5 Characteristics of Content that Goes Viral

Everybody wants viral content. The idea that something you created can be shared and seen around the world is flattering. It’s also great for your message or your brand. But, viral content isn’t just a lucky coincidence. There are common characteristics of viral content that you can use to make yours go further.

Headlines That Pull In Eyeballs

In traditional news, the headlines are very informative, giving readers the gist of the story. But there’s a reason that traditional news stories don’t go viral very much anymore. If a reader thinks they know everything there is to know about the story, they don’t even need to open it. Instead, you want headlines that tease an unexpected ending or message. Here are some examples:

  • If You’re Not Married and You Do This, It’s Dangerous. And the Reason Will Make Perfect Sense After You Hear It
  • This Guy Got Mugged And What He Did Afterward Was Awesome
  • What This Little Girl Did to Stop Bullies Will Make You Cry

Sometimes these types of headlines are called “click bait.” But true click bait requires the reader to be duped into reading something that is either not true, not well researched, or not well written. But compelling headlines tease. They don’t lie. There’s a difference.

Broad Appeal

“Why should I care?” That’s the question your readers and viewers will ask as they consume your content. It has to be something that will appeal to them. This is the reason that cute babies, animals, and parodies are so popular. These are already popular subjects that most people have at least some interest or experience with. Niche subjects don’t go viral often. Make your content something most people can relate to, and understand.

Bite Sized

We live in a world where attention spans are shorter than the time it takes to compose and send a Tweet. Long messages–no matter how compelling–are harder to sell than those that can be consumed and understood quickly. Buzzfeed is a strong example of a website that creates viral content frequently. Not only does it keep most of that content fairly brief, a good amount of its content is collections of images. Readers can consume the content quickly, on mobile devices, making it that much more shareable.

Evoking Emotion

A recent study was conducted where students had the choice between sharing certain type of stories on social media. Stories that evoked some sort of emotion were more shareable than those that didn’t. A story on baby polar bears did better than a story about a new parking garage downtown. Furthermore, the students tended to share stories with a positive slant more than those with a negative slant. For example, a story about someone being injured didn’t do as well as a story about someone making a comeback after a serious injury. And finally, an intense emotion like anger or anxiety usually beat out a story conveying a moderate opinion. Either way, it’s all about emotion. If you can evoke an emotion, your content has a better chance of going viral.

The Ask

A call to action is an element of an advertisement or message that asks the reader or viewer to do something now that you’ve given them all of the information they need. Viral content also often uses a call to action to get users to share the content. Often, it’s not even a request to share the content. It’s a dare. Something like “Most people wouldn’t share this on their page” or “If you think this is wrong, share this.”

Author Bio: Elizabeth Victor is Brand Advisor for Isentia Social Media Monitoring Software. She enjoys sharing tips on social media monitoring and analysis, as well as media tracking and PR distribution.

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