Tips to Help Your Content Go Viral [Updated 2020]

Creating content that goes viral isn’t something brands normally think of as they are writing it. Mostly they want to create content that will engage their audience, grab attention, and hopefully get a few contact forms filled out. Of course, when content does go viral, it can be a game-changer for a brand. In the early days of social media, viral content was simple. We were just getting a taste of what the new internet looked like, and certain videos and images struck a chord with the masses. 

Remember Charlie Bit Me? A simple home video posted in 2007 now has nearly a billion views on YouTube. More recently, a skateboarder in California gave us all the pleasant break we needed from the pandemic, with a TikTok video of himself skateboarding to work, drinking Ocean Spray cranberry juice, and singing Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” Not only did the view launch countless copycat videos, but it catapulted sales of Ocean Spray cranberry juice, and put Fleetwood Mac back on the music charts; even inspiring the company’s CEO and the band to join in the fun. The video wasn’t planned, but it just shows the immense power that viral content can have. With that, here are some tips to help your content go viral:

How do you create content that goes viral? Is it science or is it art?

The short answer is: both. If you’ve ever watched a viral video and thought, “That looks so easy to do! Even I could make that,” you aren’t alone. Viral content can appear incredibly simple and obvious, but once you actually try to make something go viral, you start to realize that there is much more to it.

Why do some things go viral?

With almost every major piece of viral content, there is a combination of factors that makes it resonate with massive audiences. The content seems to walk the line between relatable yet unique, high quality but not staged, with elements of surprise, joy, or humor. 

A brand may try to manufacture this type of content with some success, but certain components like authenticity are lacking, which keep the content from reaching its full potential. In 2012, Dollar Shave Club hit a home run with it’s now legendary commercial. The video now has over 27 million views on YouTube, an obvious success story for the company, but what keeps it from reaching the hundreds of millions of views that seemingly unplanned viral content receives? Despite the humor, shock value, quality and elements of surprise, it’s still a staged commercial.

The No. 1 thing that influences whether content goes viral or not is its ability to evoke a positive emotional response in the viewer. People are more likely to share an article, image or video if it inspires them, piques their curiosity or makes them laugh.

Content that induces negative emotions can still go viral, but content that makes people angry performs better than content that makes people feel sad.

Why do people share content?

Different people share different things — there’s no debating it. But what’s interesting to know here is what drives them to share things. What is the motivation?

In 2011, the New York Times did a study on the psychology of sharing, examining people’s motivations for sharing content online. One significant finding was that people share things based on their relationships with other people. You can use this to your advantage when creating your own content by thinking in terms of what your audience might want to share with people with whom they share similar interests. They boiled down the reasons why people share content to five points:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to others
  • To define ourselves to others
  • To grow and nourish our relationships
  • Self-fulfillment
  • To get the word out about causes or brands

By knowing how the psychology of sharing works, you can create content that not only resonates with your audience, but you’d also be able to identify gaps that have been preventing your content from being share-worthy.

Sharing content is a form of communication in itself these days. Web content such as videos, GIFs or memes are used to better express thoughts and opinions. Articles are shared to convey complex ideas more efficiently.

When trying to craft viral content, you need to ask yourself, “Is this going to ignite or enhance a conversation?” People also share content as an expression of their identity. If you have demographic information about your social media followers, you can use this to create content that speaks to them and their desire to define themselves to others.

Why didn’t my content go viral?

While the emotional response plays a major role in making content go viral, it also takes a fair amount of planning and strategy. Quality matters, whether it’s making sure your video is shot in HD and has good lighting, or publishing a clean and attractive article with appropriate images. Ultimately, audiences want to see authenticity, but they want it to look good, too.

Timing your content is important, as well. People won’t see your content if they’re asleep or at work. Using social media metrics from past posts, you should be able to see the best times for getting your posts seen by your audience.

Maybe you thought you had the perfect viral content — the quality was amazing, it spoke to you and others, the message was genuine and engaging, and it was scheduled for a time that most people would see it — but it still flopped.

That’s OK. It happens to everyone. Before you completely scrap your post and try something new, try re-posting that content the following week. If you originally posted on a Friday, try posting it again earlier in the week to help spread exposure. Remember, on top of the many hurdles to creating content that resonates with audiences, you also have the mysterious workings of social network algorithms to contend with. 

Remember: You can’t always manufacture viral content

Sometimes you just can’t plan what’s going to go viral. In 2016, we posted a photo of a longtime employee of a restaurant in Lawrence, Kansas. The post was typical of the type of content we usually work with our clients to create, but this time was different. The employee had been at that location for decades, even preceding the current restaurant and working for the restaurant that was there before. Over the next few days, the community showed an outpouring of love and support for the woman who had unknowingly become a staple of the community. The post received over 30,000 likes, thousands of shares, and hundreds of comments in which customers shared their stories of interactions over the years. The post caught so much attention that it was featured on the local news as well.

Ultimately, while you can’t predict what content will go viral, you can always count on building quality content that resonates with audiences to get you heading in the right direction. 

Need help getting your content to the next level? Contact the marketing team at Dream Local Digital to schedule your free marketing consultation