What makes online content go viral, and what can we do to make it happen?
The million dollar question is: What makes online content go viral? If you’re trying to get your content to “spark” and go viral, it really helps to have a strong understanding of what kind of content tends to go viral. Of course, nobody can predict what will go viral, nor can they make something go viral 100% of the time. But by understanding what kind of content tends to go viral, you stand a much better chance of creating something viral yourself.
Disclosure: This post might contain affiliate links. This means that if you later on decide to purchase something through these links, I might get rewarded through credits or money. At no extra cost to you. Rest assured that I would never link to a product I haven’t tested myself.
Here are a few of the main attributes of things that tend to go viral.
==> Viral content is human
It’s rare that a factual, statistical or economical video goes viral. Instead, it’s usually the most human videos that go viral.
The singing homeless man on the street. The baby laughing at something senseless. An incredible display of guitar prowess.
==> Viral content is strong emotional content
The more emotions you can arouse in your audience, the better.
Let’s take one of the world’s most viewed videos, the “Charlie Bit my Finger” video. The video features a baby whose brother bit his finger; he sits there laughing and complaining at the same time.
This video has an astounding 367 million views at the time of this writing. That’s more than the population of the United States! What makes online content go viral like this video?
One of the main reasons this video took off so strongly is because of how palpable the emotions were in the video. The watcher can almost “follow along” with the baby’s emotions and also experience the joy of playing with your baby brother.
==> Viral content are videos that provide unique information
Another type of content that does really well are videos that are informational. The key here is that the videos really have to provide content that can’t be found anywhere else.
For example, one video that went viral featured a science professor showing how to light a candle without ever touching the wick.
A content video that went viral during the 2008 election was a video of a dozen famous actors all asking people to vote.
Informational videos work in many different industries, but the most important thing is that there’s something truly unique to them.
==> Viral content appeals to specific groups of people
Content that tends to appeal to specific groups of people tends to do very well if they have strong emotional or informational content.
For example, political videos that are either informational or emotional can go viral just by being passed among a party’s members.
New food laws, something which may be seen as boring, could be very interesting to vegans if it affects the foods they’ll be able to purchase. A video about the new laws could really take off among that specific community.
These are some of the factors that go into determining whether or not a video goes viral. At the end of the day, a video going viral really means that a lot of people want to pass on your content. The key, as with many other things in business, is to just create something so amazing that people want to share it.
What Motivates People to Pass It On to Make Content go Viral?
If you know what motivates people to pass your content on, you have a much better chance of getting them to keep doing so in the future. Why is it that people are willing to continually pass on content from certain sites to friends, while not at all for other sites?
These are some of the main factors in play when it comes to why people pass on certain pieces of content.
==> Thinking Emotionally Rather Than Logically
Really great marketing gets people to take action by having them think emotionally rather than logically.
For example, if a video gets someone really shocked and outraged about some political position, they might post that video on their Facebook wall without necessarily double-checking any of the facts in the video.
It wasn’t necessarily that the video presented shocking facts, but the fact that they managed to get the watcher in an outraged emotional stage.
If you can get your content to really get people fired up, they’ll often be much more willing to pass it on to their network.
==> Wanting Their Friends to Have a Good Experience
This principle is very basic. It’s the same reason why we recommend restaurants and movies to friends: we just want them to have a better experience.
If you create a website that helps people in a certain industry do things faster and cheaper, there’s a good chance your content will get passed around simply because people want their friends to have a better experience.
To make this process easier, it often helps to have “sound bite sized” pieces of information. For example, if you run a website about how to repair your credit, instead of having someone just pass on your website, it’s much easier for them to pass on an infographic specifically about how to repair your credit before buying a home, if they had a friend who’s on the verge of buying.
==> You Helped Them; They Want to Help You
Have you ever had the experience of getting such great customer service that you wanted to return the favor? For example, you go to a restaurant whose service is so spectacular that you feel like you want to bring more people to their establishment just because you want to help them out.
If your clients get the sense that you’re really looking out for them and that you really care about them, they’ll often be willing to return the favor.
Ordinary service doesn’t elicit this kind of loyalty. But if you provide exceptional service, this kind of marketing can be one of the most powerful marketing tools in your arsenal.
Many viral campaigns work just based on using one of these principles. A few of them activate all three principles and really take off. Which ones make the most sense for your business?
Do “Tell a Friend” Campaigns Still Work to Get Your Content to go Viral?
