Content is Contagious: Is There a Secret to Viral Content?

June 16, 2014

Table of Contents

Viral Marketing - Word of MouthContent is King

This popular saying has always been understood to be one of the fundamental tenants of online marketing. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the necessity to strengthen your brand through reliable, trustworthy, and engaging content, a solid marketing strategy seems to revolve around quality content. With static pages on your website, your content is quite literally your brand: the way you talk about yourself, your product, your services, and communicate the essentials of your company is done through content. Blog posts, infographics, Facebook shares, tweets, and other timely pieces of content are the ways your brand interacts with your audience and other thought leaders in your vertical. Google’s growing emphasis on authorship only proves that search engines, now more than ever, are caring about who writes your content because that gives insight into it’s authority.

Like any other king, content–in addition to being high quality–needs to have a wide reach. While not every piece of content needs to go viral in order to be effective, virality is certainly a fast and easy way to create visibility for your content and get people talking. Popular content that is widely shared by individuals on social media, picked up by large media sources, and reposted on other websites can be a huge boon to your site. From a link building perspective, it’s a goldmine. And from a brand perspective, viral content establishes you as a relevant and reputable participant in whatever conversation your content contributed to.

Viral Content

The question is: how do you make content go viral? Many experts have weighed in with their own opinions and techniques for creating and curating viral content. In February, HubSpot published How to Make Viral Content: 9 Tips from the Greatest Viral Content Genius on the Planet, an intriguing piece where Neetzan Zimmerman, a blogger for Gawker who created 9 of the site’s 10 top posts of 2013, shared his secrets. At The Guardian, Buzzfeed’s editorial director shared his three best strategies for viral content. Fox Business even shared their five tips. There have been countless posts on viral content, and they are all worth reading, if only to pick up on the common threads and patterns that people are talking about. The following five tips are those which most experts have agreed upon; commonly occurring suggestions that are generally accepted as ways to make your content go viral.

Please note: the following tips are not pulled solely from the three aforementioned examples, but from a variety of posts on the subject, demonstrating that they are widely agreed upon.

  1. Appeal to Human Emotions: One of the most widely espoused techniques for going viral is the need for people to connect with the content they share. In his presentation for Hubspot, Neetzan Zimmerman calls emotion the “bread and butter” of viral content, saying “stories that evoke primal emotions work best.” If you want people to share your content, they need to be moved by it. They need to feel something so that they are compelled to get others to feel the same way. Content that evokes positive emotions, such as a feel good or inspirational story, is more likely to go viral than content that evokes negative emotions like anger or sadness. However, any emotional content, positive or negative, is more likely to be shared than content that evokes no response whatsoever.

  1. Curate, Don’t Just Create: You don’t necessarily need to create every piece of content that you want to go viral. Upworthy has become one of the largest mediums for sharing viral stories entirely by finding videos, graphics, and other media they know will strike a chord with people. Depending on your goal (whether you’re looking to become a prominent voice in a conversation or if you’re trying to raise visibility for your own content), you can search for existing content that is relevant to your audience.

  1. Post as Much as You Can: Not everything you post will go viral. It’s often difficult to find the right piece of content that will blow up. You must stay timely and relevant, emotionally engaging, and visual (pictures, graphics, and videos are more likely to be shared than lengthy text) to catch your audience at the precise moment when they are looking for the kind of content you have to share with them. It requires time, effort, and patience, but posting often shows that you are actively engaging with your community, and increases your chances of something being a success. This is not to say, however, that you should post just anything. Don’t spam your readers. Make each post count and ensure  that you are only sharing quality content.

  1. Study the Data: Delve into the numbers of everything you post to figure out what works and what doesn’t. How many people did your content reach? Was there a significant increase in traffic? When? How many shares and likes did it receive? Examining the data ensures that you are learning from each post, and gaining insight into how your content is received will help you refine your strategy.

  1. Engage Influencers: There’s a reason almost everything Upworthy shares goes viral. Upworthy is a prominent voice in the online space, and people pay attention when they speak. Whether it is a post that was submitted to them or that they found, Upworthy is influential enough that the post will be noticed. Think about who your content is targeting, and figure out who the thought leaders are in that space. Is it a human rights piece? Is it an entertainment piece? Look at the kind of content notable sites and figures have shared historically, and refine your content to appeal to them. Getting your content shared by even a single influencer in a relevant vertical elevates it to a whole new level. It reaches a wider audience, and its credibility is strengthened by the fact that it’s being shared by an active thought leader. This will compel people in their audience to share it as well.

In short, it doesn’t seem as if there are any surefire secrets to viral content. The experts each have their sets of best practices, and while there is often a lot of overlap, there are also a lot of differences in their strategies as well. A lot of the techniques for making your content go viral also vary depending on the specific nature of the content itself. You wouldn’t share an emotional video the same way you would share a humorous op-ed, nor would you target the same audiences to share or repost those pieces. The advice of these and other experts is valuable, and you should definitely read what they have to say. It’s just important to take from each the pieces that best suit your goals and create a viral strategy that works for your own particular content.