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May 14, 2016

What is Viral Content and How to Create It

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Content is king. There, I’ve said them, the three most pervasive, and possibly the most boring words that you can read that relate to content marketing. They are so omnipresent that they’ve actually started sounding silly, especially when you see them falling out from the mouth of every marketer on the planet.

But, regardless of how irritated you are by that phrase, don’t take it lightly. And don’t forget why is it that it has become so popular. In a way, ‘content is king’ is the truest thing any marketer has ever uttered. Today, content is the most important thing you have at your disposal to build or influence your audience and your prospects.

There is one type of content everyone strives to create and that is viral content. Viral content has nothing to do with the format of the piece you create. Virality is a phenomenon that occurs when content gets picked up by the online crowd and starts spreading around the Web like wildfire.

Did you have a piece of content that went viral? If you have, congratulations are in order. You’ve hit the mother lode with that one. Now, let me ask you how many times were you able to repeat that initial success? Probably not too many times, if ever. This is because virality is elusive and mysterious. It is hard to pinpoint what exactly makes a video, or a blog post, go viral.

What we do know is that viral content has a large number of people emotionally invested in it! It elicits a strong emotional reaction and people want others to see it.

Distinctive Hallmarks of Viral Content

Back in 2014, researchers set out to find out what makes people share some content more than other. They were trying to see if they could come up with a formula that can launch all (or at least, most) pieces of content into orbit, making them shareable on a grander scale. We know, as did they at the time, that it was a pretty ballsy endeavor since there is no way you can get even a percentage of what is published on a daily basis to get even a fraction of shares the most popular content gets.

However, their research yielded some pretty interesting results. It allowed us to see how people, in general, react to content, what and why we find interesting, and what triggers us to share one type of content and not the other.

8 Reasons Why Content Goes Viral - infographic
Infographic courtesy of: elevatoragency.
  1. Positive content is more viral than negative. Anything that inspires awe, surprise or happiness in people is more likely to get shared by the masses. This is not surprising; people like to feel good and inherently want others to share the feeling as well. But, there is a caveat.
  2. Anything that evokes a strong emotional reaction has the potential to go viral, regardless of what type of emotion we are talking about. It can be joy or elation, but it can also be frustration, anger or sadness. No one in their right mind is happy when they see videos of people suffering across the world, yet a lot of that type of content spreads around fast, just consider the migrant crisis or the upheavals that we’ve all witnessed in the Middle East and Africa in the recent years. That said, people who feel sad when consuming content tend to share it less than those who feel angry or frustrated.
  3. Helpful content also has a great viral potential. How to videos and articles, guides, and graphics usually fare much better in terms of virality than something that people perceive to be of little to no value.

This research is by no means conclusive, but it does give us a window into audience behavior. Marketers now know that they have to play on emotions if they want their content to fare better in terms of virality.

I’d even go as far as to suggest that they need to be bold and audacious. If you can get people to react and manage to increase their level of arousal with your content, it is more likely that that piece of content will get shared.

Content virality started with social media. Shares, likes, retweets, pins, and the entire shebang are actually the means by which content gets viral. Back when there were no social media platforms it was unthinkable for a piece of content to spread so fast and to touch so many people. Keep that in mind when creating content. However great your content is, if you don’t serve it up in the right way, it won’t get anywhere.

Incidentally, what type of content, format-wise, do you think gets shared more readily? Most people will hazard a guess and say video or photo. Actually, it is an infographic. Infographic gets shared almost twice as much as written content - the least shared type of content. Videos and photos fall somewhere in between.

How to Produce Viral Content

Producing quality content in and of itself is quite difficult. There are a lot of things you need to consider, from your audience to the type and format of the content, and delivery methods. For a piece of content to go viral it takes all that, plus a bit more. The point is; you really need to put in the work if you want it to work and to be successful.

Know your audience

This is the primary step in creating any kind of content. Know the people who are going to consume it. Find out what makes them tick and how they respond to content. A great way of doing this is creating what is in marketing called a buyer persona.

Flesh out the types of people that comprise the bulk of your audience using every tool you have at your disposal, from Analytics to Facebook Insights. Try to gauge the following:

• Demographics (age, gender, social standing, marital status, average income, and so on)

• What are their primary interests and hobbies

• What excites them the most, and what angers them

• What do they feel strongly about

• Are they big on sharing content or do they do it sparsely

You get the drift. The point is to get inside their head to see what type of content they would be most likely to share. Do they share content they are excited about, or do they tend to share stuff that makes them angry or sad.