When internet marketing was still in its infancy, “tell a friend” campaigns were incredibly effective. All you had to do was put up an email box, ask people to send your stuff to their friends and they would.
Today it’s completely different. People are much more conservative with their time and their friends’ time. In other words, they won’t send something to their friends unless they really thought their friends would appreciate it.
So do “tell a friend” campaigns still work? Absolutely. But the approach has to be completely different. Here are a few ways to make a “tell a friend” campaign work.
==> Use Facebook
In a way, Facebook is the newest and possibly most effective “tell a friend” platform in history.
Instead of asking people to email a friend for you, which takes a very high level of emotional commitment, try asking them to just repost whatever it is that you’re promoting to their Facebook walls.
Instead of just getting one person to check out your content, you can get anywhere from dozens to a hundred people per share checking out your content.
==> Offering a Reward
Another great way to get people to pass on your site or promotions more is to offer a reward for doing so.
The best way to go about this is to actually offer a reward for the person referring people as well as the person being referred.
If you only give a reward to people who are referring their friends, they might feel like they’re getting bribed to do so. However, if their friends are also better off as a result of coming through their link, they’re much more likely to respond.
For example, an online backup system might offer 250 extra megabytes of storage if someone came through your link – for both you and your referral.
==> Creating Viral “Tell a Friend” Campaigns
One of the most powerful ways of getting a campaign to go viral is to split test different promotions and strategies. You can do this both on your own website and on Facebook.
If it’s on your own website, you can just come up with 3-5 different promotions and track which one gets the most results by tracking it through your referral links. Find the most effective one and use that one going forward.
On Facebook, there are several apps that can help you track the “virality” of your group or page. In other words, you can track on average how many people pass on your content. Knowing that number, you can test different things to see if it makes your pass-on rate go up or down.
“Tell a friend” campaigns aren’t the only game in town anymore, but they’re still incredibly effective when done properly. Leverage social networks, create incentives and test different kinds of promotions for the best results.
Getting PR Attention For Your Content is Easier Than You Think
Online marketers tend to ignore traditional press. They’ll get exposure on social networking sites, social bookmarking sites and try to get their content written up about by other people’s blogs. But by and large, they don’t contact the offline world.
Yet getting exposure in the offline world isn’t any more difficult than the online world. The difference is when you get exposure offline, the traffic is often both higher in volume and higher in quality than the traffic you get from online sources.
How do you get PR attention? Here’s how.
==> Identify Potential Publications
Don’t do press releases. Don’t fax in press releases and don’t do online press releases. While these may be good for backlinks, by and large editors and writers at successful publications find their stories from other sources.
Instead, it’s much more effective to take a more direct approach. Start by figuring out which publication(s) might be interested in the things you’re doing. If they’ve written about things in the past which are similar to what you’re doing, chances are they’ll be interested in the topic.
Try to identify both mainstream publications and smaller distribution publications. A great resource is the Standard Rates and Data Services publication (SRDS), which lists every newspaper and magazine in the country. You can find the SRDS at your local library.
Get copies of newspapers or magazines you might want to get in contact with. Find the specific names of the editors and/or writers who would be interested in your topic by seeing who wrote about the topic in the past.
==> Coming Up With a Newsworthy Angle
Before you approach a magazine, make sure you have a newsworthy angle.
A newsworthy angle is essentially an angle on what you’re doing that’ll make someone stop and actually want to read the whole article.
Think of it like a one-line sentence or a headline that’ll make someone stop and say “What?” and keep reading.
Brainstorm different angles on your business or product to make it as interesting to potential editors as possible.
==> Making Direct Contact
At this point, just email the editor/writer who you think might be interested in your story. Mention that you read their article about topic X in the past and thought they might be interested in your product/business.
Make it clear you actually know who they are and what they’re about and you’re not just spamming. Keep it short and spicy. Convey your newsworthy angle, add one or two lines then attach your contact information.
Not every publication you contact will get back to you. But the percentage of editors and writers who’ll actually call you back might surprise you.
Remember: Newspapers and magazines need to find good stories as much as you want to get published. If you find publications who’ll be interested in the kind of things you’re offering, it’s in their best interest to build the relationship.
How to Create a Viral Infographics for Your Content
Infographics are a stellar way to package interesting facts and information about a specific topic in a way that’s fun to read. In plain text, people probably wouldn’t actually take the time to read about a lot of facts. But in a fun infographic format, it can really go viral.
