Going viral is the Holy Grail of content marketing. The only problem is that predicting what will go viral can feel pretty much impossible; it’s a bit like shaking a Magic 8-Ball, with that sinking feeling that it’s just going to respond with “try again later.” While there’s a certain element of truth in the unpredictability of what will be shared extensively on social media and go viral, there are several things you can do when crafting content to give it the best chance of spreading like online wild-fire.
1 – Use Lists…
While you might want to shoot for something a little less completely and utterly silly than, say, “26 Reasons Kids are Just Tiny Drunk Adults,” Buzzfeed is among the kings of viral content for a reason: they know list-based posts are both readable and sharable. By keeping the content digestible, easy to skim-read and to-the-point, they offer light content that people are eager to share. The key caveat, though, is to ensure the lists are filled with solid content.
2 – …But Don’t be Afraid of Long-Form Content
However, the simple advice that short, snappy content is preferable in the modern, instant-gratification world is a little too straightforward. According to an analysis of the sharing statistics on over 100 million pieces of content by BuzzSumo, based on the top 10 percent most-shared articles, they actually found that the longer the content, the more it gets shared. BuzzSumo advises aiming for 2,000 words plus per post, but the general message is more important than the specifics: don’t feel confined to posting short, quick-read content!
3 – Evoke (Positive) Emotion
Content that evokes emotions—especially positive emotions like joy, awe and amusement—is more likely to be shared than something that’s dry or just makes your readers angry. Although BuzzSumo’s monumental research project also came to a similar conclusion, a study of the New York Times’ most email-shared articles found that awe-inspiring, positive, emotional and surprising content did the best in terms of shares. There are always exceptions, but it’s generally better to avoid provoking anger or making people sad if you want sharable content. So, no dying puppies or exposés on grand social injustices, basically. At least not all the time.
4 – Craft Your Headlines Carefully
Your headline has a fundamental role to play in earning you clicks, but it also has an influence on the likelihood of your post being shared. The people from CoSchedule—a WordPress-based social media calendar—examined the one million headlines in their database on the lookout for what makes a great, shareable headline. They found that—alongside being emotive and using the list format—the best headlines tended to reach out to readers in a very “human,” personal way (for example, using pronouns like “you”).
Additionally, their analysis suggests that the favored type of headlines and content differed slightly according to the specific social media site. For example, if you’re sharing something on Twitter, it will do better if it includes the word “free” or “giveaway” in the headline, whereas home-oriented articles with headlines including words like “recipe” or “homemade” do well on Facebook.
5 – Start a Conversation
Choosing a topic that gets people talking is an approach that taps directly into the psychology of why people share content. A New York Times study looking at what drives people to share found that the vast majority of participants liked to get opinions and responses on content from people on social media to help them understand issues and process the information. You have to be prepared for some strong responses, but creating controversial content that will spark healthy debate gets people interested and encourages sharing. Listening to your readers’ feedback on thought-provoking content like this can also give you new ideas for the future, too.
6 – Be Useful
“How to” style posts are another ideal strategy for getting shares on social media, with the same New York Times study finding that 94 percent of people thought about how useful the content would be to others before sharing it. If you can create informative content that addresses common questions asked by your target audience—ideally breaking anything complex down into simple, easy-to-follow steps—you’ll tap into this desire to share useful things with our friends and followers.
7 – Write Content Readers Identify With
Social media gives everybody a place to express themselves—we post about music we like, books we’ve read and even our results on a “What Disney Princess Are You?” quiz, all to express who we are to our friends and followers. The New York Times study identified this as another one of the most common reasons people share content, and it’s another one you can make the most of. Understand your readers and make content that they’ll really identify with—whether because it helps them express part of their personality or embodies their views on an important issue—and they’ll be driven to share it with the world.
This is also the reason that BuzzSumo’s research found that eight out of the top ten most shared posts were quizzes: our results on a quiz clearly express something about who we are as individuals, and that’s what we like to do on social media. It’s one big ego trip, in a lot of ways. You don’t have to make a quiz to get the most out of it, but it’s definitely something to consider.
Keep Learning From Your Audience
The best advice for making sharable content is to try out new things but then take on board the feedback you receive—even if you don’t get many direct comments, the differences in the amount of engagement with each post will point you in the right direction. Over time, and with a little trial and error, you’ll learn what makes your readers hit the share button and your content will reach more and more people because of it. Not everything can go viral, but if you work from tried-and-tested methods and learn from any mistakes you make, social media will start to bring new readers—and potential customers—to your website in droves.