It’s the holy grail of bloggers. It’s everyone’s dream, to wake up one morning to discover your post has gone viral, with 5 to 6 digits of Shares. It’s like Christmas!
But just like Christmas–quick, cover your child’s eyes and ears–there’s no Santa Claus or Father Christmas behind the magic. Just as it takes hard work to earn the money for all those presents, it takes hard work to make viral content.
The Science Behind Viral Content:
According to Jonah Berger, viral content simultaneously scores on the following criteria:
- Social Currency – people share things that make them look smart and cool (and funny)
- Triggers – what we talk is what we think. Top of mind, tip of tongue
- Emotion – when we care, we share– high arousal emotions
- Public – the more public something is, the more like people are to imitate it
- Practical Value – useful things get shared. What’s in it for me and for those around me?
- Stories – This goes back to social currency and the emotion score. An interesting and emotionally-stirring story or a narrative people want to be the one to tell their circle, taking your idea (and your brand) along with it.
Notice that nowhere in Jonah Berger’s STEPPS is it indicated that it depends on WHO shares the content. Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point talks about mavens, connectors and salesmen, but really, according to Jonah Berger and other social media experts, it’s the message that tips the scale toward virality, not the messenger.
Look at virtual unknowns like Psy (the Gangnam Style) and the cute toddlers of Youtube sensation video, Charlie Bit My Finger. They’re not celebrities, but within a few days and weeks, their videos had millions of views.
Neil Patel studied what makes content viral — and it’s not about WHO you are at all. That’s good news for all bloggers! Sometimes content from lesser-known or smaller blogs even rank higher than authority pages!
So what makes content viral?
Posts that evoke emotions.
This takes care of most of the STEPPS. If you create a post that makes people laugh, or cry, they’ll want to share it to make other people laugh/cry too. If a reader is amazed and in awe, she’ll want to pass that wonder and amazement along!
As you write your blog posts, keep people’s funny bones and tear ducts in mind– but don’t aim for it. That’s trying hard and people sense it. Sometimes just including a relevant, funny comic on the side is enough. People like being entertained along with being informed! You don’t have to crack jokes every few sentences!
What about posts that make people angry or indignant? No, I don’t mean celebrity gossip and our indignation at them (haha). Look at the success of Huffington Post. Yep, politics.
Politics is a social and emotional trigger, and it’s “public” and “practical” (useful news) since everyone’s affected. Everyone has a voice for it, everyone cares, everyone has something to say– even those who ‘don’t care’, hate it, or would rather pretend it doesn’t exist– they end up knowing about issues, and that elicits reactions.
You yourself are a citizen– when you speak out, people join in and create a conversation.
In my last post about blog post templates that work they work because they evoke emotions, whether positive, negative, or in between. Look at them with a new light. Nostalgic lists, hot topics, humorous videos, funny cartoons–they’re emotional triggers. Go for the heart as much as the mind.
Posts that are practical and useful.
Again, this uses most of the STEPPS. It’s a social currency. People want to look smart and cool, so they’ll share informational, practical and relevant and useful posts. Guides go viral– and these guides run the gamut of topics, like a guide about viral content, a cheapskate’s guide about Bali, to guides on DIY loft beds and list posts of microwave mug cakes!
When it comes to how-to’s, reviews, guides (and all other useful/practical posts), two important points come in:
- Infographics – Easily shareable information in a convenient and visually-pleasing form? Useful and practical! Infographics get shared a lot more than all other types of content! People have short attention spans or are short on time. They appreciate easily-digestible content– and they share it because they know others would appreciate it too!
- Long-form – But while people like short-and-meaty, they also like long-and-meaty. Neil Patel’s research (link above) points to evidence that the longer your post is, the more authority Google gives it, and the more people share it. Word count matters. Go in-depth, give more, and people reward you.
- Break it down and focus it – Easily-digested and practical focused ideas vs. broad and generic: the focused topic wins every time. As Neil Patel observed, “If you want to increase the chances of your content going viral, focus on breaking down complex information or idea into bits the way Buzzfeed does. Make your points easily digestible, and people will be more inclined to share your content.”
Appeal to the eyes.
If you look at Neil Patel’s posts, you’ll notice he uses a nice font, and all posts are spaced. It’s so easy to read. He writes long posts, but he gives you room to breathe!
Jacob Neilson’s study on eye-tracking shows that readers’ eyes move in an F-shaped pattern.
So place your most persuasive content on the left and let your readers move smoothly along, down and to the side, while their eyes land on what you want them to see and like (and click).
- BIG and BOLD headlines and sub-headings: They work. They will always work. Capture their attention and tell them something, and make the headline and headings impressive, both in looks and content.
- Social media buttons: Viral content is ‘viral’ because they’re everywhere! You want your post to be easily shared. On the left and on sections or sentences you might want them to Pin, Retweet or Share, add your social media buttons.
- Timing: Persuade to share on the right spots. After the headline. After the blog post. Tell them to share, and if you scored high enough on the STEPPS, they will.
There you go. What makes content viral is not much different from what makes blog content GOOD. If your intentions are good, and you back those good intentions with hard work (and proper SEO), people will reward you!
Have you ever been surprised by one of your posts (doesn’t have to be a blog post– could be a Facebook or Instagram post) going viral? What was in it? And if you haven’t yet, what are you planning on doing now to shoot for virality?