viral content header

While the idea of creating viral content as a goal sort of makes my eyes roll uncontrollably, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about the subject. So why all the eye-rolling?

You want your content read, discovered, loved/hated, shared, and by as many people as possible, that’s true. And that is sort of what happens with viral content. So what’s my problem with going viral?

Virality, as an end goal, seems wrong.

Your end goal should always be useful, helpful, true, original content.

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Writing Viral Content

Viral content isn’t nice.

I mean, it might not necessarily be insulting or something, but it isn’t forgettable. Nice can be forgettable.

“Nice post.”

Not viral. But nice.

Gregory Ciotti is one of the writers I’ve referenced in previous psychology-based posts, and he has some great thoughts on what kind of content tends to go viral. First, he breaks potential viral content into six categories that are likely to push people’s buttons:

  1. Taboo: Anything not currently seen as acceptable by culture. Specifically, the culture and/or subculture that your audience exists in or adheres to. It might even veer toward the profane (though be careful about turning off your audience).
  2. Unusual: Anything that exists outside the realm of what your audience expects, either in topic or in quality.
  3. Outrageous: Anything that exceeds boundaries, including through extravagance. This is different from taboo in that it is just past the borderline of acceptability, and not overtly far beyond. It might be the difference between a post entitled “10 Great Blogging Ideas” and “1,001 Great Blogging Ideas”.
  4. Hilarious: Anything that makes people laugh, and good. Not chuckle. Not snicker. We’re talking a belly laugh, here. Words, images, concepts—these all work. Find something that your audience identifies with. Mom News Daily, for example, is a Onion-like site that knows its audience’s funny bone very well.
  5. Remarkable: Anything that is awe-inspiring that drives people to share simply because it deserves attention. This is the kind of content that makes people’s day, causes their jaws to drop, or inspires them to try something themselves.
  6. Secrets: Anything not readily known by outsiders or non-experts. These are those truly exclusive topics that inquiring minds want to know.

Ciotti doesn’t stop there, though. It’s not enough to just create a type of content. You have to approach that type correctly. He suggests a few things that shouldn’t surprise you if you’ve been reading blog posts on how to get readers to convert:

  • Pushing for an emotional response as your content goal works well.
  • Positive content is better than negative content (though once in a while a fantastic rant will probably slip through the cracks :-)
  • Content that is seen as useful in a practical way also fare well.

You hear the “emotional response” concept tossed around a lot. What does that even mean?

Blog_Julie_ViralContent_Emotions

Ciotti lists six key emotions your headlines and content can make a swing toward:

  • Awe
  • Anger
  • Surprise
  • Fear
  • Joy
  • Lust

Ciotti’s approach to creating viral content is simple and makes sense, but it’s not the only way to look at it. When I wrote an earlier post on creating content that has a better chance of going viral, I broke up the approach into three areas:

  • Why people share.
  • How to write to fit those reasons.
  • What to do if they don’t read it.

Check out that last one.

Yes. Sometimes viral content isn’t actually well-read content. The two don’t go hand-in-hand. Some are sharing because your great graphic, your amazing headline, or simply because everyone else (or an influencer) shared it. Those “peripheral” things can make it go viral, but don’t always lead to actual reading. That has some effect on what happens in the comments section, which we’ll cover in a bit.

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Suffice it to say that all of the how-to posts on creating viral content are always always going to mention one caveat: There are no guarantees you’ll go viral.

Viral content one through four

Virality is not predictable. The context of where your content is seen, current events, zeitgeist, who mentions or shares the content—all of these can affect what happens to your content, and many of them are not within your control.

Lessons learned:

1. You must understand what piques readers’ interest.
2. You must understand emotions and how to write to them.
3. Your goal must not be simply to go viral.
4. You must understand some things are out of your control.

The Experience Of Going Viral

The experience of going viral is great if you’re thinking about the traffic, renown, and analytics results. But there are a few other experiences that will be a part of it, too, and some of it will require a degree of maturity, fortitude, and apathy that I don’t always have.

Viral Comments

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When a rant I wrote on my personal blog went hideously viral, I discovered first hand that with great traffic comes great responsibility. Mainly, the responsibility of self-control, particularly in the comments section. A couple of things happen in the comments section of a viral blog post.

  • Dissent and insult, depending on the topic, can be high. Dissent is fantastic, because it opens up all kinds of great conversation and may even give you some new ideas for follow-up blog posts. Insults, though, are less fantastic. You, your intelligence, and your work may be insulted. My advice is unless those insults come from your mom, ignore them.
  • Spam or “look at me!” comments can also be high. You’re not the only one who realizes your content is viral and the potential therein. People who see a post getting lots of traction and buzz are going to try to latch onto it and siphon whatever juice they can. They’ll post links to their own content or try to sell their own services in some related way. Some of it is legitimate response, linking back to related or relevant content. Some of it is spam. Maintain the integrity of your comments section and weed out the spam.

