The secret to creating viral content

Surprising or making your readers laugh is often a sure way to get them to share your content.

Surprising or making your readers laugh is often a sure way to get them to share your content.

Viral content is the ultimate “word of mouth” marketing. If something is so good that people share it, put their name to it, sent it to their friends and almost claim it as their own, then you have succeeded in the most difficult of internet marketing goals; you have got viral content.

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As you might expect, the phenomenon of viral content has been deeply researched. Studies of millions of articles and posts have been completed, monitoring the number of times each post is shared. Their characteristics have been endlessly measured and logged against the share rate, and though some common threads were found between pieces of content that went viral, no exact formula has been found.

Human nature cannot be formulated it seems, yet some lessons can be learnt. Used well, these lessons can ensure that your content is both engaging and easy to share. If your content can hit those two goals, then you have a useful piece of content, that will further your brand, even if the eventual goal of going viral remains an elusive goal.

Tips for making content viral

Viral content comes in many forms. List posts, stories and quizzes are the most common types, but in terms of content marketing, the least professional. Research insights and practical tips can also potentially go viral, but they need to be carefully created. There needs to be an emotional element; comedy, surprise, beauty or shock value.

Even the best viral content marketers, the likes of Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, cannot replicate the success on command. Celebrities have a better chance, and for some, the power of their name means that almost anything that they create or post will head towards viral status. However, for those select few, it is unlikely that the content is the important element.

What must be decided is what is required from the content. If it is a case of hitting as many in-boxes, drawing as much traffic as possible, entirely for the advertising or traffic revenue, then the content can be much more blatantly ‘viral type’. These types of article are easy to characterise; an attention grabbing ‘you’ll never guess what is beyond this link’ title, astonishing pictures narrated by controversial or aspirational quotes.

The content is vital for everyone else. Content must surprise. It does not need to shock, but it should surprise. Marketo’s 2013 survey showed that it was the element of surprising people that push people into sharing. This is why many low quality articles designed to go viral have clear questions in the title; “The reality of this situation is not what you expect…” style headings. Surprising research results can have the same effect in a professional context, allowing material to go viral within the correct circle.

Some topics are viral gold

Trending is not going away. The internet creates trends which spiral, greasing the way for viral content. Certain topics, including ‘funny cats’, zombies and the cult of celebrity seem to have a surprising ability to grab attention. Inspiration is another ‘golden’ topic.

Inspiration can come in many forms, though the most popular for attempts at viral content are pictures of extraordinary scenes and quotations. Picture list posts have significant traction in the viral world, adding grandeur, interest and beauty to what could be dry, factual content.

Nothing however, can beat humour. If you provide genuine entertainment, the sort that people will want to share with their friends, you are onto a winner.

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Regardless of the aims of your content, whether to purely drive traffic or to get the content seen and understood, a few simple tricks can help to engage. A leading title, inspirational use of language and an attention grabbing picture or quotation or two to ease the information.

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