Here’s how to create viral infographics.
==> Researching Interesting Facts
Start with a topic you want to write about. Infographics can encompass just about any topic, from the frivolous (e.g. little known facts about beer) to the very serious (e.g. why did the housing bubble crash?)
Use Google, Wikipedia and your local library to find as many little-known facts about the topic as possible.
If you want, you can also try to piece all the facts together to form a story. Or, you can just put the facts together and have primarily a factual infographic.
==> Constructing the Infographic
Adobe Illustrator is likely the most popular application for constructing infographics. Illustrator is built for creating things like infographics which are basically lines.
Though you can use applications like Photoshop or GIMP to construct your infographic, you’re looking at a lot more work. That’s because these programs were built to handle pictures rather than lines.
In technical terms, Illustrator is vector based (lines), while Photoshop is raster based (pixels). Creating an infographic is primarily lines and text, which is much faster in Illustrator.
==> Adding Graphics
One of the things that makes infographics really fun to read is the graphics.
Use things like pie charts, photos of what you’re talking about and even hand illustrations if you have the artistic ability to really spice things up.
==> Adding a Dose of Personality
While strictly informational infographics can go viral if you’ve really got some shocking facts, your chances of getting your infographic to spread go up exponentially if you just add a bit of personality.
Add some humor. Make fun of something in your infographic. Do something out of the ordinary, or use funny or shocking pictures.
Add some personality. Add emotion to the infographic.
==> Getting Distribution
Infographics tend to spread very well on sites like Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon. Post your infographic on these sites and hang around to respond to any comments.
Post your infographic to your list and/or blog. If you’re not already running a blog and you intend to keep producing infographics, you should probably look into creating one so your audience can follow your work.
Keep in mind that not every infographic will spread. But if you create five great infographics, chances are one or two will spread like wildfire. When one of these takes off on the social networks, the traffic surge can be positively massive.
How to Create Viral Content Videos for Under $200
One common misconception of creating viral videos is that it needs to be expensive. In reality, your whole project can be launched for under $200. Justin Bieber, the teen pop star, started his claim to fame from his bedroom with an inexpensive camera. Today most of his videos have tens of millions of views.
So how do you create viral videos for under $200?
==> The Video Camera
Today, for as little as $100, you can get a high definition camera that shoots decent video. It’s not professional grade, but if your actual content is good, many web visitors will be willing to overlook that.
Take a trip to Best Buy or Costco, or check out price comparison sites online.
Also don’t forget that many smartphones today have cameras that are more than sufficient to record high quality video. For example, the iPhone 4’s 4 megapixel camera can produce videos that are definitely good enough for online viewing.
==> Shooting the Video
Your video is best shot with a friend. Trying to shoot yourself on video, while possible, is quite difficult.
Experiment with different camera angles to see what looks best. You’ll often have to do multiple takes to get something right. Don’t be surprised if a one-hour video takes you all day to shoot.
==> Editing Your Video
There are many different ways you can edit your video for free.
To start with, use iMovie or Windows Live Movie Maker if it came with your operating system. Though they won’t have special effects or color correcting options, you’ll be able to do most of your basic edits.
If your operating system didn’t come with a video editing program, there are several good free options you can download online.
==> Rendering Your Video
Finally, once you’ve shot your videos and edited your video, the last step is to render your video.
Rendering refers to the last part of the editing process where you actually create your new video file. Generally you’ll want to create a small sized, decent quality video rather than a large high quality video.
YouTube will re-render your video to a smaller size anyway once you upload it.
==> Distributing Your Video
There are several online video distribution services – some paid, some free – that’ll submit your video to a number of different video hosting sites.
Sure, YouTube definitely has the most traffic. But many other sites, like Dailymotion, Metacafe and others still have quite a bit of following. Getting your video on those sites as well can really increase your exposure.
At this point, you’ve bought an inexpensive camera, recorded your video, edited it for free and uploaded it to one or more video distribution sites. If your video is good and has viral potential, it might just take off. Best of all? You’ve spent less than $200 on the whole process.
How to Get More Likes, Followers, Stumbles or Subscribes for Your Content
Getting more likes, follows, stumbles or subscribes at the end of the day means you’ll get more traffic to your website and more money in your bank account. It also means you’ll have more long-term reach to launch viral campaigns from and promote new products.
So how do you get more likes, follows, stumbles or subscribes?
