The quick explanation of how to be viral

How do things go viral? It is hard to say, the internet is big (like really big) and there is are a lot of people competing for the little bit of time and attention that we all have. Almost everyone that has any presence online dreams that some of their content will go “viral”. Although this is not a bad dream some reality needs to be injected into it. Considering that we already discussed that the internet is a big place it is difficult in the least to make anything go viral, let alone be shared a couple of times.

There is no magic solution or formula for viral content. Even the meaning of viral will depend on what it is that you do online. Many people jump to the idea of virality meaning that millions of people share and watch your YouTube clip or share your article. This however is not applicable to every business or venture, you have to be realistic about the size of your audience and what it is that you are presenting. Think of virality in the terms of the people you want to reach. If you are a small business owner that paves driveways then the audience you may want to reach may be only in the few thousands.

There are overall trends that make some content more or less prone to become viral. We all know that an average piece of writing or content is not going to go viral. Sometimes things go viral because of how terrible they are but that is rarely the type of fame that people want. Keep in mind a few general rules when creating your content and something of yours just might go viral.

Know Your Audience

As mentioned above, virality is dependent on what you do. If you pave driveways in a smaller city, virality might look different than a viral campaign for Coca-Cola. Look at the number of people who may be looking for a service like yours within the city and around it. If there are 10,000 possible customers and you reach 20% of them instead of the usual 5% then high-fives are due all around. Consider your content viral, you reached 4X more audience than usual and gained more exposure. Keep it up! If you only reached the regular 5% again, don’t despair, you reached 5% and that’s not bad.

Think about the most basic questions when creating your material. Do they know about you? Do they know about your competitors? Are you trying to contact them? Are your campaigns targeted or general? What is it that is most important to your customer? These may sound like simple questions but they are the foundation of any good piece of popular material. Think about your audience and what they want. Don’t create what you think is great, it is not about you. Think about what your customer would like to see.

Be Different

old-spice-commercial-adBe different. Try something other than what is the norm, stand out from your competition. After all if you do the same thing as everyone else you can’t expect to stand out. There is no secret to being different, if you look at your product or campaign and go “I have seen that” then it is not new. Don’t get me wrong, being innovative is incredibly difficult. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with every piece of content, but throw out something whacky and different sometimes, it just may take off.

Be Emotional

Unless you are in a field such as saving baby seals or nature photography it is often hard to evoke emotion. Going back to the concrete laying business example, it may be hard to evoke emotion about a well paved driveway that won’t crack. Very few people get excited about everyday things but that is a large part of creating content. According to some research such emotions as awe, anger, anxiety, fear, joy and surprise are key factors to creating viral content. One of the most appealing and common aspect of viral content is humor. To inject emotion into your content jump back to the Be Different aspect and try something different. The Dollar Shave Club was a successful viral campaign that made a mundane activity such as shaving humorous and joyful. Take example from others success and see if any elements can be infused into your content.

Keep It to the Point and Make It Long

Is this point a Catch-22? Not really. As mentioned most people today have a short attention span. We are bombarded with information from every possible angle and absorbing all of it is difficult. If you are creating a video or a visual piece of content, keep it to the point. If a person does not have a lot of time allow them to skim whatever it is that you created for the nuggets of information and let them move on. They can always come back later and admire your work in its full glory.

Make your written content longer. Long, in depth posts are usually more apt to go viral than short and to the point. If your content is not based on visuals you can expand and go in depth. After all somebody committed to reading it, they might as well get as much as they can from it. Just remember to highlight the most important points or at least make them easy to notice.


That’s right, fail. I fail, you fail, we all fail at some point. The fact is that the so called “virality guru’s” fail all the time. If making something viral does not work the 1st,2nd,34th time, don’t despair, just keep at it. Over time and with experience you and I will get there, and the reward will your own piece of internet history in the form of a nifty viral campaign.


How can anything go viral if you don’t share? Seriously, throw some Share, Like, Tweet, and other social media buttons on to your content. Otherwise how are people supposed to share with the world the greatness that you created?


