“Blog and spray” isn’t a strategy (sorry!)
Viral campaigns don’t happen by chance. They’re handcrafted to reach the most ambitious virality goals.
It’s all about understanding what makes a piece of content go viral. While nearly 90% of companies engage in content marketing somehow, only a few produce content that internet users don’t mind sharing.
What Does it Mean to Go viral?
When your content goes viral, that means many people like, comment, and share your marketing material or content within a short spurt of time.
That way, the content ends up receiving numerous interactions and shares, allowing more people to view it, ultimately building strong awareness around your brand. The more your brand goes viral, the more consumers become familiar with your brand.
What Happens When Your Content Goes Viral?
When consumers see your viral blog post, video, or graphic, they become more intrigued about your company or products. They’ll research your website, visit your store or go through your marketing material to learn more about your product and gauge your understanding of your business or everything you’re involved with.
More people will try to engage with your brand via the comment section or by direct messaging you or sharing your posts, ultimately leading to more sales.
Suffice it to say content virality is the best thing that can ever happen to your business.
And while it might happen to you by chance, there are a few things you can do on your end to increase the chances of your content ever going viral.
10 Key Elements of Viral Content
Having your marketing campaign go viral is a pipe dream for many marketers. Not only does it introduce your brand to new audiences, but it also makes your brand memorable, bringing unparalleled attention to your business and products.
And while there’s no clear path to creating viral content, many successful viral marketing campaigns show a few similar techniques that you can replicate.
Think of these techniques as the fundamentals of viral marketing or the key ingredients of any successful viral marketing campaign:
No one can ever predict going viral. No matter how much creativity, out-of-the-box-ness, and visual strategy you infuse into your campaign. There’s no way to forecast your content success.
In most cases, it will just happen out of the blue, when least expected, with no pre-planning or strategy. A classic example of this is Wendy’s chicken nugget retweet challenge. No one knew the challenge would blow up and get everyone talking and running with it.
Inversely, the Planter’s Killing of Mr. Peanut was carefully planned and designed to go viral. But it ended up failing terribly.
It’s, therefore, safe to say there’s no magic formula to making your content go viral. Instead, try to tap into the type of content your audience engages with the most and see what type of content they respond to the best.
You can’t force users to share, like, or comment on your posts. Your brand has no control over how they decide to react to it.
That’s because viral marketing is as organic as it can get. It relies on your target audience to like your content enough to want to share it around.
While you can’t predict if users will like your content enough to share it around, you can always optimize it so it appeals to their interest. You also want to make it easy for them to share it on whatever platform they’re on.
You have to ensure your content is easily shareable, especially if you plan to launch it on multiple platforms. Make sure you also understand the strengths and limits of each platform when deciding on the type of content to share and post.
For example, if you’re producing a long video for YouTube, it would also help to produce a teaser video for Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. The point is to try and create an easy path for users to find your main video on Instagram and Twitter (through a YouTube link).
Timing applies to virality in more than one way.
Virality is about seizing the perfect moment, especially if it’s about trend jacking. A famous example is Oreos’ “Dunk in the Dark” tweet of 2013 (tweeted during the Superbowl).
While you can’t plan such a tweet, it’s the quick thinking and ability to seize the moment that made the tweet popular.
Timing plays a critical role in deciding when to launch your campaign. This includes:
When to post
How long the campaign will last,
And if you should launch the campaign around or in response to a major event (such as black Friday, Christmas, Valentine, the Superbowl, etc.).
A classic example of the effects of timing on virality is IHOP’s IHOB stunt. They sparked a lot of speculations and a heated debate by announcing that they had changed their name to IHOb.
But they didn’t right away reveal the reason until one week later. If they had announced the reason right at the start, their campaign wouldn’t have achieved the same virality.
Viral campaigns will never happen to you if you’re always playing safe. You must be willing to stick out your neck a little bit and divert people’s attention towards you.
We can all learn from Wendy’s social media strategy of 2017. Wendy, a well-known fast-food restaurant, caught the attention of fans and marketers with its online presence when it decided to poke fun at its closest competitor, McDonald’s.
It was a risky move that could have badly backfired on them. Fortunately, it didn’t. Instead, it brought them a lot of attention, and to this day, brands still use them as an example of how daring their online personas should be.
As the internet grows, so are its consumers. Gone are the days when everything shocked them. They’re now more informed and less likely to lose their cool over shocking content.
In other words, you need to capitalize on a lot more than the shocking factor.
You have to make sure the campaign has a level of shocking or background information. There has to be a backstory or a backdrop to which consumers can connect the message and possibly help others understand.
Ask yourself, can the message spark a controversial conversation? If not, then it’s safe to say it’s missing a key ingredient.
