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How To Get Your Content To Go Viral Online

Last updated on May 8, 2020
13 minute read
Key Takeaways

  • What it means to "go viral" online
  • Best content types for viral marketing
  • Tips to get the most social media shares for your content

Skill Level

All Skill Levels

Going viral is every business owner’s dream. It offers the potential for more bookings, a larger audience, and a strong following on social media, to name a few benefits. And knowing that thousands or millions of people have viewed your content in a short time span is an exciting feeling. But finding the formula for going viral isn’t exactly cut and dry. Some pieces of content generate a huge buzz while others miss the mark. 

Still, you can improve your chances of going viral by getting to know your audience, creating content that resonates with people on an emotional level, and taking advantage of social media trends, among other tactics outlined in this guide. While there’s no guarantee that your video, photo, or other content will become a viral sensation, following these practices is still a great way to boost your marketing efforts and try something new while generating more views on your website, social media, and other platforms.

What does it mean to go viral?

It’s hard to come to a consensus on a number of likes, shares, or views a post needs to receive to be considered viral, though it’s usually in the thousands or millions in terms of views. As a general rule of thumb, paying attention to shares can show you how viral the content is. For example, if on average one viewer shares the content with more than one additional viewer, and this trend continues, it could be on its way to going viral. 

To really understand what it means to go viral by getting people to share your content, you have to think in terms of social currency, the influence or pull a person has among their peers and network. Individuals spend social currency when they choose to share or post as they place their “social reputation” on the line. Generally speaking, people will only share or post based on what they think will increase their social reputation. That’s why it’s so important to understand your audience and create content that they will react to on an emotional level (more on this later).

There are six main behaviors that influence social currency. Content that falls into any of these buckets has a better chance of going viral since people will share content that makes them look good.

  1. Utility: Viewers perceive value from this brand.
  2. Information: Viewers receive valuable information from this brand and want to share it.
  3. Conversation: Viewers want to talk about the brand with others.
  4. Advocacy: Viewers are happy to promote the brand.
  5. Affiliation: Viewers connect and engage with other fans/viewers of the brand.
  6. Identity: By sharing, viewers express a part of their identity to others.

If you’re stuck brainstorming content ideas, think about creating something that promotes one of these six behaviors in order to generate shares. You can also conduct research to see what’s popular right now in order to piggyback off of the current trends. Monitor Google Trends to see what is being talked about and searched, and see what’s trending on Twitter via Explore and Moments. Don’t forget to take a look at Reddit for unique content ideas, and YouTube trending for the best videos. 

Content Guidelines

Chances are, some of your existing content or any upcoming ideas you might have already feature a few of the ingredients needed to go viral. Whether you’re planning a new post or hoping to update something you’ve already created, you can follow these guidelines to help your business go viral!

a close up of a logoVisuals Are King

When it comes to shareable content, the more visual the better. Video is one of the most effective platforms for viral marketing because it is easy to consume. People are used to watching short clips on Facebook or YouTube while multitasking. Attention spans are fleeting — your average viewer might not have the time to sit down and read the long blog post you shared. 

But videos, especially those under one minute, are quick and fun to watch. The same is true for images, which are equally as popular as videos on Facebook according to a study from Impact. Opting for videos or images over text is a great way to convey important information, since people retain information in a visual format more effectively than through text.

Pro tip: For social media, keep videos between 10 to 30 seconds. For YouTube, feel free to go a bit longer, such as a few minutes in length.

a close up of a logoCapitalize on Recent Trends

One of the main reasons a post goes viral is because it features a recent trend. This could be a popular internet challenge, a new dance craze, or the more recent trend of virtual experiences during COVID-19 self-isolation. Sometimes this could mean piggybacking off of another trend to highlight your business. Capitalizing on recent trends is a great way to generate buzz about your business, even if your virality is short-lived. Remember, many of these trends have a short life span, but that’s okay since they’re all about living in the moment and showing your audience that you follow the same trends they enjoy.

a close up of a logoPlay an Emotional Angle

Of course, not everything you share will evoke an emotional response in viewers, but some of the best viral campaigns do just that. So if you’re creating content with the sole purpose of going viral, be sure to follow this important guideline. Posts should spark some sort of response in viewers, whether that’s laughter, excitement, or even anger, to increase the chances of mass sharing and drive the viewers to action (in the form of shares, likes, or converting on your website). 

In order to play this emotional angle, you need to have a good understanding of your audience, since engagement starts with them before the post really takes off. Think about your target customer, or the people who engage the most with your posts on social media, to determine how to elicit a positive response from them. Your target audience is likely made up of people who book your tours and activities, so your tour guides and staff might have some ideas about who your guests are and the type of content they’d like to see. It’s also a good idea to look at your top fans across social media platforms to get a sense of how they interact with your content and what type of content they tend to like, share, and comment on to get an idea of what to post.

a close up of a logoBe Bold and Purposeful

Don’t be afraid to go against the grain or ruffle a few feathers with your viral campaign. Oftentimes, edgier content gets more shares, especially if you want it to get picked up organically (i.e. without ads or influencers). Most viral campaigns have some edginess to them that is intentional, so think about how you can be bold or do something different with the content you’re sharing.

a close up of a logoCreate a Recognizable Hashtag

Make a unique hashtag associated with your business name to help people search for your business. When crafting your hashtag, think of ways to incorporate your business name and possibly the name of the trend if you’re piggybacking off of something that’s already circulating on the internet. Or be bold and create your own shareable hashtag that other people can pick up and use for themselves (while sharing your original content). Having a unique hashtag also helps you track shares and engagement.

a close up of a logoWrite Longer Headlines

Long headlines are correlated with increased social sharing! So don’t be afraid to give your headlines a makeover. According to a study by BackLinko, headlines with 14 – 17 words get about 100 more shares than headlines with only 1 – 5 words.

Promote Your Content

Start the viral movement by promoting the content to your audience. You never know who might pick it up from there and help you get the ball rolling.

  • Take advantage of user-generated content (UGC), content posted by your audience, to create the perception that you’ve created a movement that’s gaining momentum. Repost and share any UGC that uses your hashtag to give the movement an identity.
  • Promote the content in relevant Facebook groups and communities where the audience might find your brand interesting. For example, if you run sightseeing tours, post in travel groups. An art class business might share content on arts and crafts pages and other similar groups.
  • Cross-promote your content on conversation-based platforms like Twitter and Reddit. Twitter and Reddit have become popular as dedicated conversational platforms. Share your campaigns on these channels to start discussion threads and additional shares.
  • Be as targeted as possible at the initial launch. Despite the wide reach of viral marketing, getting the right traction means first landing with the right audience. Whether you use Google Analytics or other analytical tools available, focus in on a select audience or two as the main generators of your viral campaign. Email marketing is a suitable solution for targeting your exact audience by reaching out to people who have signed up for your newsletters or have already participated in your tours and activities.
  • Use employee advocacy to generate buzz. For a quick spike in traffic and social chatter, ask employees to begin social sharing on their own accounts. This is a cheap and relatively effortless way to market your business.

Now you’re on your way to creating a viral marketing campaign! Take the time to experiment with different types of content to see what succeeds. Even if the content doesn’t make it big this time around, following these best practices helps your brand get wider reach and recognition regardless. To get the most reach for your content, we recommend utilizing social media, so check out our guides on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter if you need to brush up on your posting skills. For more tips on connecting with your audience, choosing the best media platforms, and more, visit our digital marketing guides.

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