So You Want to Go Viral


It can be difficult to stay on top of the most recent stories: Twitter, Facebook, reddit, and Instagram are updated hundreds of thousands of times per minute by billions of users around the world. With our limitless access to information, breaking through the noise seems virtually impossible. Stories emerge and are disregarded instantaneously as newer, bigger stories take precedence until another comes along to supersede it.

Except for a few outliers. How is it that some stories persist, accumulating thousands of shares and views, while others get no more than a few seconds in the spotlight? Some stories go “viral,” spreading rapidly like a biological virus, infecting consumers and overloaded servers alike as if they have minds and agendas of their own.

Why do some stories go viral and others don’t? There’s no exact formula, but researchers have identified particular factors that influence a story’s “spreadability“: how likely consumers are to share media with others.

So how can you become the next white and gold (sorry, we proved it) dress?

  1. Stop being so depressing. Research shows that people are less likely to share a story (online and in real life) if the content doesn’t have a happy ending. That’s why you’re more likely to happy-cry to videos on your newsfeed of soldiers surprising their families (14.7 million views), or better, their dogs (36.9 million views), than a memorial for a lost loved one. That doesn’t give anyone the warm fuzzies.
  2. Inspire your audience. We like things that leave us feeling inspired, that give us the sense that people are genuinely good, that love exists, and that there is more to life than Netflixing Criminal Minds and aimlessly swiping through Tinder. The Internet collectively cried over Ad Council’s “Love Has No Labels” (56.2 million views) video, reminding us that love comes in many, many different ways.
  3. Show, don’t tell. The Huffington Post found that the single most spreadable form content is the infographic, followed closely by lists. Visuals and organization are key in telling a spreadable story, like “11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures.” (370,000 views) But surprisingly, video was shared less frequently than other types of media.
  4. Be shocking. It’s no secret that people are drawn to the dramatic, whether it’s crime TV, Cirque Du Soleil, or Donald Trump’s horrifying new rally song (4 million views in 3 days) Content that elicits an emotional reaction, whether it be awe, excitement, or disgust, is memorable. Therefore, we are more inclined to talk about our reaction with others.
  5. Master web analytics and social media strategy. Even if the content is perfect, strategic social media choices can skyrocket your views, shares, and likes. Apparently, Tuesdays are the best days to post content looking for shares, and content shared during the work day gets shared more than the early morning or late evening (no surprise there.)

None of this information should be surprising. People want to feel things, and they want to feel better than they did before they saw your content. And once they feel something, they want to talk about it with their friends. And more often than not, they do it while they’re avoiding responsibility.

So You Want to Go Viral

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