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The Democratization of information and ubiquity of conversation ushered in by the Internet has profoundly changed our understanding of social interaction, marketing, and advertising. Over the past several years, businesses have been forced to adapt to the interconnected world with varying degrees of success. Throughout this trial-and-error process, one truth has endured: going viral is invaluable.

There are many reasons for this, but the primary benefit is that content and campaigns take on a life of their own, propagating product knowledge and increasing brand engagement seemingly without effort. That wildfire spread leads to indelible changes in brand reputation, truly the brass ring for marketers. Furthermore, the transcendence from a brand to a part of the cultural conversation leads to tangible (and profitable) results in a big way.

So how does one “go viral”? Arguments have been made that the fickle nature of the Internet simply cannot be predicted and utilized. However, several studies have uncovered common threads in viral content that, when applied properly, can deliver real value to your organization and brand.


Start with a Plan

1. Know Your Goal

While word-of-mouth remains a powerful tool in impacting brand reputation, it has, in recent years, taken digital form through social media. The key is to know what impact you would like your content to have. If you would like to improve general feelings toward your brand, create content that is amusing and positive. If, on the other hand, you wish to improve brand perception, create un-branded content that resonates with the characteristics you wish your brand to be associated with.

2. Understand Your Metrics

Social media exposure is, by itself, useful. But eliciting the correct reaction is just as important. Research has shown that Twitter favorites, Google+ “+1’s”, and Facebook “likes” are indicators of admiration, associated with improving general feelings toward a brand. Shares and comments, on the other hand, indicate a feeling of relation with a product or brand. The key is to shape your content with these types of interactions in mind.

3. Choose Your Format

Once you know what your aim is, it is important to understand how visual elements affect your content’s reception. Images with faces, for example, elicit feelings of appreciation, leading to improved general feelings toward your brand. Animated gifs, quotes, and humorous material, on the other hand, lead to more shares, eliciting feelings of self-expression. Videos and pictures have more “virality” than text up to a threshold, while combination visual-and-text content had the highest potential for sharing.

4. Set the Tone

Going viral depends heavily on the ability for content to quickly and effectively resonate with users. For that reason, your material should focus on creating a “tone” using emotional and cultural “triggers” that build an association with other positive things. The reason this works is because individuals see content as social currency, and building association with favorable topics, trends, or archetypes helps bolster your odds of being shared.


Focus on the Content

5. Write a Great Title

Viral content’s most important component is, of course the content, and the title is the first-impression for that material. A good title is simple, concise, sets expectations, and does not make any promises it cannot keep. The attention span of Internet readers is low, so being clear is paramount. Let potential viewers know what is being presented and how they can benefit from reading it. Finally, do not make proclamations that you cannot fulfill.

6. Use Emotions to Engage Readers

Research has shown that emotions have a strong effect in terms of engaging viewers. Examples include Google’s search advertisements in which a man uses the service to guide him through dating, marrying, and starting a family with his paramour. Ads like this resonate on a very human level and are frequently shared as an extension of our identity.

7. Consider the Common Good

Emotions by themselves, however, may not be enough to “go viral”. Addressing a topic associated with your brand that both emotionally resonates and speaks to a current social concern strikes a chord with universal human emotions. Examples of such advertising include AT&T’s It Can Wait campaign, which uses testimonials of remorseful drivers to encourage drivers not to text and drive.


Spread the Word

8. Post to Message Boards and Forums

Even with well-crafted content and a solid marketing plan, your content will go nowhere if it fails to become a part of the conversation. Know where this discussion happens. Is it on influential blogs or community sites? Do particular personalities help shape the trends of your industry? Utilize these channels by posting your content in those arenas where individuals are more likely to be interested and want to engage with your particular type of content.

9. Explicitly Permit Sharing

While the site traffic of “going viral” is nice, leveraging the individual voices of community members is even better. At the end of your content, be it a blog post, picture, or YouTube video, specify that sharing that content is permitted. This will avoid any uncertainty and give the green light to enthusiastic viewers that you are comfortable with its reproduction. A disclosure statement may look something like this:

“This article may be freely reprinted or distributed in its entirety in any e-zine, newsletter, blog or website. The author’s name, bio and website links must remain intact and be included with every reproduction.”

10. Write and Produce a Variety of Content

At the end of the day, despite your best efforts, the Internet’s taste remains demonstrably flukey. The important thing is to stay true to your brand and the characteristics you wish to associate with and continue to produce content in a variety of formats and addressing a variety of topics. You never know when you may hit that sweet spot.


Are any of these steps a guarantee that your content will go viral? Due to the truly organic nature of virality, the answer is no. However, respecting these trends will put you on the right track and maximize your potential for sharing. The key is to focus on producing quality, relatable content, utilizing the right distribution channels for maximum exposure. Some pieces may flop, but the ones that fly will be worth the effort.