A good example is Aviation Gin’s campaign. They decided to use the same actress from the notorious Peloton holiday ad. The video’s context, wit, and speed instantly shot the video into the spotlight, sparking a controversial debate.
If you’re determined to see one of your content pieces go viral, then you need to observe patience. You have to experiment with many different techniques and methods and wait for one to pay off.
If you consistently produce four viral-worthy content in a year, then sooner or later, one of your contents will go viral. It’s just a matter of practice, experimenting with many things, and learning along the way.
Make necessary adjustments and adapt to changing times, and soon, your effort will pay off.
Whatever you do, don’t go overboard with the crazy stunts trying to force virality. Everything has to feel natural and organic.
You can try something new. But while at it, you want to take note of what’s worked for your audience and what didn’t. Look for patterns and specific nuances that might have contributed to the content’s success.
In the end, you want to combine all these elements and see if they amount to something.
It Engages Its Target Audience Immediately
With so many distractions, it’s important to immediately capture your audience’s attention.
Focus on capturing the viewer’s attention the first two minutes. Everything has to feel fresh and relevant.
Having consumers engage with your content from the get-go can be vital to its success.
If your target audience is having a good time, then that’s half the battle won. The first few seconds are the most important part of your video content, especially if you want it to go viral.
For long-term success, you have to diversify your campaigns.
You can create something shocking, but if that becomes the focal point of all your campaigns, you’re going to bore users.
Remember, you’re competing with the entire internet, and it’s filled with so many distractions.
People want variety; they want new things to happen every day, whether in regards to their favourite brands or what interests them on a more personal level.
It Strikes an Emotional Chord
As the internet continues to evolve, so are its consumers.
Today, people are more emotionally connected than ever before. They want to be informed and feel valued while doing it.
That means you have to tap into their emotional side or risk being easily forgettable in this crowded space.
If you can make your audience, feel something (whether happiness, anger, sadness, relatability, laughter, etc.), then you’re halfway there.
The goal here is to influence behaviour, and for that to happen, you need to produce content that resonates with your audience on a personal level.
It Taps into a Trend
The internet and social media platforms are always in a frenzy about something. The savvy content marketer knows that if they can tap into what’s trending or highly influential, then they have the potential to go viral.
The best way to make this happen is to be proactive instead of reactive.
If you see an opportunity, it would be wise to explore it and see if there’s a way you can align your brand with it.
17 Ways to Create Shareable Content for Viral Campaigns
So, how do you create content that sparks people’s interest and sets you apart from everyone else?
These are just some of the many approaches. Let’s look at some more:
1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engines deliver the most sustainable, long-term traffic.
The key is to produce top-notch content that will continually show up on search engines. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can slap some keywords together and throw it out there.
What works best is to create helpful contents that people want to discover and share online. The more links your content gets, the higher it’ll rank. That means more people will find it, thus increasing its chances of going viral.
Here are a few SEO tips you should observe:
- Write long-form content (over 2000 words)
- Link out to authority sites within your niche
- Write keyword-rich descriptions for each image you use
- Are exciting and eye-catching. Include compelling headlines that describe your content perfectly.
- Thoroughly research your target keywords and use them naturally throughout your article.
- Solve a problem or answer a question
- Explain how your product or service solves this need
- Provide something of value to your audience
2. Use Sleek Visuals to Draw Your Audience’s Attention
It only takes a few seconds for someone to judge whether they’ll continue browsing your site or go elsewhere.
That is where eye-catching visuals come into play.
First impressions matter, and for the most part, people judge your site based on the visual elements you use.
It starts with the colour palette and the typography that best communicates your brand message.
Buzzsumo decided to conduct a study on this by analyzing over 100 million articles. They would find out that twice as many people were more likely to share a post on Facebook if it had an accompanying image than posts that featured no image.
They would also find out that users were 30-times more likely to read an infographic than a text-laden piece of content. When compared to other types of articles, infographics were the most shared.
Also, contrary to popular belief, users share videos less often than infographics and static images. According to Rebekah Radice, pictures enjoy 361% more tweets than videos. Photos also get retweeted 128% more than videos.
For social media promotions, posts with thumbnails images also performed better than those with text only. Articles with a Facebook preview image enjoyed three times more shares, comments, and likes than those without.
3. Make It Personal
People love it when brands show a more human side.
You can easily pull this off by providing an interactive, immersive, and more personalized experience for the viewer.
Gone are the days when you could have easily gone viral with a catchy how-to or listicle piece. Nowadays, users are barraged with these types of content. So, the only way to stand out is to figure out how to make your content unique and dynamic.
Granted, it takes a lot of time and resources to create something personalized. First, you have to study your target audience and understand their core needs and desires.
One approach you could use is adding fractal content to the mix. Fractal content is created using personalized data on your audience. This could come from events they’ve attended, books they’ve read, or places they’ve visited.
