How to Go Viral: Lessons from the Most Shared Content of 2015

The internet is a hotbed of information, but it is also a cluster of social networking and amusing outlets. So what is it that makes one piece of content go viral while another piece of content barely gets a view? Marketing power and website traffic play a huge role, but even on an even playing field there are some posts that tend to get more attention.

Jessica F. is a Five-Star writer at WriterAccess

Jessica F is a 5-Star writer at WriterAccess

This is a question that almost every internet writer wants an answer to, and so Byron White, founder and CEO of WriterAccess invited Steve Rayson, director of BuzzSumo and Anders Pink B2B Marketing about developing marketing pieces that are designed to go viral.

Steve Rayson asked himself this one question: what was the most shared content last year? From there, he investigated what made that content go viral and sought to find out if there was any particular trend or formula that helped certain posts gain attention while others fell to the wayside.

In his webinar on How to Go Viral—Lessons from the Most Shared Content of 2015 he breaks down piece by piece what led to the most successful posts, looks at posts by the numbers, and comes up with strategies to help aspiring content writers make the most out of their future posts.

Here are a few notes that he makes before getting started. First, he acknowledges that all viral posts are outliers. It is just as rare to get 5 million shares as it is to get that great American novel. But the reality of that is often skewed by the fact that some posts do go viral, and that it happens just about every day.

Secondly, celebrities are usually the ones with the greatest chance of a post getting the attention of millions of viewers, but when it comes to following the basic laws of creating viral content Rayson argues that celebrities don’t count. They are going to get a lot of views just by the nature of their inherent popularity. It doesn’t matter what they post, when they post it, or where. It will be found and it will be shared. Modeling your posts after celebrity models won’t help you gain any followers. For the average Jane or Joe, you need to have strategy behind your posts.

Rayson goes into detail looking at the most successful posts of 2015. Here, I jotted down the elements that made these posts successful, coming up with a short list of strategies to help any writer develop content that has viral potential.

1. Find shock value: Be surprising.

Find information that people want to know about, and present it in a way that will surprise the audience. Research based information that is intriguing or shocking is going to get a lot of attention. People love hearing about how their causal drinking habit or indulgence in chocolate is actually good for their health, even in some small way.

2. Leverage a Trend: Know what is in.

Zombies are the new black, or at least they were in 2015. To get your post shared you need to go for the largest common denominator. Know your pop culture references. Know what is in right now.  Zombies are all over the TV, superheroes are huge on the big screen, and cat videos are still dominating the internet. But for the greatest share potential you can’t just follow what has been in vogue, you need to know where the trends are going and what is coming up next. Sharing something that is outdated will immediately disengage readers.

3. Inspire people: Find the best in everyone.

It is a truth that is known all too well, the world can be a daftly depressing place. The local news is filled with horrible incidents of crime and murder, the national news is filled with the latest in corrupt politics and world war potential, and the internet itself can be a hotbed of anxiety and angry trolls trying to bring each other down. A truly inspiring and uplifting piece of content can restore a bit of sanity and bring happiness to the reader, and more often than not, when it is done the right way, will get shared. This doesn’t mean self-help articles. Simply positive and uplifting articles, like compilations of the best lines from literature or the most beautiful places on earth will draw a crowd by nature of their positivity.

4. Stun with images: Pictures are a thousand, sharable words.

pexels-photo-63572-large

Pexels / Ahmed Aqtai

List posts have a strange advantage at going viral. For whatever reason, they work. People
share them. This includes posts that are numbered and include a picture to go with every point. A list of places where you can visit complete with exotic locations and breathtaking images is going to draw attention. Similarly, pictures that hold shocking value—such as pictures of storm damage, climate change damage, or other global issues that will leave a mark on your psyche. Pictures of things, people and places that the average reader hasn’t seen before is going to have the greatest impact and the most potential of going viral.

5. Be cute: Use babies and animals to your advantage.

People like to see things that make them happy (see tip #3). This means babies in cute outfits or children doing silly things, as well as animals that are in costumes or caught in strange positions. This goes back to the cat videos that are dominating much of the internet. In the midst of negativity, there are few who will turn away from seeing an adorable creature doing adorable things.

6. Amuse the reader: You are there for entertainment.

It isn’t always possible to be shocking, to have the latest research, or to have caught on camera the cutest thing your child or pet has done in the past 24 hours. However, the limits on creativity are virtually endless and if you can come up with a creative post that will entertain or make people laugh, then you have a strong shot at it going viral.

7. Be controversial: Bombastic opinions gather attention.

There is a reason that Donald Trump has the fan base turned voter support that he does. Like him or loathe him, the man knows how to be controversial and to use it to his advantage, and his posts go viral as a result. Granted, he falls into our celebrity rule—what he says will go viral regardless because he is a celebrity and politician. But you can follow this same model. Get people to feel like they belong to your camp by taking a strong stance on a big issue at the moment.

8. Make a Quiz: Test your personality, knowledge, etc.

People loving taking internet quizzes, whether they are going to test your personality, test your character knowledge from a particular fandom, or test your grammatical or mathematical knowledge. A high score or amusing results leads to instant shares.

9. Provide warnings: Share information people need to know

WebMD is famous for this. It seems like every day there is a new piece of medical knowledge or research that it is imperative for people to understand for the sake of their personal health or family’s wellbeing. If there is a threat, make it clear. People will share this content in an effort to warn friends and family to stay safe.

10. Tell them the secrets to success. Financially, Nutritionally, in Love and in Life.

It is a basic nature of the human psyche to want to believe that their lack of success doesn’t come from lack of effort or inherent talent, but that there is a secret that they aren’t in on yet. Just using the word “success” or “successful” can grab a lot of attention.  Of course, success isn’t limited to the office life. Posts about diet, health and fitness tips have a lot of viral potential, especially those that are coupled with images or creative ideas about how to lose weight. Just as popular are posts that highlight successful relationship tips or posts that claim to share the secrets to a long and happy life. This is about finding your audience and speaking to the common denominator. People want to be happy, they want to live long, they want to be healthy and they want to have money. Share tips on how to do this and people will read it.

Posts that hold these elements, or a number of these elements, seem to have the greatest advantage of going viral—but there is still no guarantee. For every post that goes viral there are hundreds of similar posts that gain minimal traction. But if your goal is to create viral content, then it helps to take a lesson from history and to see what made the difference for the most successful posts in the past. For more insight into what made these posts stand out, and how to incorporate those elements into your own writing, check out the complete webinar with Steve Rayson.

5-Star Writer Jessica F’s writing background is quite comprehensive. Currently, she works full time as a content strategist and SEO copywriter for an internet publishing agency that specializes in medical content.

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