What it takes to create content that makes people say, “I need to share that NOW.”
If you've used social media in any capacity over the past fifteen years, you've probably encountered a piece of “viral” content. Maybe it was Metro Train's “Dumb Ways To Die,” or maybe it was Dove's “Real Beauty Sketches.”
For social media users, viral content is a cool chance for millions of people to enjoy something together. For brands, viral content represents a lucrative marketing opportunity that could make your name recognizable to millions of leads.
However, it's not easy to create viral content. You need marketing know-how to do it.
Mediaberry has examined what makes content “viral.” We'll share everything you know with you in this article.
Let's dive in.
What is viral content, and why is it important?
Before we go any further, what exactly is viral content? It's a piece of content — like an image, video, song, or text post — that gets shared so heavily on social media that it gains the attention of millions of people, news outlets, news aggregators, and search engines.
Viral content generally has these characteristics:
- It's highly shareable
- It gets a reaction
- It's unique and “fresh”
- It's appealing to a wide range of people (as no one would share content they didn't get value from)
A classic example of a piece of viral content with these elements is “Dumb Way To Die.” Created by Metro Trains as a PSA for people not to cross railway tracks in 2012, it now has over 235 million views on YouTube and 2.5 million likes.
Now, viral content doesn't need to be funny like Dumb Ways To Die was. It can be sad, thought-provoking, sarcastic, tearful, emotional, etc.
So, why should your brand post viral content?
There are currently over 2.93 billion Facebook users, 2.5 billion YouTube viewers, 1.4 billion Instagram users, and 1 billion TikTok users.
These people post an overwhelming amount of content, so standing out and gaining traction with your target audience is difficult. When content goes viral, people see it (and usually, they remember it). Thus, creating viral content will:
- Improve your brand awareness
- Increase your website traffic
- Get your brand mainstream media coverage
- Help you gain social media followers
- Increase your revenue
- Generate leads for your brand
- Win you backlinks
And, unlike mainstream media advertising, you don't need to spend big to go viral.
9 types of content that are more likely to go viral on social media
Technically, any piece of digital content can go viral. However, there are certain types of content that are more likely to go viral than others. That includes:
Memes — humorous cultural artifacts that are often short and sweet — are probably the most well-known form of viral content online. At any given time, there are dozens of memes trending.
In the past, food brands like Wendy's and Denny's have embraced social media memes for viral content. Bugles — a crispy corn chip brand — even has a meme account. Here's a meme its social media team created.
Infographics are visual representations of data or information. Infographics go viral frequently because they are easy to digest and are often more engaging than other forms of educational content (eBooks, blog posts, etc.).
A fantastic example of an infographic is “An Analysis of the Beatles.” This infographic is older (circa 2016), but it had viral appeal because it was informative and interactive.
Videos go viral because creators can quickly tell complex and highly engaging stories. Unlike images, you can also use elements like sound design, lighting, animation, and special effects to give your video the “share me” element.
A classic example of a viral video ad is Old Spice's “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” Twelve years after this ad was posted, it has 60 million views and 243,000 likes on YouTube.
How-to guides include anything that teaches people a new skill, including recipes, blog posts, video tutorials, wikiHow-style visual lessons, etc.
Most how-to guides get very little attention because the audience for them is niche. Viral articles, however, appeal to everyone. That was the case for “Good Old Fashioned Pancakes” posted by Dakota Kelly on allrecipes. In 2022, the recipe has 16,740+ ratings, 13,200+ reviews, and ranks #1 for the search term “pancake recipe.”
Book reviews and opinion pieces
Book reviews and opinion pieces have a special ability to get people really heated. Thus, they have good viral appeal.
If you want to use this type of viral content, think carefully before posting. Posting something outrageous and controversial may get you clicks, but it could come with consequences.
Link pages (sometimes called “master posts”) collect content centered around a single topic — like “Remote Work Statistics Compilation: The State of WFH in 2022” or “The 100 Best Infographics of 2022.”
Link pages go viral as they help people navigate to the content they want to see.
Buzzfeed-style listicles are a fun way to present information, and often, they include humor, images, or interactive elements. Naturally, they get a reaction from people and inspire them to share the content.
A famous example of a listicle is “We Have 253 Dog Patients Named Bella” – This Vet Is Sharing The Most Common Dog Names They See.”
Podcasts — fictional and non-fictional audio programs shared digitally — often go viral for their storytelling. Famous podcasts like Serial, Maintenance Phase, and Scamfluencers have spread quickly and captured global appeal. Three years after Serial's release, it continued to make headlines and hit the 250 million downloads figure.
If you have interesting information to share, podcasts are a good medium to do it.
Research and data
If you have the time and resources to study something interesting, you can release your findings about it as viral content. Social media users and the mainstream media react very fondly to new research — it's sharable and sparks discussions simultaneously.
A good example of a piece of viral research is PipeDrive's “State of Sales Reports.”
11 best practices to create viral content on social media
There is no one “secret” to viral success. However, your chances of reaching it will be significantly better if you follow these eleven best practices.