By fractal, we mean content with built-in functionality that users can interact with. In other words, you’re allowing users to create their own viral content using your post or site
Interactive quizzes are also another great way to go about it. These could be personality quizzes, knowledge tests, or achievement challenges.
The idea is to make it seem like you’re inviting your audience members to embark on an exciting journey with you. In reality, what you’re doing is building up the experience so that they’ll remember it more vividly once they share these experiences with their family and friends.
4. Produce well-researched Longform Content
As counter-intuitive as this may sound, long-form content gets shared a whole lot more than short-form pieces. Again, Buzzsumo researched this.
They would find out that long-form content between 3000 to 10000 words was shared the most compared to shorter pieces with less than 1000 words.
Come to think about it, the amount of content populating the web in the 1000 words or less category is 16 times more than those in the 3000 to 10,000 words category. So, if not for anything else, then you might want to take advantage of the fact that there’s less competition in the long-form content category.
Aside from that, long-form has more room for creativity. They make for comprehensive guides and tutorials that can genuinely help people in their day-to-day lives.
The only problem is it’s tough to create engaging content of this length in niches like sports or fashion. But hey! There’s always room for exceptions or doing the extraordinary.
5. Study Your Target Audience and Make Sure You Understand Them Well
The only way you can address your audience emotionally is when you truly understand them. Go beyond the typical geographical and demographic information and find out what makes them tick. What’s their sense of hummer? Where do they hang out? What annoys them? What are their aspirations in life?
Once you have a clear picture of who you’re targeting, you’ll know how to engage them better and what kind of content resonates best with their core values. Whether it’s a humorous short-piece, a riveting in-depth feature, a comprehensive how-to guide, or a thought-provoking infographic, you’ll know exactly how to serve it up and in what doses.
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Unique and Slightly Offbeat
Don’t be afraid to get weird or even slightly absurd with your content. If you’re looking for a unique way to go about viral marketing, this is one of the possible best ways.
Your strategy should be bold, daring, and, more importantly, experimental.
Don’t just follow the trends, but set them instead. Doing this could make you stand out since people are looking for something new and different all the time.
You can also develop creative techniques or concepts like interactive quizzes to make sure your content stands out.
Remember that viral marketing is about making an impression that your content is truly remarkable.
7. Get Influencers to Help You Promote Your Content
How do you get influencers to share, retweet, or link to your post?
Simple, just involve them in the content creation process.
You can start by following them and being genuinely interested in what they’re doing. After that, you want to reach out for a quote you can use in your article or link to one of the posts they wrote on your topic of interest. Make sure they know that you’ve quoted them in one of your pieces.
Alternatively, use the Buzzsumo app to search for any content piece and view the influencers who’ve shared it. The next thing you want to do is reach out to these social media heavyweights and interview them on a critical subject. Do this to about ten of them, and quote them directly in your article as you expound on their points. There’s a high possibility that they’ll retweet, share or link to your post.
Here’s the perfect example of such a post:
How Does Content Influence SEO – 25 SEO Experts Share Their Opinions
8. Focus on Making Sharers’ Identities Look Good
The New York Times did a study on this. They would find out that people love sharing content that makes their online personas look good in front of their peers.
For example, people are likely to share your content if it makes them look intelligent, original, generous, in-the-know, creative, cool, or thought-provoking.
What’s really great about this kind of content is that it also has the power to influence your fans almost instantaneously. People are more likely to click on something, tweet it out, or share it if their online friend groups are doing pretty much the same thing.
They want to signal themselves as being part of a tribe—in other words, they want to strengthen their standing in their social circles.
9. Create Content that Uplifts People and Brightens their Day
People also love it when you share content that brightens their day, helps them with practical advice or helps them stay connected with their family and friends.
You can create this kind of content by interviewing people with inspiring stories, sharing heart-warming videos, or making lists that help people solve some real-world problems.
That way, people are more likely to share your content, not just because they like it, but because they think it might also help someone else, they know.
10. Build a Relationship of Trust with Your Users or Readers/Viewers
Users aren’t interested in viewing or reading your content created by a faceless entity. They want to see or feel like they are engaging with someone who is just like them in every sense.
To do this, you have to consider building a relationship of trust with your audience by being transparent, authentic, and genuine in everything you publish.
You can start by writing a short bio that tells your readers who you are, where you’re from, and how much experience you have with the topic at hand. Be sure also to include your picture of yourself.
If you’re a complete “noob,” perhaps you should consider interviewing industry experts. It’s an excellent strategy to leverage the associations you have with people who are already making an impact in their industry.
11. Create Content That’s Your “Own.”
It might seem like a good idea to borrow content from Wikipedia or other sources and pass it as your own. But that’s wrong on so many levels.
First, people are really good at spotting plagiarized content, especially on the internet, where things appear and reappear in various contexts.
