Content Marketing World always feeds interesting questions to Twitter, and earlier this winter, during the Content Marketing World I attended, the first question was, “What are the characteristics of sharable content?” My interest was piqued, of course, but then I thought, “Too bad that’s primarily a digital thing.” Then I thought again. Is it? Digital content is not the only type of content that is sharable. Print is sharable, too. You just hand it to someone rather than hitting a button.

Traditionally, we have used the term “pass-along” when it comes to print, but what if we want to think about print in a more current context? What if we started using the term “shared” instead? In other words, what if we started thinking about print the same way we think about digital channels?

What makes digital content sharable? An article in Forbes condensed it down into what I thought were five helpful categories. Sharable content informs, entertains, or inspires. It also evokes emotion (positive or negative) and creates an element of surprise. All of these can be fundamental characteristics of print, as well as of digital content. Things like dimensional and interactive designs, raised and textured printing, augmented reality and embedded video, and even creative use of die cuts and coatings create opportunities for surprise and the evoking of emotion, too.

Red Paper Plane, which offers a vast array of template-based dimensional and interactive mailers for small to medium length runs, has always done a great job with this. I remember writing a blog post for them several years ago on the use of pop-up cubes to promote a high school fundraiser.  The cubes were held flat with a band, and when the band was removed, exploded into shape to reveal messaging on all six sides. Students’ families were so delighted by this surprise that they shared the pop-cubes (and therefore the fundraising message) over and over with everyone around them. The result was that a relatively small number of pop-up cubes yielded an unusually high number of exposures—and great results for the fundraiser.

Traditionally, we think of this as “pass-along.” So what happens if we begin thinking of it as “sharing” instead? What changes? First, we ask, “What are the characteristics of great viral content?” Then we ask, “How those characteristics can be applied to print? How can we design print that is so informational, so entertaining, or so provocative that people can’t help but share it with someone else? What would it take?”

We also need to ask how we determine how successful the sharing has been. Clearly, we aren’t going to see the same volumes in the print world as we do in the digital one. So how many shares is a success? Five? Twenty-five? What is realistic to expect?

The point isn’t to try to duplicate sharing in a digital world. It’s just asking what would happen if we did start thinking about print “sharing” rather than pass-alongs. Does it change anything? If so, what?