How to create viral content on social media?

6 proven ways to make your content go viral
How do you go viral?

Of late you would have no doubt seen the torrent of insights about how to game (oops, I mean optimise 😂) the algorithm to get your social media content to yep, you can say it, go “viral”. It seems to be the holy grail for social media gurus, clients, influencers and brands to achieve this high acclaim, a badge of social honour so to speak. 📣

No doubt those on the other side like marketing, social and advertising agencies will be quick to point out “viral” is not a strategy, rather it’s more luck. 🍀

Well, have I got good news for you all. 

How do you go viral?

Going viral is not as far-fetched as they would have you believe. In fact, virality is more in your hands then you or your agencies think. 🤔

And the even better news is that to obsess over the “algo” is to actually miss the point. 👈

But the best, I mean best news is that it is not expensive or the preserve of the big budget, quite the opposite, in fact, it’s about as democratised as it gets. 🤩

Ok so let me not leave you in suspense any longer.

You see the formula for virality is much more baked in science, or rather human science of understanding why you we share content in the first place. Get this right, in fact, make it part of your content development bible 📕 and you will go far into the digital ether. 

High praise for Jonah Berger, the Wharton professor 👨‍🏫 and author of Contagious. 👏

How do you go viral?

In the book, he divulges his in-depth research that led to the discovery of six key ways that content goes viral, using an acronym STEPPS to explain: 

  • Social currency: It’s all about people talking about things to make themselves look good and in the know

  • Triggers, which is all about the idea of top of mind, such as relevant things happening in the world around us 

  • Ease for emotion: When we care, we share. The more the content triggers a sense of emotion that is personal to us, the more likely we are to share it

  • Public: When we can see other people doing something, we’re more likely to imitate it

  • Practical value: Basically, it’s the idea of news you can use. We share information to help others, to make them better off

  • Stories, or how we share things that are often wrapped up in stories or narratives

Ok, so some great principles shared. Let’s see how they work in reality. 

Viral technique 1 – Social currency: 

Being the first to know amongst your friends, hearing that cool new song first, being acclaimed by a recognisable publication are all things that make us feel and look good. 

And we want to tell the world about it. A good example of this is the new release of Lewis Capaldi’s latest hit song ‘Pointless’. It went all the way to number 1 without a marketing budget. 

Take a look at this video of him doing a parody with an Ed Sheeran cut out. A couple of hundred £ spent on a video that made him millions of £££’s and took him to number 1. 

Why? Cause people wanted to be seen to be part of the action and be amongst the first to share with their friends.

Viral Technique 2 – Triggers:

They say humans have short attention spans. And whilst I don’t necessarily agree – haven’t you noticed that when you make an argument or strategy the things that you most recently read about seem to also be the most relevant? 

Or when you are out with friends you end up talking about the Netflix series you are currently watching or a super event you have just been to last week. It’s simple, we may not have short attention spans but our memories in the moment are certainly short with a bias to recency. 

So in the same way, if your content can trigger a similar sense of associations, recency or what is front of mind for others your onto a winner. 

A super example is of the man at the Qatar Football World Cup, who went viral simply by giving directions in an engaging way. Why did it happen? Do you think it would have happened at a Premiership game? Unlikely. 

It’s because World Cup fever was on our minds at that time. 

Viral technique 3 – Ease of emotion: 

The example of Metro Man above also plays into another key aspect of going viral, a sense of easy emotion and relatability. In fact, it wasn’t just a matter of being topical and timely but rather his ability to trigger a sense of emotion from the kindness he showed that played a pivotal role here.

However, I would argue there is also another reason he went viral. And that is because people had a sense of empathy for him doing this laborious task day for days on end. It’s the combination of timing, kindness and empathy that made this video very special indeed. 

Viral technique 4 – Public:

I don’t know why this happens but we just don’t go into empty shops. Seems strange right? Like you would get the best service, browse with ease and just have an all round better experience and yet, nothing. 

Rather the saying, ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ applies in this situation as well as in the digital world. If we can build initial traction for our content, others will follow. 

Just like the famous viral video of a man who created a movement. 

Viral technique 5 – Practical value:

We live in a world of reciprocity, for the most part. Where people want to share information that practically benefits others. 

A good example of this comes from Sam Browne, a LinkedIn influencer that provides hints and tips to help your posts go viral by optimising the format of your posts.

This post was one of his most ‘viral’ given the pure gold that he presents on the topic.

Viral technique 6 – Stories: 

Finally, who can’t resist a good story or narrative. Something that really brings a topic to life. One of the best examples I have come across of a man who writes incredible stories and often goes ‘viral’ is Dave Harland. 

He crafty prose earns him a place in my LinkedIn Hall of Fame. The engagement he gets is incredible as he combines humour, seriousness, tension and a real light heartiness. 

Here is just one example (well worth checking out his other posts as well):

So there you have it, the six ways to make your content go viral. 

What do they all have in common? 

It required no big budget to get these posts into the stratosphere. 

So next time you create any piece of content, ask yourself which of the 6 principles does my content fall into?

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