“Going viral” is now a common expression we all know. When content spreads quickly and gets a lot of views, it is a piece that has a noticeable impact the social media world. It is certainly not an isolated event, which leads me to ask: How do social posts go viral?
The good news is that since many pieces of social media content have gone viral, we can point to some of the factors that allow it to take place.
By creating viral content comes with numerous benefits, starting with improved visibility, referrals, ultimately more traffic, and hopefully (if you’re setting up your website right), more conversions.
The Story of How Social Media Posts Go Viral
It is a lofty goal, but let’s tell the story of how posts go viral, in hopes that you can make some of your own social content go viral as well:
Once upon a time…
Emotions Were Provoked and People Reacted
One feature almost all viral posts share is the ability to provoke and capture people’s emotions. Humans by nature are emotional and when our emotions become highly aroused, we want to share that item with others. Entrepreneur recently discussed a study conducted by The University of Pennsylvania. The researchers discussed features that make some content go viral faster than others.
Below are some highlights on their research about viral content and emotional arousal. Generally, positive content is more likely to go viral than negative content; however, it is a little more complicated than that:
- Content that evokes high arousal of positive emotions (for example, the feeling of “awe”) or high arousal of negative emotions (for example anger or anxiety) emotions is more likely to go viral.
- Conversely, content that evokes low arousal, or what the research team calls “deactivating,” emotions (such as sadness) is less likely to go viral.
What does this mean?
Ultimately, it is important to reach out and touch people’s emotions. However, it is important that you are provoking the correct type of emotions. Go for high arousal positive emotions first and foremost. If it is absolutely necessary to your campaign, you can also attempt to appeal to high-arousal negative emotions.
Seven emotions that make content spread like wild-fire.
According to Social Triggers, this research by Jonah Berger and Katy Milkman from the University of Pennsylvania also says there are seven emotions that you can target in order to appeal to the high arousal emotions which are more likely to make content go viral.
I found it useful to split these seven emotions into the positive high arousal and negative high arousal categories, because as you recall, positive content trumps negative content in going viral; however appealing to high-arousal type emotions trumps low-arousal.
For this reason, you can look at the first category as your goal in content creation, and if the situation warrants, and you can look to the second category for some inspiration as well.
- Amazement: What makes people pay attention—happiness, glee, or excitement? Ultimately, do they connect in some way to the content? If people are saying or feeling “awe” because of the content you publish, they are more likely to like, share, and talk about your content.
The Justin Emily Wedding Proposal that went viral is a great case. People felt so touched and just absolutely crazy for Justin’s elaborate film proposal.
- Joy: Similarly, joy is about people feeling happy when they see a piece of content on social media. If content is positive and uplifting, if people smile or laugh, they are going to be a lot more inclined to share.
A good example of joy? How about: Zombie Kid Likes Turtles or the Apparently interview. Not only did the “Apparently Kid” get over 4 million views, he was also asked to be on the Ellen show. This just goes to show, if you make people joyful, you are a step closer to being a viral superstar.
- Lust: This has to be one of marketing’s greatest tools. Lust stretches far beyond popular sexual definitions of the term. Lust is better defined as “being consumed with desire”. This could be anything from shoes to sports clothing or fitness goals. If you know how to inspire people and get them to lust for your product, you are sure to have an in.
- Surprise: Surprise is a particularly high-arousal emotion. It can also, in my opinion, be treated as a positive or negative means to gaining attention. When people are taken back by a piece of content in one way or another, they want to share that element of surprise they experienced.
An example: For the purpose of this article, I am going to pick a positive surprise: the Surprise Promposal for Special Needs Student which went viral and also evoked other positive emotions as well, such as joy, and awe (However surprising content can also be eye-catching or encompass negative emotions such as fear or anxiety).
I want to note that I have been paying particular attention to video content that went viral. Written content can certainly go viral in this way as well, but video just offers clearer illustrative examples. Also, people are more likely to watch or relate to visual content on social outlets, so these might be more familiar examples.
- Anger: One way to really grab attention is to evoke anger or capitalize on anger your audience is already experiencing about a certain topic. These can often go hand in hand with social movements and protest of issues directly impacting society at large. They are often linked to current events.
- Anxiety: Honestly, Social Triggers said it best when they said, “people hate anxiety.” That shared reaction to anxiety can definitely make content to contagious. One way to do this is by publishing content that stresses if people do not act quickly they may be missing out.
Other Characteristics of Viral Social Posts
Last in our story of how social posts go viral, I want to address a few other aspects of viral content besides triggering emotions. While you absolutely want to develop content that targets emotions, there are also some other essential things to consider:
Make It Relatable
You want to make sure any content you create is above all relatable. Sometimes just offering practical advice that most people relate to will do the trick, other times applying what we learned about emotions and trying to get a sense of how you want people to react can help in developing the content you want to be successful.
Make It Easy to Read and Visually Appealing
One reason people like list posts (and the reason Buzzfeed articles go viral so quickly) is because they are both easy to read and visually appealing. If you can create content that does both of these things successfully, you are much more likely to have content go viral.
Use Catchy Titles and Powerful Introductions
People know quickly if they want to read an article in full or watch an embedded video after reading the title. If they get past the title, reel them in with a powerful introduction. Master this, and your content will definitely stand out.
Publishing and Promoting Strategies
We all know there are “peak publishing hours” and other strategies to promoting content, for example, sharing on various other social outlets. Use these to your advantage, especially in the beginning of trying to get people to catch-on to the content you’re developed.
And they all went viral on the Internet. The End.
Have you had a piece of content go viral? Share your experiences with content going viral in the comments section below.