- It takes a combination of detail, strategy and luck to craft a successful social media post.
- Viral content comprises three elements: a great hook, strong content and an understanding of what your audience wants to see.
- Infographics are the most frequently shared type of content.
Viral content is a modern enigma. It can seem like videos of singing toddlers or juicy deep-dive profiles of Instagram influencers hit millions of views overnight like magic. And, sure, there is often an inexplicable element of luck and timing when it comes to viral content, but for the most part, it comes down to strategy, thought and attention to detail.
Here are four tips to create content that goes viral.
1. Find a great hook.
When it comes to social media, people want to know upfront what they're looking at. That's why YouTubers title their videos in bold all caps with tantalizing headlines like "How to Get Glass Skin," "You've Never Seen a Barn Conversion Like This Before" or "We Were Treated Like Absolute Garbage at BeautyCon." These video titles are designed to draw you in so you watch the video – you want to know what they did to the barn or what happened at BeautyCon.
"People will see your headline and decide if they will click through or not," said Camilla Hallstrom, a content marketing consultant. "Create a compelling headline by including specific and actionable information. For example, tell people how many tips they will get or use a statistic in your headline."
You can also initiate a hook by eliciting or promising an emotional response. For example, think about the headlines or video titles you've seen that promise, "This video will make you cry/die laughing/have faith in humanity."
People actively seek out content that promises a reaction, because we recognize that when we react, others will likely react as well, which means guaranteed views and likes on your shared content.
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2. Create content worth sharing.
Once you have viewers' attention, you need to follow through and deliver on the emotion or information promised in your hook.
"The one thing brands can do to make their posts successful is to stand out with great content," said Hallstrom. "Make your content better than anything else out there, and your post will live on." She said to review what is already out there on your chosen topic and see how you can do it better, or add more value than what already exists.
When people are moved emotionally, they are more likely to share that information with those around them. Whether you've made them angry, excited, sad or joyful is not nearly as important as the fact that you made them feel something.
The internet is inundated with pointless cat videos that go viral, because when people watch them, they feel something – a moment of levity in a chaotic world, a connection to a beloved pet or simply the opportunity to laugh. The video of a cat preparing to pounce is not life-altering, profound or remotely important, but it evokes feeling. [Interested in internet marketing and PPC management services? Check out our best picks.]
The most recent shift in online content is toward authenticity, which serves as its own emotional hook. The trend of influencers sharing picture-perfect versions of life faded after consumers voiced that it wasn't what they wanted to see. Now, you see videos and Instagram posts of influencers talking about their struggles, life lessons, and day-to-day life.
Their content is successful because users connect and relate to it, and feel that the people in their own networks will relate to it too. This is how content gets popular – the creator knows what their audience wants to see, and they deliver in a way that makes the reader want to share it with others.
"Use topics that you know your audience will want to read about and share," said Hallstrom, "and make your post the best post there is on that topic."
3. Know your audience.
Successful content is entirely dependent on your audience and how they respond to it.
"The first step to virality begins with your audience," said Krunal Rindani, an independent sales and marketing consultant. "Understand why your followers follow you, understand [their] background, then deliver posts that fulfill [what they're looking for]."
Building an audience is impossible without first building your brand and knowing what type of follower you want to attract. Determine what niche or area of expertise you want to occupy, such as an industry expert, social media maven or brand influencer. [See related article: How to Build Your Personal Brand]
Once you understand the space you occupy and what your audience wants to see, cultivate your posts to play to your audience's interests. This will likely take some experimenting over time to see what types of content they respond to.
"There's a saying: 'Whoever tests the most, wins,'" Rindani said. "Get to know some actionable insights, and you will start pushing highly engaging content."
You will eventually come to understand what content you need to create to have successful posts within your sphere.
4. Make it visual.
According to recent research, infographics are the most frequently shared type of content. In part, this is due to the nature of the content, which makes complex topics easier to grasp quickly. This has enormous value in a world like ours, which has an ever-increasing amount of online content.
Of course, infographics aren't the only way to garner viral exposure and acclaim. For example, Oreo flipped the switch on a power outage to make its tweet a Super Bowl touchdown. It had nothing to do with an elaborate graphics coup or strategic planning. It was the timeliness of the tweet and the way so many people instantly related to the message that caused it to go viral … that and a delicious-looking image with a powerful tagline.
If a static image is worth a thousand words, can you imagine the worth of video? Online video has exploded in recent years, and many industry insiders recommend posting video content across social media channels to boost engagement and increase the odds of content going viral.
You may think creating a viral video is an iffy proposition, but there are several things you can do to help your content reach liftoff. First, remember that longer isn't necessarily better for videos. Most people are consuming social media via mobile devices. This means they are likely on the go or multitasking while they watch your video.
The key to successful videos is to engage viewers quickly with a strong title or attention-grabbing thumbnail image – and then end the video before they get bored and move on. Consider using subtitles for maximum stealth-viewing potential.
Additional reporting by Marisa Sanfilippo. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.