Nothing More Than Feelings
We all know that one video, that one picture or that one article that everyone’s talking about, commenting on in social media, and sharing with their friends and family. In the event that a piece of great content is placed so strategically that it instantly gains traction, resulting in thousands or millions of views and/or shares, this is known as going viral. But the real question is, what makes content so popular? Is there some secret formula that everyone should be following?
Viral content evokes positive emotions such as awe, amusement and laughter. These three emotions are evoked in 57% of all viral content, and this content is generally humorous, exciting, or both. That doesn’t mean you can’t evoke negative emotions either—it just has a lower chance of going viral.
The content should also have a cognitive impact: do viewers find it practical, interesting, or surprising? If so, expect them to come back for more if you’ve established that sort of reputation. For example, actor George Takei was known for playing Sulu on Star Trek in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Social media has helped him witness a renaissance of sorts and has boosted his popularity with younger audiences. Takei frequently posts humorous or thought-provoking content on Facebook and Twitter. He has over seven million likes on Facebook and 1.23 million Twitter followers, and his content is frequently shared or retweeted.
The average person’s attention span has become shorter and shorter since the Internet has gone commercial. Websites like Twitter and Vine are a testament to that, as these are only 140 characters or seven seconds in length, respectively. Despite their short length, their content is shared quite often as it makes an impact on the viewer.
Don’t lose hope—people still like reading long-form content. 3,000-10,000 word articles get the most shares, and 0-1,000 words get the least, meaning you should keep your content around 2,000 words. The content must also be readable so that it can get shared. Some of the most shared pieces of content include interactive infographics, list-type articles (“listicles”), how-to posts, and videos.
Say Cheese And Share
If you include pictures in your content, it will more likely be shared to the tune of 2.3 times more often on Facebook and 2.1 times more often on Twitter. If you have a specific thumbnail, expect it to be shared 3.1 times more often. You can add thumbnails via meta tags. To add these thumbnails, put it in thesection of your article.
More Than 15 Minutes Of Fame
If you have a great title, you can drive traffic to your content. Everyone will see the title first, so make sure it’s eye-catching. “Listicle” articles with titles such as “Top 20 NFL Players of 2014” or “Top 25 Nicolas Cage Movies” will be shared often. You can even offer advice to better your readers’ lives, such as “10 Ways to Succeed in Law School.”
Positive content can drive traffic, but negative titles such as “15 Ways People Are Being Wasteful” can also drive content and have the same results as a positive title. If you’re running a blog as part of your business, you can position your brand and offer solutions to each point on such a negatively-titled list, making strangers into visitors, visitors into leads, leads into customers, and finally, customers into promoters, which will restart the cycle anew and generate revenue for your business as well.
Appealing to the emotions of your readers and their sense of self will also drive traffic. For example, you might know people who eat every part of the pizza but the crust, and a title such as “What To Do With Uneaten Pizza Crusts” could be an idea for content—get creative and find out what sticks.
The Go-To Guy
Viral content also needs some authority behind it, like a trustworthy source. Including a byline at the top of an article and an author bio at the bottom tends to drive more traffic to the content. For example, if the author of the content has previously written content for sources that are seen as trustworthy, such as Forbes or the New York Times, they will think more highly of the author. This is especially important, perhaps mandatory, for sharing on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. LinkedIn and Google+ are more frequented by professionals who are seeking content to help better their businesses or personal brands, and might cite your content to potential customers and investors. Female authors seem to be more trusted than male authors in this regard.
People tend to buy brands that are endorsed by experts in the field or those with lots of influence in it. For example, professional golfer Tiger Woods is seen as one of the best golfers of all time. Woods also has a long-running relationship with Nike and endorses its products, making Nike products one of the most recognized brands in the world. This also works when you’re posting content. You should include quotes from experts or influential figures in your work (living or dead) that is relevant to your content so that it will go viral faster.
It’s Share O’Clock
You should also look at when you’re sharing your content. Tuesday seems to be the “viral” day for Facebook, Twitter and Google+; Monday is Pinterest’s and LinkedIn’s “viral” day. For LinkedIn, this makes sense—Monday is the start of the work week. This also leads to the question as to what time of day you should be sharing your content. 9 am and noon Eastern Standard Time are the two “viral” hours, as most people are at work and at a device where they can access your content more quickly. The worst “viral” hours are the AM and PM rush hours, when people are in a hurry to get from home to work or vice versa, and are not generally staring at a screen of some sort.
If At First You Don’t Succeed…
Not all content will necessarily go viral on the very first try, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try re-sharing it again. Social shares drop off by 96% within 72 hours of sharing. You can, however, share it again 12 weeks after you originally published it and still get people to talk about what you have to say. You need to keep testing and re-testing your content and seeing what works with your audience—never give up!