Even if you modify the content so that it appears like your own, people can still tell when they see certain words, phrases, and sentences pop up too many times. It’s just not worth it since there are plenty of ways to create original content that doesn’t violate copyright laws.
Some focus on coming up with something original, and sooner or later, your efforts will pay off.
12. Enlighten Your Readers/Viewers with Unique Research Results
You’re not going to attract readers with stale content with no statistical or scientific findings relevant to their needs.
In other words, readers/viewers don’t reward lazy. To increase your content visibility — and perhaps secure a backlink from an authoritative website, you have to learn how to create unique, actionable content that readers will find helpful.
You can do this by conducting interviews, reviewing studies and reports from credible sources, or doing your own experiments.
Just make sure that everything you publish is 100% original and factual!
Learn to use free survey tools to conduct informal studies and public resources, APIs, and your own internal database to draw insights and disseminate information on things never published before.
13. Don’t Write, Document the Process
People are more interested in the process of how something is made or done rather than just the end result.
They want to understand what challenges you’re facing, what mistakes you’ve made along the way, and how you’re correcting them. According to Maren Hogan, this is because allowing your readers/viewers “to see the process allows them to share the emotions you went through along the way.”
It makes your readers/viewers feel involved, appreciated, and more likely to engage with your content.
So, instead of dishing out pieces of advice, focus on letting the reader learn from your own experiences, wins, and mistakes.
If it’s a business, how did you pull it off?
If it’s marketing, what are some of your campaign strategies?
How did you create that content? What took the longest time to create, and what was the easiest part?
14. Pay Attention to the headline
Headlines are like magnets — they can either repel or attract readers.
If you don’t get their attention quickly by using the right keywords, key phrases, and/or subject matter, then, unfortunately, there’s a huge chance your content will remain unopened.
You want to write headlines that are so compelling it arouses “curiosity gaps” — encouraging the reader to click on it and learn more.
First impressions matter a lot, so make it count.
According to Copy Blogger, about 80% of your visitors will read your headline, but only 20% will read the rest of the content.
After analysing hundreds of winning headlines, Lenka Istvanova (from Koozao Marketing) came up with a simple formula for writing a captivating headline.
Here’s the formula:
Let’s go through a few examples:
Example 1: X of the —————— You’ll Find Today
X of the Top Tunes You’ll Hear this Month
X of the Best Films You’ll Watch This Year
Example 2: ———– Vs. ———–” Which is —————–
WordPress Vs. Joomla: Which One is a Better CMS?
Disney’s Frozen Vs. Pixar’s Inside Out: Which is More Popular?
Do you know that the headline for this article is an example of a “contrast” headline? It positions WordPress and Joomla as two opponents in the same industry, which made me want to read more about their differences. Had it been a generic headline like “WordPress Vs. Joomla: Which One is Better?” I wouldn’t have opened the article at all.
Example 3: Here’s What You Don’t Know About ——————- That Could——
Here’s What You Don’t Know About Copywriting That Could Cost You Sales
Here’s What You Don’t Know About SEO That Could Wreck Your Rankings
It’s surprising to learn something you didn’t know about. These headlines make you curious, leaving you with unanswered questions like “What don’t I know about copywriting?” or “What don’t I know about SEO?”
15. Enable Comments
Comments act as social proof. They show readers that your content is well-received and liked by others — which consequently encourages them to share it themselves.
According to Wordstream, posts with more than 100 comments average 2.5 times more page views than posts with zero — or even just one or two — comments.
16. Lead the Reader
You don’t want to write a dry piece of content that’s hard to look at.
Instead, you want to write something that readers are willing to wade through — even if it means they have to spend up to 10 minutes reading everything you’ve written.
If the content is too complicated or confusing for them, then chances are they’ll abandon your blog post halfway into it.
Fortunately, there’s a way to avoid this from happening.
It’s called “leading the reader.”
In other words, you want to focus on taking them through an exciting experience, answering their questions at every turn, and giving them a scoop of what to expect next.
Here’s an example of “leading the reader”:
“Don’t you just hate it when you’re reading an interesting blog post about X, Y, Z topic, and then suddenly you’re bombarded with a wall of text?”
“Well, I certainly do, which is why I made sure to break up this article into easy-to-digest sections.”
Which sounds more inviting to you?
When I read the second excerpt, I immediately want to know what this article is all about. It’s easier for me to understand what it’s about because the author made sure to guide me through each step — making me less likely to abandon it midway.
17. Don’t Waste Their Time
The truth is, we’re always in a hurry to get things done as quickly as possible. But then you write rambling points that don’t exactly answer the reader’s questions.
The result? They lose interest and bounce. You just wasted their time.
Here’s how you can avoid this:
- Use shorter sentences and paragraphs
- Write in the active voice
- Get straight to the point