Yay, You’ve Got Cooties!: Creating Viral Content

Content can go viral overnight! It takes a lot of planning and strategy, with a touch of luck. You can have the formula just right and fail over and over to achieve viral status. Why is it then that some content goes viral? Let’s take a look at some articles to see the common factors in creating viral content.

Mark Smiciklas broke it down to 5 elements in his infographic:

  1. Scarcity – uniqueness; interesting
  2. Share – include buttons so your audience can pass it along
  3. Skimability – does your audience have to read the entire piece to get the gist?
  4. Practical Utility – useful information
  5. Consistency – ‘quality and frequency of your content’
5 Key Elements of Viral Content

Dorie Clark pointed out the 6 factors from Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On:

  1. Social currency – what’s in it for your audience?
  2. Triggers – do they come across anything in their daily lives that will remind them of the material?
  3. Emotion – how does your material make them feel?
  4. Publicness – where is your content? is it out there for all to see?
  5. Practical value – how useful is your information?
  6. Stories – ‘is there a memorable narrative?’

Derek Halpern also highlighted points from a piece by Jonah Berger called “What Makes Online Content Go Viral?”:

  1. Positive content is more viral than negative content
  2. Content that evoked high arousal emotions – positive or negative – is more viral than content without emotion
  3. Practically useful content gets shared.

Halpern also lists the top 7 emotions:

  1. Awe
  2. Anger
  3. Anxiety
  4. Fear
  5. Joy
  6. Lust
  7. Surprise

In “The Secret Recipe for Viral Content Marketing Success“, by Kelsey Libert, she puts a great deal of focus on the importance of eliciting emotion and audience engagement. If you can get your audience to feel the right type of emotion to make them want to share your content, they will usually share it within a day to two. She mentions the “social benefit of sharing” as something they get out of it when sharing to their peers or audience. Your audience can also be responsible for creating viral content for you (“fractal virality”) if you give them the proper tools to do so.

In an article by Carson Ward, “Why Content Goes Viral: the Theory and Proof“, he gives a breakdown of his “viral checklist”:

  • Longer articles – make sure to cover the entire topic
  • Inspire anger, awe, or anxiety
  • Prove you care – if the audience doesn’t see your own emotion in the story, they are less likely to share
  • Practically useful, surprising, and interesting
  • Known authors – sometime more valuable than the actual content
  • Female authors – on average produce more viral content than male authors
  • Humor – universal appeal

Larry Kim wrote an article called “Oops, I Ruined the Facebook IPO!“, where he implemented many of the elements we see above to successfully create viral content. He wrote a very in depth article about Facebook Advertising vs. The Google Display Network and had it made into an infographic to help share via social media. He timed his material to come out just before the Facebook IPO. This timely article caught on very quickly after GM decided to drop their Facebook advertising. Because he took the time to try to push his study out to a few key outlets, it spread like a wildfire once the GM news broke in the Wall Street Journal. His study challenged the powerhouse everyone knew as Facebook and made people wonder if it was really as great as it seemed to be. Although Kim explained that he didn’t really ruin the Facebook IPO, his study did allow people to view Facebook Advertising in a new light by simplifying it’s weaknesses compared to the strengths of the Google Display Network.

So what do you see as common factors among the lists above (besides Jonah Berger)?

  • EMOTION – get people to feel something, anything. For the greatest chance of success, try to stay positive and be specific in which emotion you want your audience to feel.
  • PRACTICAL utility and value – provide really useful, interesting information that makes life easier or improves the way people do things.
  • SHARE – give people a reason to share and make it easy for them to pass your information on.

Questions to consider:

  1. In all of the lists I presented, would you have picked the same top three common factors? If not, which would be your top three?
  2. Is it safe to say that if you aim for viral you will, at minimum, be very successful in reaching a large portion of your audience with your content?

2 thoughts on “Yay, You’ve Got Cooties!: Creating Viral Content

  1. Great post, Erin! I would definitely agree with your three common factors (and nice job condensing everyone’s words into a simpler but still meaningful strategy). When I think about what I share on social media, it always falls into one of those categories. I’ve really enjoyed this week’s readings because they dissect viral content, but I always fall back on my gut feelings. First I have to separate myself from the content my company is producing, and think like someone with no connections to our content. What would make me share it? It always comes down to strong emotions, useful information and ease of sharing.

    I would also agree with your second question. If you aim for viral, you’re at least going to get some decent traffic. And you’ll also get some valuable experience — determining what resonates with your audience and what doesn’t will help you produce more viral content in the future.

    1. Thank you Julie! You are right about trying to separate yourself from your company and viewing the content as an outsider. That’s a great way to think about it.

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