Questions to Consider

  1. Are there are important aspects to viral content?
  2. Is viral content really that important or is consistent good content better?
  3. Is virality really that valuable, does it bring in more business?

12 thoughts on “The quick explanation of how to be viral

  1. Hi Janis,

    First off I love the layout of your page, it is really sharp! To answer your questions, I think the concept of all the key points are great concepts to any post, but I don’t think going viral is truly going to help any business. For every article that talks about how important going viral is, there are just as many articles that talk about how the best ways to get customers is word of mouth and personal references. I think if you can create content in a way to help it go viral, that’s a great goal to have and then you will be happily surprised when content does go viral. Like you said, there’s a lot of times you fail before you actually have a successful article. Great post!

    • Amanda,

      I think part of the reason that virality is so much in mode because it is very simple to show some sort of statistics. One trillion views, or six million shares, all these numbers sound very impressive. Viral posts may be more beneficial to businesses that focus on information distribution, but other types of businesses have to define what is viral for them. Not every company can benefit from a viral cat video. Constantly putting out great material and putting a little extra into some articles will always work the best.

  2. I think virality is very important for businesses. It gets your information out to the world. It can reach a new audience, spark current followers to engage with your content, or prompt them to share your content and make other pieces go viral! Although it is not necessary to make a business successful on social, it sure is important in my opinion!

    • Casey,

      I think we have to look at the exact definition of virality. It seems that the criteria for what is viral is not very well defined. If a piece of content goes above the average number of views for a specific audience, then yes, it is viral. I do agree that most times having a viral piece of content is beneficial, unless it becomes viral for the wrong reasons.

  3. Hey Janis,
    I think the most important aspect of viral content is one you covered above: emotion. The content has to inspire emotion, whether that emotion is positive or negative.
    I think going viral is good for a business, but those people will only stay engaged with that brand if there’s good, consistent content. I guess you’d have to look at each business on a case-by-case basis to see if going viral actually translated into more customers, but virality is definitely worth giving a try as it surely has the potential to grow your business.

    • Amanda,

      I know that saying I agree is not what I am supposed to say but I agree that each business has to be looked at independently. Virality cant hurt, exposure is usually good news for a business, usually. However viral content always needs good, consistent material to follow it to retain customers and keep increasing the customer base.

  4. Some businesses and individuals have mastered the art of monetizing viral content. According to the Huffington Post, YouTube sensation Jenna Marbles has the third most popular channel on YouTube, and earned nearly $350K in one year from ad revenue. Twitter played a key role in Jenna’s success by facilitating the spread of viral content.

    • Jason,

      There are definetly people and companies who strive from making popular content. However a lot of the times creating viral content is the purpose of their business. I believe Ms. Mourey falls into this category and her objective is to make videos that apply to an incredibly wide base of individuals. Not every business is the same and creating something viral for a concrete laying company may be different than a YouTube sensation.

  5. Good questions! They really made me think. I don’t always believe that one piece of viral content is as important as consistent good content. People forget about a post, image, or video after sometime. Some may even eventually unlike or unfollow your page if your posts are not consistent. Therefore, always having good content will keep your followers.

    • Victoria,

      Virality is such a fancy word and many people get carried away with it. I would love for something I wrote to go viral but I would rather have constant 3%-5% growth from consistent quality content. As you said, people forget about things they saw and there is always another funny cat video that will sweep the internet away.

  6. I really like the topic of your second question. I think consistent good content builds the audience that eventually allows your content to go viral. The best piece of content EVER may not go viral because there is not an audience to help spread it. Sure, one person could be the connection to many others, but we have to play the statistics game at least a little when discussing content and a larger audience means a better chance at going viral. Thanks!

    • Jake,

      The probability of single piece of content going viral is minuscule. Few people think about the statistical aspect of both analytics and virality. Consistent content, even if it isn’t the BEST ever, has a better chance of going viral than a single great piece of content. It would be an interesting study to actually calculate the proportion versus quality of content to have something go viral.

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