How Does Content Go Viral?
Content going viral can seem like a miracle or too far-fetched. But if you take a closer look, there are patterns and insights into what goes viral.
While viral video is a common term, it can be any piece of content that goes viral. An article. An image. It can even be a person or event. Remember when Ken Bone went viral during the 2016 presidential debates? How about the 2017 Fyre Festival disaster which went viral both as an actual news story and as a topic that incited many jokes and memes.
When content goes viral, it can make cultural and geographic boundaries disappear. Of course, the term viral relates to the medical term virus. It’s roughly the same idea, except instead of a disease, the contagious thing is content which travels fast and far.
Viral content reaches more and more people as the content is shared and discussed. The various social media platforms make it easy for users to share amongst their online communities.
Viral content catches a spark and quickly spreads online. However, there is no strict definition of how many views, retweets, or shares you need to go viral. It doesn’t necessarily have to include the whole internet. It can mean the content was popular in a specialized corner of the internet where your audience and business industry live. Going viral can mean on a local or global scale.
Your audience is the deciding factor in if your content goes viral. It’s up to them to start the ripple effect.
Common characteristics of viral content:
Feel-good, uplifting, or positive
Shocking (though brands should most likely steer away from being controversial)
Essentially, viral content evokes an emotional response. Often, it resonates with people. Think heartwarming humanity pieces or adorable animal videos.
When a piece of content gets a response, usually a strong one, the viewer doesn’t want to remain passive. That is what gets them to click or tap and share it and comment and share their opinion of it with their own audience. That’s the whole point. You want people to pass your content along.
The psychology behind viral content
Content that causes an emotional response, whether positive or negative, has a higher likelihood of being shared. Emotions are contagious.
What compels someone to tap share? Well, one aspect is that people share content which they identify with and that fits within the social media image they want to project to their followers and friends. People share what they want to reflect their image online to others. They tend to think of the original content they post and the content they curate and share as reflective of their personality and their identity online.
There is no secret formula to going viral but there are things which you can do to improve your chances and stack the odds in your favor.
Tips to better your chances at going viral:
- Giveaways and contests can generate quick attention in your brand. But that tactic still needs to be well thought out, planned out, and purposeful.
- Optimize your content to be found. Include a clear, explanatory title (if relevant). Same goes for tags (hashtags and otherwise), keywords, etc.
- Share your content across all your business’ social media accounts. Put your content in more than one place. For example, you can upload a video to YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and your blog.
- When it comes to blogs and articles, longer content actually has a better chance to get shared more times.
- Be sure you have social sharing icons in the appropriate places so it’s an easy, streamlined experience for people to share your web content on the social platform of their preference.
- Pay attention to timing. Posting on the right days and at the right hours can make a huge difference in how many eyes see your content. Track and keep tabs on when your followers are most active.
- Keyword research can help you discover what your audience cares about and is interested in. Keyword research can also help you to keep track of trending topics so you can take advantage of what is already buzzworthy and getting attention online.
- Accept that your most beloved or timely content may not go viral. Don’t get your hopes up or count on one piece of expensive content to catch on. There is an inevitable element of luck when it comes to content going viral. But high quality content posted consistently will garner your brand more attention than erratically posting then going radio-silent for months.
- Track your content and the results. Analyze what gets the most engagement and/or shares. Learn from this to optimize content for the potential to go viral.
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