The Mechanics of Going Viral: A How-to Guide
In July 2017, Buzzfeed published an article called ‘You Might Not Know It, But It’s Extremely Likely That You Have Thalassophobia’. It got about 331K shares on Facebook (325,224 in its first week) and has since had a massive 4.5 MILLION page views, definitely making it a viral piece of content.
So how did Buzzfeed manage to make thalassophobia go viral? And why would they even want it to?
We investigate the mechanics of ‘going viral’ and take a look at some of the techniques you can use for your own viral content marketing.
What makes Viral Content?
Viral content is defined as something that spreads quickly and widely around the internet without any budget behind it- (you’ll know you’ve achieved virality when your notifications blow up). And it can add big value to your brand when it’s done right.
Having your brand’s content spread far-and-wide by your audience rather than publications is a great way to build trust. You’re much more likely to trust what your BFF has to say over a big corporate company who just wants to sell you stuff. So when people see their friends and family sharing your content, it gives it a virtual stamp of approval that marks it as worthy of their time.
Viral content can help get you in front of your target market with greater ease. We all make friends with people who have similar interests/style/opinions as us. That means when people who are already brand advocates share your content, it pops up in potential brand advocates’ feeds – and you haven’t even had to ask your manager for a media spend.
The key then, is to create content that attracts your existing customers and makes them want to share it on their social accounts. Easier said than done, right?
Why do people share content?
Understanding what makes people share content is critical when it comes to catering for your audience. In fact, to understand the reasons why people share content, we’ll have to turn to psychology.
Firstly, articles, blogs, and videos are a form of social currency. We all share them across our social networks to get likes and comments, and to look good in front of our friends. And the more likes and comments we get, the better. Because it validates our popularity.
There’s a subconscious element to this too – people don’t always realise it, but they share content that makes them look either A), smart, or B), like they have inside knowledge.
Secondly, people are more likely to share content that has engaged them emotionally. A famous story in marketing folklore tells of poet Jaques Prevert. One day, he walked past a homeless man whose sign read ‘I am blind, please help’, but his donation cup was empty. Prevert rewrote the sign and the next day the homeless man’s cup was full. The sign now read: ‘Spring is coming. But I won’t see it’.
Emotion trumps logic, always. Just like the people in the story, your audience will be more willing to act if your content is emotionally-charged – whether it’s charged with humour, sadness, fear, or excitement.
Finally, people will share content that looks great and is well designed. Internet users have short attention spans – just 8-seconds according to Microsoft – so your content’s design needs to make an impression and be easy to digest.
You might have spent hours researching and writing a really interesting blog post, but if it’s not properly formatted and easy on the eye, people probably won’t finish reading it, let alone share it.
How to create viral content
With these 3 factors in mind, here are 3 things you’ll need to offer your readers to be in with a chance of going viral:
Whether it’s data, opinion, facts, or something else, your content has to offer people value. Remember, it’s social currency.
Look at Buzzfeed’s viral article again.
What is thalassophobia anyway? If you’ve read the article, you know. And if you’ve shared it, your friends know you know, and they want to know too.
It’s a fear of the sea, FYI. Buzzfeed taught us that, so the value of this article is knowledge.
But if Buzzfeed said what Thalassophobia is in their title, the knowledge wouldn’t seem as exciting and ‘insider’.
Instead, Buzzfeed used a big word that makes their readers curious and then makes them feel smart to offer the value of exclusive knowledge. Pretty clever.
You know your audience’s pain points, their problems and their interests, so focus on making content that uses these to connect emotionally.
Buzzfeed starts to stir emotion in their headline.
YOU might not know it. YOU have thalassophobia.
Straight away, the article makes the reader the centre of attention. It makes them feel intrigued and slightly panicked about what the phobia they have, is.
There’s no need to panic about thalassophobia though, so Buzzfeed have their readers slightly duped. But it is something most people can relate to. And once they’ve opened-up the article, feelings shift to familiarity.
It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, but that’s how great content hooks you in.
3. Good design
Infographic, blog post, list article. However you design your content, it needs to showcase the value and convey emotion in the best possible way.
Buzzfeed’s list article uses images and GIFs to visually illustrate thalassophobia. Because showing people exactly what thalassophobia is stirs the feelings it causes.
There’s not a lot of text either – 417 words to be exact. The topic doesn’t call for a wordy explanation, and in this case, images work better – a perfect example of well-designed content showcasing value and conveying emotion.
Just as much thought needs to go into what format your content will take as what you’re going to say in it. Want to entertain your readers? Keep it short and fun, like a quiz. Want to educate them? An informative article does the trick. You could even play around with unique content formats. Like these Red7 emojis that tapped into the social trend by offering hen and stag-themed emojis to create a buzz.
There is a disclaimer to all this. Value, emotion and good design will certainly make your article shareable but going viral is tough, and like anything, takes a pinch of luck. So the focus shouldn’t be on making viral content, it should be on making great content that goes viral.
So next time you sit down to write your next blog post, think. Would you share it? Probably.
Will 331,000 others share it too? You’ll have to find out.