==> Make It Prominent on Your Website
By default, Facebook has a very small “Like” button. The same is true for the default “retweet” buttons. In fact, each social network generally doesn’t have buttons that are very well optimized for conversions.
Did you know that you can actually create much bigger buttons? Depending on the service, you might need to use a program or just get someone to do a tiny bit of code for you ($5 to $10 outsourced), but you can really make your “Like” or “retweet” buttons look any way you want.
The same is true for subscribes. Make sure it’s large and prominent on your website. Don’t just put your opt-in box in the upper right corner of your website and hope someone opts in.
==> Use Social Proof
Another powerful element you can use to get more likes, stumbles, follows or subscriptions is to post how many other people have already done the same.
Are you more likely to “Like” something if nobody’s liked it, or if a hundred of your friends already have?
There are many ways to take advantage of this principle. For example, for StumbleUpon, you can display the number of stumbles you’ve already gotten on your website. For RSS subscriptions, you can display the number of existing subscribers.
==> Ask for It in Your Content
One overlooked technique is to simply ask. Want more follows on your Twitter? Ask! The call to action is so intuitive that some people leave it out. Yet the simple act of asking for it can make a big difference.
An even more effective way to ask for actions is to give some sort of incentive for it. For example, tell people to “Like” your page, then post on your wall if they want to enter a contest. Since there’s such a strong incentive, they’re much more likely to do so than if it were free.
==> Give People Options
Some people will prefer to “Like” you on Facebook. Others prefer to follow you on Twitter. Others prefer subscribing by RSS or by email. Still others want to “Thumbs Up” you on StumbleUpon and so on.
Give people the option of interacting with your website in whatever way they like. If you only have the “Like” option, you’ll miss out on all the RSS users. The opposite is also true.
If you use social proof, make your buttons prominent, ask for the action in your content and give people options, you’ll have a very high visitor-to-action ratio at the end of the day.
Marketing Stunts: Coming Up with a Brilliant Angle for Your Content
Throughout marketing history, one of the most effective and unconventional ways of marketing a product is to use a marketing stunt. The cake company that made the world’s largest cake, for example, launched a successful company off the back of a single marketing campaign. History is littered with such examples.
How can you come up with an idea like that for your company? Something that will really get the attention of both media and potential customers? Here’s how.
==> Start Journaling
The moment you decide to start coming up with potential marketing ideas, you’re going to start having ideas in some very strange places.
You might think of an idea while in the car. Or while in the shower. Or while on a jog, or while eating a meal. Write all these ideas down.
Come back to these ideas later and elaborate on them.
==> Brainstorm with Other People
Don’t try to do all your brainstorming on your own. Even if you’re the head of your company, try to get other people involved, even if they’re just friends in the same industry.
Many founders struggle with the belief that they’re better off doing things on their own rather than bringing other people on board to help. This is especially common when it comes to coming up with new ideas. It’s very hard to let go of the sole responsibility to come up with good ideas.
But if your company is going to grow, it needs to happen. That’s why companies like Google encourage their employees to spend 20% of their paid work time on their own ideas. Google knows that Larry Page and Sergey Brin can’t come up with enough good ideas to sustain the company.
The lesson: get other people involved with the brainstorming process.
==> Ask Yourself: How Can I Make This Even Bigger?
Anytime you come up with an idea that sounds good, ask yourself how you can make the idea even bigger.
Let’s say you’re promoting a marketing product and you decide to host a contest where you give away two all-expenses paid trips to a marketing conference.
Instead of just hosting the contest and publishing it on your website, ask yourself: how can I make this even bigger?
You might partner with the marketing conference to open the conference up to all participants. You might do an ad buying campaign to let everyone in the industry know about the contest. These two ideas could take your idea from a 500-person exposure project to a 10,000-people exposure project.
Always ask yourself: how can I make this even bigger?
If you follow these three tips – writing down all your ideas, brainstorming with other people and asking yourself how you can make things even bigger – you’ll quickly develop some winning high-impact campaigns.
What makes online content go viral and how can you turn that traffic into cash?
Making money from viral traffic is a bit different than making money from any other kind of traffic. People who land on your website generally come there for a specific piece of content, because a friend of theirs shared it. They often don’t know who you are or what your site is about.
As a result, most people find that the bounce rate on viral traffic is much higher and their conversion rates much lower. That said, there are still many ways to make money from viral traffic.
