Viral: relating to or involving an image, video, piece of information, etc., that is circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another.
Like a virus that takes over a body and spreads from person to person, viral content gains traction. It’s shared over and over, mentioned, commented on, liked, and by the time you know it, everyone has seen the same video or image multiple times. Going viral is a content marketer’s dream, and it’s the ultimate form of engagement with an audience. But what makes content, whether it’s written, visual, or a video, go viral? What makes something worthy of going viral? No one really knows exactly what makes online content go viral. It’s not enough to write the perfect blog.
Whatever element or characteristic might be present in a piece of content before it goes viral cannot be pinpointed or written into code on a computer. But there are patterns and trends we can identify between different types of content that have gone viral in the past.
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Viral content is generally relatable and enjoyed by most audiences. Remember, content goes viral when hundreds and thousands of people share it on their social media profiles with their friends and family members, so viral content inspires people to share it with one another.
Certain topics are more shareable than others. Inspirational content is generally favored on social media; who doesn’t enjoy a heart-warming, encouraging phrase or quote? The photo below is an example of visual content that is shareable. The combination of both the text and the visual is uplifting and promotes a positive message.
Photo Credit: Facebook Public Photos
Not only is this topic shareable and appealing to mass audiences, but it also inspires feelings and emotions upon reading and sharing. Content, whether it’s visual or textual, that strikes an emotional chord often goes viral. Emotions are powerful, and emotions motivate users on social media to click the share button, to hit the response buttons, and to write out comments.
Kissmetrics recommends defining your audience before brainstorming topics that have the potential to go viral. You probably already know a lot about your audience and the demographic of your website, social media pages, and/or blog. But do you understand how they think and how they might respond to different types of content? For example, what makes them laugh, which topics are important to them, and do they read articles or do they prefer short forms of content? How do they feel about current events? How do they want to be perceived by themselves and by their peers? Would your audience enjoy an article about the discovery of a new planet, or would they prefer an infographic about how to organize their home office?
Quickly uploading a video of a laughing baby or of a cat stealing its owners’ bottle caps may attract hundreds of views and get shared (people love enjoying a good laugh), but is it worthy of going viral? Presentation is as important online as it is in-person and in retail. How you frame the content, regardless of what it is, can make all the difference.
First, the name or the headline of a piece of content is directly related to how many clicks, likes, and shares it produces. Headlines about “how to” guides perform extremely well online. See some examples below:
-“How to Kiss Someone”
-“How to Save Time & Money”
-“How to Prepare for a Job Interview”
-“How to Make Home Remedies for a Cold”
These headlines inspire interest in topics by offering assistance with everyday challenges and concerns. They promise to provide advice, or at least an understanding tone, about an issue someone is facing. Furthermore, the topics may apply to almost anyone, from how to accomplish goals around the house to how to get a jumpstart on a career and life goals. Headlines about health, exercise, recipes, and home remedies are also shared quite often on social media platforms like Facebook and Pinterest.
Another example (see it below) is the popular article below published by Brit + Co on Facebook. Not only does the headline offer life advice and speak to a concern that many people have (“Here’s How Long Couples Should Date Before Getting Married”), but the article is also presented in an effective manner. First, the post is sponsored on Facebook by Brit + Co, which extends the reach of the post and gets it in front of a wide audience. Secondly, the post is accompanied by the caption, “Ready to walk down the aisle?” and an adorable photo of a couple kissing on the cheek, both of which draw readers into the post. All of these elements come together to encourage users and entice them to click on the post while scrolling through their newsfeeds.
Photo Credit: Facebook
A second effective way to present content is to showcase its authority and credibility. Viral content like the article “Science Says the First Born Child is the Most Intelligent” inspires readers to share scientific data with one another, because it’s presented from an interesting angle. Now first-born children in a family will jump at the chance to share the article on their Facebook profiles. Educational and research-based content like this example performs well, because it’s backed by numbers and informs people.
In terms of presentation, formatting changes how much content is shared as well. Quizzes, quotes, and visual content perform much better than long blocks of text. According to Buzzsumo, online users prefer content that is easily skimmed and formatted in lists. Lists break up chunks of text and are digested quickly on a computer screen. Visual content that quickly communicates data-based research — like infographics and videos — are shared more and look appealing in newsfeeds containing other articles demanding a user’s attention. If the content is not presented in an engaging, interesting format, then people will click away and begin reading something else.
Photo Credit: https://www.faceitsocialmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/46-Sharing-a-Post-from-your-Personal-Profile.jpg
Once something goes viral, it is shared like lightning, everyone asks each other around the dinner table or at get togethers about the articles and images they’ve seen online. They exclaim, “Have you seen this one video? That one photo? Did you hear about that study?” Once a topic or a piece of content goes viral, copycats appear and begin producing similar videos and articles.
In conclusion, remember the best performing content is that which affects most people. Everyone somewhere remembers reading about the death of Star Wars actress and author Carrie Fisher or the death of famous musicians like Prince. To really take content to the next level, how it is presented and framed affects how much people want to read it or how much people want to share it with one another.
Photo Credit: Facebook Trending
But going viral — as difficult and as rare as it may be — isn’t enough. What you do with the popularity behind your content moving forward is just as important. Have a strategy and a goal before you go viral. Do you want to generate and track leads, increase traffic to your website, increase the likes on your Facebook Page, or gain subscribers to your email newsletter? Whatever your goal is, track efforts and include a call to action in your content if you want it to go viral.
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