What makes content go VIRAL?

What makes content go VIRAL?

 Viral Content

Going viral is something of a holy grail to the content marketer. When a piece of content goes viral it’s not just seen as a validation of its quality and relevance, but as an opportunity for it to take on a whole new life as it’s shared far and wide and leaves a significant and measurable impact in the hearts and minds of all who interact with it.

Unfortunately, there’s no unequivocal way to define and quantify what it is that makes something go viral. It’s a perfect storm made up of a number of factors, which vary according to the content itself, the timing of its release, the audience that view it and much more. As such, it’s almost impossible to guarantee that a piece of content will go viral, unless you’re willing to spend significantly to boost and promote it, something which simply isn’t feasible for the majority of SMMEs and isn’t even a sure thing. Viral content is actually considered an unusual phenomenon, an outlier to the status quo of the endless reams of content that saturate the Internet.

So how does one create content that has the best chance of going viral?

To begin to understand and answer that question, we first need to define what is meant by viral content.  Essentially, and the name itself is a dead give away here, a piece of viral content is one that is viewed and shared many times, by many different users on the internet. The content itself can be anything from a piece of information to a video or audio clip and, much like its namesake, spreads quite indiscriminately from user to user as they internalise it and subsequently pass it on to those within their circle of influence; a fitting metaphor indeed.

Logically one might assume that in order for a piece of content to become viral, it needs to appeal to many different people and be optimised for sharing across many different channels. Creating content that has this universal appeal and compels a user to share it of their own volition, however, is not as straightforward as it may seem.  There are currently over 3 billion daily active Internet users in the world and this is increasing by the second.

With such a large and diverse audience, it becomes extremely difficult to create content that will resonate with as many of them as possible and, ironically enough, research has shown that content that is too general and tries to appeal to too large an audience is unlikely to go viral.

This is just further evidence that creating viral content is an imprecise science. But, while luck will always play a major role in determining whether content goes viral, there are certain guidelines you can follow to increase your chances of getting lucky.

The 3 key dimensions of virality

Although we’ve already determined that there’s no definitive way to ensure virality, trend-mapping has identified certain dimensions that will increase the likelihood of content going viral.

1. Make it visual

Visual content has consistently proven to have the highest level of virality compared to other forms of content. A recent study by Buzzsumo, which analysed 2000 of the most viral content pieces of 2015, found that out of the top 50 most shared pieces 45% were video and 24% image-based.  With 72% of the top 50 being primarily visual, it’s undeniable that visual content is far more likely to go viral.

The main reasoning behind this is that people find visual content far quicker and easier to engage with. It’s less demanding and facilitates ease of comprehension and sharing. Remember the old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’? Well, in this case, that seems to hold true.

2. Make it informative

Whilst this doesn’t imply that you should load your content with facts and figures and reams of research, trends show that content that piques the users interest and leaves them somewhat more enlightened on a certain topic or issue, has a much higher chance of going viral.

There are many ways to achieve this, whether it’s in the form of a warning, advice, tips and tricks, interesting facts and trends or anything else that is likely to intrigue the everyman. Content that is informative and adds value to your audience’s lives is far more likely to get a share.

3. Make it emotionally-charged

Stimulating some kind of emotional response from your audience has shown to be a highly effective method to facilitate virality and, with the nearly endless array of human emotions we’re subject to on a daily basis, there are many ways to go about this.

Humour is generally the most powerful of emotions to leverage when virality is the end goal, and a witticism in your title, a lighthearted angle or just the odd comedic element in the content can see a huge increase in the chances of the content going viral.

Content that stimulates sadness, anger, joy, fear or any number of emotional responses, often proves to be highly shareable and really lends itself to virality.

Getting it right

So now that you have a better understanding of what virality is and the 3 key dimensions that increase its likelihood, let’s look at an example that managed to tick all three of these boxes and hit the viral jackpot.

Buzzfeed is something of an authority on viral content. They optimise their posts to try and ensure every piece of content they produce sees the highest number of shares possible and this post entitled ‘21 pictures that will restore your faith in humanity’ is one of their most successfully viral pieces to date, with over 8.7 million views. One of the 21 Pictures include the one below of Chicago Christians who showed up at a gay pride parade to apologise for homophobia in the Church.

Gay Pride viral content

(Michelle Gantner / Maladjusted Media)

As you can see in the above example taken from the post, they really have leveraged the 3 dimensions we identified.

It’s visual: Powerful images are used in each of the 21 examples, making it far easier for the audience to engage with and understand.

It’s informative: Each of the examples gives a scenario and then backs it up with the necessary facts and context so the audience learns something about that particular issue.

It’s emotionally-charged: Everything in this post is designed to stimulate an emotional reaction in the audience. From the emotive title to the imagery and language used, it’s all designed to make you feel a range of emotions and compel you to share the post.

Going viral is always going to be the most desirable outcome when developing content, and, although you might not get it right as much as you would like, if you start incorporating the dimensions above into your content on a regularly basis, your next piece may just be a winner.

If you need assistance in creating highly effective and shareable content to suit your audience, visit our content page to see what types of content we can assist you with.

Leave a Reply