==> Get People on a List
It’s quite hard to get viral traffic to convert on a sale right away. Instead, a much more effective tactic is to get them on an email list and continually send them content they’re interested in with an occasional marketing message.
If your opt-in rates are significantly lower than your home screen opt-in rates, don’t be surprised. It’s just the nature of the traffic.
==> Get Them on an RSS Feed
If you have a blog that’s regularly putting out the same kind of content that got people to your site in the first place, they’ll likely be interested in getting more content from you in the future.
Make your RSS feed big on your site and prominently promote your RSS feed. Once you have someone on your RSS feed, you’ll be able to get them coming back again and again and build a relationship with them. Over time, the likelihood of them buying something from you goes up significantly.
If you have a consistently high volume of traffic that you’re not earning much money from with your own products and/or services, look into advertising.
Advertising is tough to make money with unless you have a lot of traffic. But if you already have the traffic, it can be an easy monetization method.
Start with self-serve platforms like Google AdSense, then move on to direct advertising deals when it makes sense.
If you’re getting a lot of viral traffic in YouTube, you may have a shot at getting into YouTube’s partner program. You’ll need to be regularly producing videos that get over 100,000 views to qualify, but the money can be quite decent. It’s basically a revenue split arrangement with YouTube.
==> Get Paid for Leads
If you can’t convert viral traffic into actual sales, one great way to monetize instead might be to get them to fill out leads.
Cost Per Action (CPA) companies are often willing to pay anywhere from $2 to $12 just for leads filled out in specific industries.
Let’s say you’re in the habit of producing videos about tricking out your car that tend to go viral. You can easily find insurance companies who’ll pay you $2 per email that they get when you send people to their site. They never have to take out their credit card and you’ll still get paid decent money.
These are some of the best ways to monetize viral traffic. As a rule of thumb, you want to move away from trying to make a first-time sale and instead use lower commitment methods of monetization.
Using StumbleUpon for Instant Viral Content Traffic
StumbleUpon is one of the most powerful websites you could utilize for getting viral traffic to your content. StumbleUpon can send tens of thousands of visitors to your site in a few hours, but it can also become a consistent source of traffic over time.
Because of the nature of StumbleUpon, content which people like has a very good chance of being seen by even more people.
Here’s how to use StumbleUpon for instant viral traffic.
==> Understanding the Mindset
Before designing a campaign for StumbleUpon, it’s crucial that you understand the mindset of Stumblers.
StumbleUpon is a lot like flicking through different channels on a TV, except it’s on the internet and people are flicking through different websites.
StumbleUpon will serve up unique pages and websites to people. If they like it, they can “Thumbs Up” the content, if they don’t they can “Thumbs Down” the content. At any time they can click “Stumble” and see a different site.
It’s very easy for someone who’s bored to “Stumble” away from your site. Likewise, if you get a lot of Stumblers to thumbs up your content, you can quickly get a flood of Stumblers coming in.
==> The Most Important Thing for Targeting Stumblers
The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re targeting StumbleUpon users is that they’re in a very “quick entertainment” mindset.
You need to catch their attention, and you need to do it immediately. In other words, the above the fold area of your website needs to have some sort of shocking or captivating headline or graphic.
People should feel immediately drawn in upon seeing your site. Remember, if you don’t catch their attention, they’ll be gone before you can say “Stumble.”
==> Keeping Their Attention
Throughout your page should be very interesting, emotionally engaging pieces of content. It doesn’t matter if it gets them to laugh, to be outraged or to be shocked – it just has to be emotionally engaging.
You’ll also want to tone down the ads on the page which Stumblers land on. Pages with a lot of ads tend to get downvoted, while pages with fewer ads and more engaging content tends to get upvoted.
==> Getting Your Content on StumbleUpon
So how do you actually get your content on to StumbleUpon?
StumbleUpon frowns on people submitting their own content. You can, but if you do it too often you’ll get your account disabled.
The best way to do it is to first spend a week or so using StumbleUpon yourself. That way you build up some usage history so it doesn’t look like you’re just there to promote; and you also get some experience with the StumbleUpon’s system.
Then, pick one of the best pages on your website and submit it to StumbleUpon. Ideally, you should get enough of a following from StumbleUpon that others will submit your content from then on.
If your content isn’t getting enough uptake, submit another piece of your own content a few weeks later. But make sure you’re also submitting other things and that there’s an interval between your submissions of your own content.