Keep an eye on trending topics
In order for content to be relatable enough that people engage with it and then share it, it needs to have an element of newness or uniqueness. That's where trending topics come in. People can't stay away from trending topics, so capitalizing on them with your content is a great way to set your brand up for viral success.
You can find trending topics on the “trending” tab on Twitter, the “explore” page on Instagram, or the “explore” page on YouTube.
Just make sure you move quickly when using a trending topic. If you wait too long, the trend will have passed, and people will have moved on to something else.
Know your audience
Viral content should appeal to wide groups of people by its nature, but that doesn't mean your audience is “everyone.”
Before planning your viral hit, consider who will engage with it. How do you expect them to react? What will they get from it? What would motivate them to share it?
It might help to build a persona of your audience and consider factors like their age, gender, location, education, interests, and family status. Young, single college men will likely react differently to a piece of content than busy working mothers.
Write viral headlines
Getting your content in front of many eyes is only one part of going viral. You also need to get them to click on your content, and for that, you'll need a headline they can't resist.
When constructing your headline, try using:
- A number or statistic
- Brackets (like “5 Types of Food To Stop Eating in 2022 (Infographic)”)
- Anecdotal statements (like “I Tried 30 Donuts in 30 Days. Here's What I Found”)
- A trending headline style (in early 2022, the style “X Rabbit Hole Explained” style is very popular)
- How-to statements
- References to the reader (like “you”)
If you're stuck for inspiration, you could also use one of these two formats:
- Adjective + keyword + benefit (like “Simple Pancake Recipes Anyone Can Make”)
- Number or question word + adjective + keyword + guarantee (like “X Awesome Viral Posts That Will Change Your Marketing Strategy”)
Hook audiences with captivating introductions
After the title, you need to grab people's attention with a “hook” that makes people desperate to know more about your topic. That hook could be a statistic, question, fact, or an element of surprise.
It should fall within the first 30 words of a written post or five seconds of a video. In an image post, it should be the first or second thing someone notices.
You can see an excellent example of a hook in “A Boy and His Atom” from IBM. Within the first five seconds, watchers are greeted with this intriguing premise. The video (which I won't spoil) continues on from there.
Make use of eye-pleasing visuals
There's something about visuals that our eyes just like. Color increases people's ability to recall content by 82%, shapes and figures direct our eyes around the image, and visual elements portray emotions that get us invested.
So, using visuals in your content is a great way to satisfy the “engaging” criteria that are so crucial for it to go viral. You can get really creative with visuals, too. Consider using animation, wacky art styles, typography, and color to make your content stand out.
Note: If you want to learn more about visual content, read “The Role of Visual Content in Boosting Your Website's SEO.”
Post different, practical, and emotionally-charged content
Another key criterion for virality is uniqueness. If you want people to pay attention, you have to offer them something they can't get elsewhere. Teach them something new, inspire them, try to change their minds about something, or simply provoke emotion.
Ask yourself: “what makes my content memorable?”
Set a featured image
It's fairly easy to ignore a text post on social media, but ignoring content with an image is much harder. With an image, your post will take up more space on the screen (like below), and you can rely on color to capture people's attention.
If you publish a video, you can add a thumbnail as a featured image through YouTube. Or, with a text post, you can upload an image manually with your post. Just make sure your image is eye-grabbing.
Place share buttons above the fold
If you want your content to go viral, there's a big problem with putting your share buttons at the end of your content: only people who reach the end will share it.
To avoid falling into this trap, always put your share buttons at the top of the page. Ideally, they should sit under the title.
Some social media platforms — like YouTube and TikTok — already do this for you. But if you are publishing through a blog, it's something to keep in mind.
Get influencers “featured” in your post
To give your post the best chance possible of going viral, you need to get as many eyes on it as possible (more eyes = more shares). If you don't have a large social media following yourself, consider roping in someone who does.
You could, for example, sponsor an influencer to share your post. Or, you could target your content at someone to get them to respond or acknowledge it.
Measure your success
It's likely your very first post won't be a viral sensation because you won't know what your audience truly engages with yet. That's where measuring your work comes in.
Take note of the reach that every new post gets (and how quickly it gets this engagement). This will help you find topics that just “click.” While you're at it, also keep an eye on the types of headlines, hooks, and CTAs your audience likes. Mastering these will help you elicit a better response.
Don't give up!
Finally, though it may be tempting sometimes, don't give up on your pursuit of social media virality. Social media efforts tend to build like a snowball — they start small and slowly gather more momentum over time.
Just try to post regularly and focus on creating and marketing good content. Then, the views will come.
Ready, set, go viral! The secret to a viral content strategy
Creating a viral post isn't as easy as simply filming a video and posting it. But it's not rocket science, either. To give your post the best chance of going viral, make sure you:
- Capitalize on trends
- Really get to know your audience
- Optimize your headlines, visuals, and images
- Do something different
- Try and get the attention of influencers
- Take a data-driven approach
Remember: the four things all viral posts and articles have in common are that they are sharable, widely appealing, unique, and solicit a reaction.