5 tips for making content go viral

Robert HöglundIn this guest post, Robert Höglund has some advice for marketers on how to make super-popular content for the social web.

Creating a viral hit is the quest for the holy grail that scores of marketers set out upon but from few return successful. Here are five tips for improving your odds for viral success.

Pay. This sounds counter-intuitive. Isn’t the point with viral content that you shouldn’t have to pay for getting it out there. You have probably heard about a lot of examples of videos, campaigns and images that went viral on the internet without anyone paying a single cent to promote it. But you probably haven’t heard about the hundreds of thousands of pieces of content that never went viral.

You have to give a snowball a push for it to start rolling down the hill. You dramatically increase the chances that your content gets a large number of shares if you make sure some people are guaranteed to see it in the first place. The free viral phenomena are shining exceptions from the rule that you get what you pay for. As a rule of thumb, make sure the budget for promoting your content is at least as big as the budget for creating it.

Be brave. When it comes to creating viral content you need to be prepared to go outside your comfort zone. If you’re not willing to do that then almost all hope of virality is already lost. What often happens is that you start out with a strong idea but then it gets weaker and weaker as more and more people in the organization have a say. The result of this might not be that obvious when dealing with classic advertising. But when it comes to virality it’s a winner takes it all kind of a game. There’s nowhere to hide from the brutal face of failure when the content just is not strong enough.

Make sure people know it was you. Often people don’t even know who was the sender behind a viral message. The mistake many marketers make is to come up with something really funny or interesting but not being able to tie it back to the actual sender of the message. In many cases the only thing that connects sender and message is a logo and maybe a tagline at the end of a video. The story of the content must have a connection to your business. If you get 10 million views but no new customers, then the win was actually a failure.

Turn things upside down. Getting a good idea in the first place is probably the hardest part of creating viral content. Questioning assumptions and looking at things from new angles makes it easier. Try to come up with a piece of content that would surely go viral but that would be impossible for you to create. That often gets your idea generating brain going. And some of the impossible ideas might just be possible after a few tweaks. Continue with asking yourself what kind of message would be the opposite of the one you want to communicate. This can further stimulate creative ideas.

Follow the STEPPS. Jonah Berger is a marketing professor who spent the last decade studying why certain things catch on and others don’t. Through extensive research Berger found six key characteristics of viral content:

It contains Social currency. Stuff that makes us look good when we share it. It’s a topic we are Triggered to think and talk about. It’s Emotional. We share things that contains strong emotions regardless if it makes us feel amused, happy, amazed or angry. It is Public. Things become viral more easily when we see that others use a product, or interact with a brand. An example is the campaigns that involves changing your FB-profile picture. It contains Practical value. For example explaining a novel way to do something we do all the time, how-to tips etc. It contains a powerful Story, that is easy to tell.

However note that it isn’t necessary for a viral story to contain all these characteristics. But the more the better. Read more about his research and see examples of content that follow the STEPPS at this website.

To sum it up. Virality is both about creating content that people want to share, but also giving it the right conditions to be able to be seen and shared. Don’t put everything on black and count on that you will achieve the next viral success.

Robert Höglund is head of social media at digital agency Lion & Lion Indonesia.


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