At the top of the wish list for any marketer posting content, whether a video, meme or blog, is for their content to be embraced.
Like a virus, in your body or your computer, viral content spreads quickly and spontaneously. However, unlike those first two uses of the term, on the internet, something viral is usually a good thing. It can go a long way toward turning visitors into leads and leads into customers. The question facing most online content creators is, how do we make it happen?
The simple answer is: You can’t. To truly be viral, your content must strike a chord with the audience and spontaneously inspire them to share it. Although there are many platforms, Facebook remains the best for creating and sharing viral content, as the 2016 election proved, so that’s probably the best place to start.
You can’t predict what will inspire sharing—but if you look at what has worked for others and put some thought into your effort, you stand a better chance of success. Here are a few key elements of that a lot of viral content has in common:
1. Make an emotional connection.
When something touches your emotions, you want to share it with others. The emotion can be either positive or negative, but positive experiences get more clicks. That’s why there are so many videos with babies and puppies on Facebook. They make people smile and that makes them want to share. Outrage is also a strong emotion, and Twitter is filled with angry people (many of them trolls) sharing what they’re pissed off about. The problem with viral outrage is that it’s more likely to lead to greater negativity and online arguments.
2. Give them something to laugh about.
It’s often been said that “laughter is the best medicine.” Though it might not cure cancer, nothing goes viral quicker than making people laugh. That’s why we’ve all heard the same jokes, and the ones that made us laugh as kids are still around. The more you’re able to make people laugh, the more likely they will share your content.
3. Offer a useful tip.
Tell your audience something they don’t already know that can make their lives easier. Look at all those “how-to” video recipes on Facebook that tell you how to make a delicious meal in a few easy steps.
Marketers must remember, however, that your tip has to be news your audience can use. It’s not an excuse for self-promotion. People want you to solve their problem, not tell them you great you are. If your content is helpful, they’ll figure that out on their own.
4. Deliver an unexpected payoff.
Never underestimate the element of surprise, but remember clickbait won’t go viral. If you have a headline that grabs people’s attention and gets them to click through to your site, make sure you actually deliver what you promised. Don’t be like those sites that blare things like, “you won’t believe who died.”
5. Be a recipient of good luck.
Just because your content checks all the boxes listed above there’s still no guarantee that it will go viral. There are thousands of bands out there with great musicians, original songs and charismatic front people of which you’ve never heard. Likewise, outstanding content is really just the cost of entry. Then you must hope that the right people hear/see/read your content at the right time and place for them to share it.
When you do manage to make something go viral, it has staying power. One of my favorites is a video made by a musician who had his expensive guitar damaged by careless baggage handlers. When the airline refused to take responsibility, he wrote a song and made a video. Ten years later, United Breaks Guitars has more than 18 million views and it’s still going strong. In a brilliant move to capture some of that momentum, Taylor Guitars, maker of the damaged instrument, responded with a video of their own, and that one’s been viewed more than 800,000 times.
There’s no guarantee that your content will ever go viral, but if it does, the payoff can be enormous.
Bob Keane is the editorial director for JConnelly, a PR firm. A version of this article originally appeared on the JConnelly blog.