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The upcoming referendum on Scottish independence has given BuzzFeed some new insight into how readers share and respond to political coverage online.

With less than three weeks to go until Scots are asked to vote on whether to stay within the United Kingdom, there is an "online battleground" of campaigners sharing material and engaging with content, says BuzzFeed UK deputy editor Jim Waterson.

People will share stuff that makes them look like they've taken in both sides of the argument and come to the real conclusionJim Waterson, BuzzFeed
He told Journalism.co.uk: "The Scottish referendum is a strange one because you've got two sides arguing over a set of facts that the other one is not ever going to come round to. Instead what you've got is this online battleground.

The problem is it's the voices that shout loudest that tend to get to the top. The nasty side tends to come out."

Here are some of BuzzFeed's findings, based on how readers have responded to the site's independence referendum coverage.

Appeal to the head as well as the heart

"People like to feel clever and show that they are the ones that are taking in the facts," Waterson said. "Fact-check articles tend to do fairly well.

"They'll never do as well as something that's appealing to the heart strings rather than the head. That picture of David Cameron looking silly will always go more viral than a fact-check of whether his economic policy is actually working.
But people will share stuff that makes them look like they've taken in both sides of the argument and come to the real conclusion."

Be immediate


"There's nothing that beats tapping in to what people are talking about," he said. "It's really the same values that have driven newspapers for ages, but you have to be on it a bit faster – within half an hour rather than a day."

Live blogs don't tend to do well – just use Twitter instead


Waterson said: "During the debates I was posting on my personal Twitter account. I personally don't read live blogs anywhere near as much as I did a few years ago, because Twitter has taken the immediacy of that. I don't see why our readers would.

"What we're more likely to do is, after the event, round-up the best reactions to it. So you've watched it on Twitter, you've argued about it on Facebook and then within half an hour of that you've got a good run-through to remind yourself and share round."

Trust your instincts


"Generally you tend to know in your gut as soon as you press publish whether something's going to go viral or it isn't. It's very rare that you hope that it'll catch and it doesn't," said Waterson.

"If you don't find it funny enough to think 'I'd share that' then it's very unlikely that anyone else will. We tend to just trust our instincts and it's rarely wrong. You can't really trick people on the internet."

He added: "I think every journalist will have filed a lot of stories that they didn't understand why they were writing, that they found to be intensely dull – and yet somehow because it got on to page three of the paper they were working for, that meant they had done a good job.

"The problem is online it turns out that no one actually clicks on those stories. The editors used to think they were really important, but actually no one gives a damn about them."

Social content and getting your content liked and shared is the topic of this Journalism.co.uk podcast

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