hit the “share” button. An excellent resource for learning how to do it is Jon Morrow’s “52 Headline Hacks.”

2. Be Visually Appealing

Nothing makes the eyes glaze over like uninterrupted text. Use photos and other images to engage your readers. You can find many useful and affordable visual media tools online.

Make your text easier on the eye by keeping your sentences short and punchy. Always include subheads and emphasize key points with bold and italics.

3. Learn to Love the Listicle

Listicles (like this one) are everywhere because they work. Lists help us absorb information, engage readers, and hit the high points of a complex subject.

Ranking lists like this one of the top 150 nonprofit blogs are especially popular because they trigger curiosity about who came in first. You can also be sure anyone who appears on it will share with others.

4. Engage Your Audience

Make sure you know where the people you want to reach gather online and you make it easy for your readers to connect with those sites. Every page of your website, your blog, and your newsletter needs to include social media buttons.

5. Produce Useful Content

In the end, readers want – and will share – valuable material. Your content should meet a need such as solving a problem, providing useful information, or even making someone smile.

How do you make your content shareable? Give us your ideas in the comments below.