This is part of a series. Check out the companion piece: BuzzFeed’s Guide To Viral Content (Cats Optional, But Encouraged)
There are certain websites, writers, marketers and content creators who seem to rule the internet. Everything they put out there seems contagious, capturing an audience of millions and sparking conversations on social media.
These days, unpacking the secrets to viral success has been the mission of researchers, media organizations and businesses alike. After all, infectious content leads to major rewards in the form of readers, subscribers, advertisers, raising awareness for an important issue, brand recognition and financial success.
If you’re looking for ways get people talking, check out these 10 strategies from the experts themselves.
“Grumpy Guide To Life: Observations From Grumpy Cat” Book Event At Indigo
Grumpy cat. (George Pimentel/WireImage)
1. Write good content
Bottom line: Tell a good story and tell it well. Readers quickly abandon stories with weak content and bad writing.
Begin by making sure your story clearly communicates the five W’s: Who? What? Where? When? Why? This grounds your reader in the story’s basic premise and why it matters.
Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick, co-authors of The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users, explain in a recent Harvard Business Review article that stories should accomplish one of a number of tasks: explain what happened, explain what something means, explain how to do something or surprise the reader.
2. Elicit strong emotions – positive is better than negative
Stories that evoke intense emotions tend to drive popularity, according to a 2011 study by University of Pennsylvania professors.
Content that triggers “high-arousal” emotions performs better online, whether those emotions are positive (like awe) or negative (like anger or anxiety). Whereas content that sparks “low-arousal” emotions (like sadness) is less viral, write Professors Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, who studied the viral nature of New York Times articles over a three-month period. And though there’s much complexity at play, in general, “positive content is more viral than negative content.”
When Jack Shepherd, editorial director at BuzzFeed, wrote 21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity, it generated millions of hits. The list evoked the emotion felt when “you’re in the presence of the triumph of the human spirit,” says Shepherd. Today it has 15.4 million views. (Full disclosure: Shepherd has been a friend for years.)
“When people share something like that, they’re not just sharing the story, they’re sharing the strong, positive emotional experience they had. You can’t really fake that,” says Shepherd. For more tips from Shepherd, check out the companion piece, BuzzFeed’s Guide To Viral Content (Cats Optional, But Encouraged).
3. Be brief
Get to the point quickly and keep the reader interested.
“Our experience is that the sweet spot for posts of curated content is two or three sentences on Google GOOGL +0.89%+ and Facebook and 100 characters on Twitter TWTR +1.62%,” say Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick.
“The sweet spot for created content is 500 to 1,000 words.”
4. Write irresistible headlines
Headlines are the gateway to a story – your one chance to pique your reader’s curiosity and convince them to stay with you. Headlines can make a story a smashing success or a total flop, even if the content is fantastic.
Capture your reader’s attention with headlines that
– Clearly and concisely state the article’s purpose
– Use intriguing adjectives
– Communicate the value and ease of the story
In other words, tell your readers upfront that they’ll be getting a lot out of your story with little effort on their part. (For example, my headline This One Smart Habit Can Slash Your Airfare told readers that they could save a lot of money by learning one habit. Tons of value and so simple.)
Twelveskip.com offers this list of eye-catching title templates that will help you develop great headlines.
5. Be visual
Visual content increases engagement. So pair that compelling headline with a striking visual. Always. This is key to capturing reader interest.
Buzzsumo, a content analytics company, found that having at least one image in a Facebook or Twitter post leads to an average of twice as many shares compared to a post without images. A study by content marketer Skyword found a similar correlation between images and engagement, write Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick. “Total views of its clients’ content increased by 94% if a published article contained a relevant photograph or infographic, when compared to articles without an image in the same category,” the co-authors write.
6. Play the numbers game
The more you post, the greater your chances at going viral. Neetzan Zimmerman, who the Wall Street Journal called possibly “the most popular blogger working on the Web today” blogged for Gawker until 2014 and routinely drew the most unique visitors to the popular site. In an interview with HubSpot.com, Zimmerman shared that he posts 10 to 15 times per day. Not every post went viral, but the larger the volume of stories, the greater the chances of one taking off.
And don’t stop once your work is out there. Promote it actively on social media and do so repeatedly on different days at different times so you can capture different audiences. Tailor your posts for the social media platform.
Sure, you may lose some followers who don’t like repeat shares. But Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick found that this practice pays off. “When we decided to test the effect of repetition by sharing four identical posts with four different links to track clicks, we got about 1,300 clicks on the first, roughly the same on the second, 2,300 on the third and 2,700 on the fourth, for a total of 7,600 clicks. Would you be willing to risk complaints about repeated tweets to achieve 5.8 times more clicks?”
7. Play nice with others
Give credit where it’s due by linking to sources you site in your articles. “Links send traffic to the source as an act of gratitude; enable readers to learn more from the source; and increase your visibility and popularity with bloggers and websites,” write Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick.
And keep the gratitude flowing after your work is out there. Thank and retweet those who tweet your content. Follow them back. Retweet and favorite their stories. Offer thoughtful comments. Be engaged.
8. Study your stats
Check out how your stories compare against each other. What works? Why?
Pay attention to the stories that flopped and think about tweaks that could have made them better.
9. Time the release of your stories
Zimmerman recommends posting at 9 a.m. and noon EST. At 9 a.m. you’ll capture workers reluctant to dive into work at the start of the day.
At noon, you’ll capture West Coast workers arriving to the office and East Coast workers on their lunch break.
10. Give the reader a practical takeaway
You’ve written a compelling story with an irresistible headline. Now read over it and make sure it includes practical, actionable takeaways.
A key component of contagious content is getting readers to share content with their friends and followers. And since everyone from journalists and marketers to high school students to your aunt on Facebook is crafting their online brand, readers are more likely to share material that they find useful and makes them look good.
Demonstrate the value of your content, and watch your numbers soar.
Deborah Jian Lee is a journalist, radio producer and author of a forthcoming book about progressive evangelicals (Beacon Press). Follow her @deborahjianlee. Visit her website http://www.deborahjianlee.com.