Settle on the best format

After you’ve determined what your audience is all about, it is time to decide on the format of the content you are going to feed them. If you see that they consume predominately visual content, think about an infographic, video, photos, or slide share presentations. This works great if you cater to a younger audience since they usually do not have time to spare.

On the other hand, if your audience members are of a certain age (or if you’re trying to reach that particular audience segment) and if they have time to spare, you might want to go for written content, especially long form posts and articles.

Have a clear objective

What is it that you’re trying to accomplish with your content? Are you building brand awareness? Establish yourself as a thought leader? Or maybe drive sales? Your objective will dictate your content so it is important to establish is before you sit down and start work on anything.

Identify the buttons you want to push

People react to triggers. Every piece of your content should address at least one of those triggers so it resonates better with your audience and prompts them to share. There are 7 specific triggers that you want to pay attention to:

- Alarm

- Passion

- Mystique

- Prestige

- Power

- Trust

- Rebellion

Make sure you understand you understand your brand before you apply these triggers of persuasion. The point is that you find two to three that work best for your business and then leverage them to your advantage.

Sit down and start producing

Here comes the hard part. It is time to sit down and start producing content. Gather every piece of information you were able to collect about your audience and apply everything you’ve learned so far to try to nail it. The point is to be brave and venture beyond your safe zone. If you start feeling that you are giving away a bit too much, or you start feeling a bit uncomfortable with what you are creating, that is usually the sign you’re on the right track. Being blunt and honest works best, and makes you relatable. Don’t be afraid; press on and test your daring piece of content. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work on the first time. It’s all about trial and error. Simply pick yourself up and try again.

Tools You Can Use to Create Better Content

There is a bunch of tools out there that you can use to see what type of content you should create and how to measure the success of content you put out there. Also, there are tools you can use to create better content, so keep those in mind too. Here is a short list that you can reference and get ideas from:

Google Analytics – This is the place you want to start. You can use your Analytics tool to see your audience, unique visits, repeat visitors and a lot more. You will also be able to notice which of your content pages attract more attention and if your visitors stay on your page or simply bounce back as soon as they get there.

Buzzsumo – This tool allows you to track your content and how it fares across social media platforms, from Facebook and Twitter to Pinterest and LinkedIn. You can also monitor content by users or topics and see what your competitors are doing.

Tumblr – Use Tumblr to spread your content far and wide. It is a hybrid blogging platform whose users have a penchant for sharing all sorts of content, from written content to photos, videos and graphics. If you have a piece of content that needs a boost and you’ve skipped Tumblr in the initial run, try publishing it there to breathe new life into it.

Open Link Profiler – Monitoring what your competitors are doing is of key importance. This tool allows you to see all the links that a web page has generated over a course of time and from which sites. It will give you an idea about the direction you should try to push your content as well.

A-Writer – If you need a great piece of writing but you don’t have the time to do it yourself, - or you think you wouldn’t do it justice – think about reaching out to a professional content creation service. A-Writer has a team of capable writers that can deliver quality content in a short period of time.

Trend Spottr – Keeping in the loop on what is going on really helps when it comes to deciding on the topic of your content. Use this tool to find keywords and topics that are trending and try to grab the slice of the popularity cake. Of course, offering a unique spin on things will help you stand apart, so be original and engaging.

Grammarly – When it comes to written content, you don’t want to go viral for the wrong reasons (chances are you won’t anyway, regardless of how funny and embarrassing your grammar is). Use Grammarly to scan every piece before it goes out to make sure it doesn’t contain any spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.

Bonus infographic:

11 Awesome Methods To Create Engaging Visual Content

11 Awesome Methods To Create Engaging Visual Content [infographic]
Infographic by: fastwebstart.

Viral content can be crafted, and virality is not an effect. You just have to put in the work and make sure you know your audience intimately before you can start creating content that will pull on their heart strings and make them want to tell their friends about it. I hope some of the above tips help you out, and should you have an ace up your sleeve on how to go viral, make sure to leave a comment bellow!

This is a guest contribution from Amy Cowen.

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