Viral content is a Holy Grail in the world of content marketing. While there is no strict or numerical definition of what constitutes a “viral” piece, in general, a viral piece of content is one that has been circulated throughout the Internet hundreds of thousands to millions of times. Because it’s seen by millions of people and talked about ad infinitum, getting your brand attached to a piece of viral content is a surefire way to skyrocket your brand’s popularity and earn thousands—if not millions—of new visitors to your site.
Of course, achieving this is far easier said than done. There’s no perfect formula for creating a piece of viral content, and some people spend months trying to create one only to fall short. While there is no secret way to guarantee success, there are a handful of qualities that can improve the virality, or probability of going viral, of your piece.
Originality is a must-have for any piece of viral content. If you want your material to be shared, watched, or read by that many people, you have to ensure that those people haven’t seen something similar before. The only exception is if your piece offers a strong counterpoint to an existing argument, or serves as a parody of an existing piece. Otherwise, your piece must be 100 percent unique.
The phrase “choice of medium” applies here because there’s no one medium with a higher chance of going viral than another. Videos are easy to share and easy to watch (which you’ll read about later), so they’re often chosen as the ideal medium, but this isn’t necessary for every piece of content. Be sure to choose a form that complements your material.
If your content is hard to get to, or if it’s difficult to read through, you can bet that people won’t enjoy it and won’t want to share it. Instead, work to ensure that your content is a concise, tidy length and easy to access. As an example, for videos, that means using a familiar medium like YouTube and keeping your videos under five minutes (or as short as possible).
There needs to be something surprising about your material. Is it a shocking new statistic? A new revelation that nobody has considered before? Or is it just an interesting turning point in your piece that leads people to an “a-ha” moment? Whatever it is, it needs to generate a sense of surprise. People like sharing surprises.
Even if your content is mostly about entertainment value (which I’ll touch on shortly), there needs to be some grounding in real information or research. Using data to ground your assertions makes you seem more authoritative, and presenting new information makes people more interested in your material.
When something makes us laugh or thrills us, we naturally want to share it. That’s why so many funny videos have a high propensity to go viral. Even if your company’s brand is conservative or highly professional, your content should have some sort of entertainment value. Otherwise, there won’t be an emotional attachment to your piece, and people won’t want to share it.
There needs to be some kind of practical application for your piece, even if it isn’t direct. For example, a tutorial on how to change a tire is practical for obvious reasons, but a video about a man overcoming adversity is practical for an indirect reason—it’s practical because it’s inspiring and can help people get through the day. Find a way to make your content practical, in any form you can.
It helps if your content is time-appropriate. Evergreen content is great as a foundation of your content strategy, but content that comments on recent events or fits in with a specific era has a higher chance of going viral. It provides another emotional connection and gives people a sense of urgency that leads them to share your piece more often.
While most content strategies become successful because they’re focused on a highly specific niche, viral content succeeds when it is more universal and general. In order to become viral, you’ll need to appeal to millions of people, and that means choosing a topic that has a much wider appeal than just for your typical demographics.
If you want your content to be shared, you have to make it easy to share it. If you’re posting your content on your site, include easy-to-find share buttons and social media integrations. Include calls to action in your piece that suggest for your followers and readers to share your piece. Make it easy, and reward your users for doing so.
Finally, your piece needs to have a jumping-off platform to build initial momentum. That might mean using paid advertising for an initial jump, sharing the hell out of it on your social channels, or getting a handful of influencers to share your material.
Take a look at how many of the 11 above qualities your piece contains. If you have all 11, then congratulations—your piece has a genuine chance of going viral. If you have between 8 and 10, you have a very good piece of content with a small chance of going viral and a significant chance at winning favor with your target audience. If you have less than 8, your piece could probably use some work.
Again, bear in mind that this article is meant to serve as a general guide, not an absolute recipe for success. The more content you produce and the more experience you gain, the better you’ll be able to “feel” for a content’s potential virality.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.