Contagious content: 3 secrets to going viral

Content marketing is one of the best ways for your business to engage with your customers. It can improve your site’s search ranking, increase visibility and loyalty, and if it’s great content, can lead to sharing. And when content is shared to the point it goes viral, the result can be free publicity, name recognition, and brand building. The rise of sites that specialize in viral media offers important lessons for businesses looking to create their own sharable content.

We’d bet that everyone on the Internet has seen BuzzFeed quizzes that tell you’re green and most like a breakfast sandwich. BuzzFeed has cracked the viral content code, and consumers are not only adding data with each click, they’re also eager to share this seemingly useless information with their networks. Here are three lessons your business can apply to its own content to make it more sharable—and you don’t even need to take a quiz for the results.

Push the right buttons

“Stories that evoke primal emotions tend to work best,” said Neetzan Zimmerman in a recent interview. The former Gawker editorial genius, now editor-in-chief at social networking startup Whisper, wrote 9 out of 10 of Gawker’s most popular stories last year.Whether it’s controversial, hilarious, strange, or heartwarming, content has the ability to trigger powerful emotions is one way to get people talking—and sharing.

What you learn when a post doesn’t do well can provide you with insight into your specific audience’s habits.

He also adds that human interest and inspiration stories “are the bread and butter of the viral internet.” Just remember that positive content usually has more sticking power than negative, and focusing on one strong emotion (fear, surprise, anger, awe, to name a few) can have a larger impact.

Learn your audience’s habits

If you’re prepared to fail at creating viral content, there’s a lot your business can gain. What you learn when a post doesn’t do well can provide you with insight into your specific audience’s habits.

Your business needs to find out what details make your audience click. Headline too long? The time you posted the content—or promoted on social media channels—not right? Figuring out what doesn’t work is just as important to figuring out what will work.

And the more you can make your content feel personalized to your audience, the better it will do. Managing editorial director at BuzzFeed, Summer Anne Burton, recently said the more successful quizzes the site creates “are mostly built so the results feel personal and that you can relate to them. She calls the quizzes “a way for people to identify and relate to others.”

It all hinges on the headline

A headline is the first thing your audience sees and can make or break the rest of the content. If the title doesn’t elicit an emotion or a connection with your audience, they’re not going to click to read the rest. In addition to emotion-packed headlines, lists tend to perform well, too.

Getting your first piece of content to go viral probably won’t happen right away. Some posts may build traffic slowly, over the course of several months. Others may skyrocket to popularity months after they’ve been written. But consistently creating compelling content for your audience will benefit your business in the long run.

Ready for more? Check out our interview with Scott Golder, a data scientist and staff sociologist at Context Relevant, whose groundbreaking social media research is changing what can be learned from analysis of data people provide online.