No, it isn’t a pipe dream to have your content go viral. And neither is it a pipe dream to have your content go viral again and again.
Bloggers, marketers and writers who produce content that repeatedly goes viral actually follow a plan of action that was recently outlined by professor Jonah Berger of the Wharton School of Business in his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. In this book, Jonah states that a product can go viral if it follows STEPPS, an acronym which stands for Social currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value and Stories.
These letters/words are further explained as follows:
- Social currency- The product, when discussed, enables the person discussing it to appear informed, hip or in vogue.
- Triggers- The product contains built-in cues that result in it easily coming to mind.
- Emotion- The product evokes active feelings of anger, joy or goodwill- but not the passive feeling of sadness.
- Public- The product is out in the public eye through publication, syndication or other broadcasting.
- Practical Value- The product offers valuable information to the recipient.
- Stories- The product contains stories or is syndicated as a story and can be easily remembered and shared.
Emerson Spartz, an online media and website entrepreneur, has made a very comfortable living from getting content to go viral. His advice, akin to Jonah’s, is to create a simple yet memorable series of messages, include poignant story lines and images, evoke emotions with those story lines and images, and finally, have recipients perform an action that elicits hope.
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What does this tell us about how to reliably, and even methodically, create viral content? Here’s a step-by-step process:
1. Create highly emotional content.
Recipients of high-arousal content, or content that evokes active emotions such as anger or joy, are more likely to comment on and/or share that content. Furthermore, in the words of BuzzFeed’s CEO Jonah Peretti, “Content is more viral if it helps people express their personality disorders.”
Interestingly, content that evokes the passive emotion of sadness is far less likely to go viral.
Thus, even if you are publishing boring white papers or product data reports, it doesn’t hurt to pepper your content with bold sentences announcing why the content is important to the reader and why she should care about it.
2. Make the headlines and messages memorable.
Consider UpWorthy’s headline ploy- in essence, the website exists by creating memorable headlines that entice you to click on a story and read further. After all, it’s hard to resist headlines like “51 Pretty Shocking Facts That Make Things Harder For Every Woman You Have Ever Met,” (spoiler alert: sexism) or “The Ancient Greeks, Pacific Islanders, And Maya All Ignored This One Thing. Big Mistake!”(spoiler alert: soil erosion).
While UpWorthy’s actual content can be rather boring, the website generates virality by, in the words of its CEO, “covering Brussels sprouts in chocolate.”
Headline creation should take as much as 50% of your content/media creative time if you’re aiming for going viral. And if you’re generating a series of messages to be delivered to your recipients through a medium like video, headline creation should take up almost all of your creative time.
3. Offer something of value.
While sites like BuzzFeed, Dose and UpWorthy do make it their business to generate click-bait, that click-bait only works if it inevitably provides the recipient with valuable content. Statistics, analytics, product reviews, etc. all fit this bill. Otherwise, your recipients will feel no need to share or like or Tweet your content.
How can you avoid making your informative content come across as dull and boring? Quite often, the trick lies in generating a story from the data rather than just reciting numbers and findings. Consider how effectively this tactic is used on “boring” History or Discovery Channel programs, for example, where the two-second event is woven into an hour-long story about the main character, the times he lived in, and his personal challenges.
If possible, incorporate emotion into the storytelling. Statistics that are astounding can be introduced with catchy headlines that express astonishment and surprise. Alternately, dismal numbers can be co-introduced with headlines that elicit anger or disgust.
4. Create a call-to-action.
Much memorable, valuable and emotional content never goes viral because recipients do not know what to do with it after reading and/or viewing it. In other words, that content lacks a definitive call-to-action.
A call-to-action need not be major. Simply asking recipients to like your post or leave a comment on it is more than enough in many cases. The idea here is to bring the content recipient into the group mentality of sharing and participating in the propagation of a message. Otherwise, your message won’t achieve the public aspect of virality.
To this end, place large share buttons around your content and images. If your content evokes certain emotions, like anger, encourage readers to vent that anger by sharing your message. Alternately, if feelings of happiness are evoked, explain how sharing the content will result in that happiness spreading out to others.
If you have additional content pieces that you want to go viral, don’t be afraid to create catchy titles for that content within your main click-bait piece. Creating such a viral network is one of the best ways to exponentially grow your clicks and shares. You may also wish to use a related content plugin to feature internal content with similar catchy headlines.