Creative Content – Going Viral

If you don’t cover your mouth when you sneeze, you won’t necessarily give everyone you come into contact with that nasty cold, but if you did, if every time you sneezed, or tweeted, or posted to Instagram or Facebook, someone shared that link with another person, and then that share led to three more shares and so on, your sneeze, or your post, will have gone viral.

Creating the most contagious, exponential social media content is unlike any viral epidemic in two important ways:

  • Viral social media content has a very short lifespan, so make it count.
  • While viruses have a life of their own, you need to create content that is compelling enough to go viral.

Viral Ecology
For you to be the most successful at consistently creating social media content that goes viral, and gets your name and brand out there in front of the most people possible, you need to understand what the social media landscape is looking for, and when.

Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of Business, Jonah Berger, who specializes in what makes content go viral, highlights three key points:

  1. Positive content is far more likely to go viral than negative content.
  2. Content that evokes authentic emotions like awe, surprise, anger, fear, lust or empathy is more likely to go viral than content devoid of emotional context.
  3. Practical content that is useful to people is much more likely to be shared.

Getting the pulse of the social media landscape is less about trying to absorb everything that is being posted and shared, and more about what is being shared the most, what is “trending,” and why.

Practical Insights
The day-to-day running of your business means that you’re likely to find yourself out of the loop way more often than you’re in it; so how are you supposed to get any insight into where the social media landscape is trending, and where you should focus your energy if you want your message to inspire people and spread like wildfire?

My experience tells me you should focus on two things to be most successful: practical content, and realistic action steps. Make it easy for your audience to quickly see the value in what you’re offering, and then offer them a painless way to put that into action in their own lives, get involved, or share more widely.

Online petitions are a great example of how this works really well, evoking authentic emotions at the same time. It doesn’t matter if the petition is political or not, right or left, but when you’re asking someone to assert their opinion on a certain topic, stand up and be counted, they are very likely to do so in part because you’ve inspired an emotional relationship to the action, and you’ve provided a very simple way for them to get involved.

Teach, Provoke, Inspire, Interact, and Engage!
Going viral is the brass ring of the social media circus, and for the billions of posts that go live every day, a very small percentage will achieve viral status.

What Jonah Berger calls the “Virality of Online Content,” is defined in part by those posts that provoke or inspire high-arousal emotions, provide practical tools and actions, surprise people with unexpected and useful information, and engage people beyond the few seconds it takes to scroll through the page.

Take a minute to really look at what’s trending and see what those things have in common with each other. Look for trends specific to your industry and see where people have been able to distinguish themselves from the masses. And lastly, take a good look at what it is that you do that arouses real emotion, engages people, and offers them something they may not be getting anywhere else.

With all that in mind, I’d still recommend covering your mouth when you sneeze, but sneeze as loud, as emotional, and as inspiring as you can when your posting to social media.