The most viral post I’ve written on this blog was one about the psychology of color and how it applied to marketing. After one year, it has received about 36,000 shares on social media, 80,000 pageviews, and generated about 600 email signups.

Remarkably, the comments section is pretty small considering how popular that post is. For whatever reason, a few folks took to commenting (and emailing me off the books) about how they felt color really worked and how I was wrong in terms of color mixing, and a variety of other rather peripheral thoughts when considering the generalized nature of the post.

Fair enough, I suppose, though I admit to some enjoyment of resurrecting old color theory knowledge from my college art degree.

Whatever the case, remember that viral posts necessarily poke soft and sore spots in readers; that’s what makes them viral. And because of that, they will often leave passionate comments. Be careful that your comments section doesn’t become an ugly place for other readers, but remember that some readers may have additional helpful ideas and thoughts that can really add to what you’ve already said.

Lessons learned:5. You must have a thick skin.
6. You must be prepared to defend and substantiate your arguments.
7. You must be prepared to walk away and not have the last word.
8. You must be willing to acknowledge information that was left out of your post.

Viral Engagement

When a post goes viral, your social media response will explode. Lots of people will be sharing, commenting, and directing conversation toward you. Are you ready to respond to it?

Viral content nine through eleven

I’ve had several of my CoSchedule posts go viral over on Social Media Today, and the social response has been a bit overwhelming. When you turn your phone on and see hundreds of notifications, you sorta just want to turn your phone off.

Some are merely retweets.

Some are asking questions.

Some are refuting.

Either way, there’s an expectation that you’ll respond. All of that social engagement can take up a significant chunk of time. If you have a dedicated team member responsible for social interaction, it won’t be as difficult, but if you’re a solo blogger, it can be tough. Each person has to develop their own social plan for this situation. On Twitter, for example, you may:

  • Thank everyone or no one for their retweet.
  • Favorite any tweet that mentions your content.
  • Respond only to direct questions or comments.
  • Retweet every retweet.
  • Pin a tweet to your timeline that says your post has gone viral and you thank everyone for their interest.
Lessons learned:9. Viral content creates viral social responses.
10. Viral content can overwhelm your social media capabilities.
11. You need an overall social response plan in place before your content goes viral.

The Real-Life Results Of A Viral Post

Here’s the good stuff you want to hear about, those magic numbers and what comes from them. I’m going to use that color psychology post as our example. First, let’s check out some hard data on the post so far.

Real life viral content results

The post was published almost exactly one year ago. In that time it has received 36,000 social media shares:

  • 262: Facebook
  • 1,408: Twitter
  • 346: LinkedIn
  • 33,692: Pinterest
  • 199: Google+

The post has also received:

  • 256 likes
  • 65 comments
  • 80,664 pageviews
  • 570 email subscribers (indicated by number who have downloaded the guide, which requires email access)

How did I come up with the idea for the post? I didn’t plan on writing something viral. Instead, it came from research I was doing for another post. I decided I’d write one with a specific focus on color just to keep things clear.

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What made this post go viral? I have a pretty good idea, one that’s supported by the fact that Pinterest shares account for the vast amount of activity.

Quite simply, it has lots of professionally designed graphics that are both attractive and can stand alone as a teaching aid when shared. These images have social sharing buttons that appear when you hover over them, making it super easy to share specific images to social networks.

Additionally, for such a long and meaty post, a handy portable download was made available so people could take the information with them.

In summation, it was helpful, in-depth, well-illustrated, and explanatory, and had a portability factor.

This post didn’t launch any rockets on the initial days of publication, but it was picked up by Social Media Today, which gave it an initial boost. Then, over time, the virality became apparent as that popularity spread to other networks.

Now here’s the kicker: During the past year, this post has steadily grown (not waned) in traffic and shares, making it the #2 result for “color psychology marketing”. That means that once you reach a tipping point, your momentum increases. Additionally, overall Pinterest traffic to the CoSchedule site is increasing (more than 15,000 pageviews) due to this post alone.

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Sometimes, virality is kind of a flash in the pan, similar to what happened on my personal blog post. Your content is popular for a few days or a week. But sometimes it snowballs, becoming a huge driver of traffic to your site over time. It’s this second kind of content that you want, and that’s the kind of virality that comes from aiming for great content instead of viral content.

Lessons learned:12. Viral content that’s momentary might garner you some new social followers or readers, but it won’t bring reliable and continued traffic.
13. Viral content that builds slowly and stays sticky over time returns the most benefits.

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Have you ever had content go viral? Tell us about it and share the link, we would love to read it!