The Secret to Making “Viral” Content

On March 18, 2014, in public relations, by Barbara Nixon
Photo Credit: "Zombie Girl" by Maryann Bates

Photo Credit: “Zombie Girl” by Maryann Bates

First of all, there’s no such thing as “making viral content.” There’s only “making content that goes viral.” That said, here’s the secret: as PR pro Shel Holtz often says, “it depends.” In general, if your content has more than a few of the following, it’s more likely to go viral.

  1. It’s been promoted by you in multiple places online.
  2. It’s been promoted by you many times, and at different times of the day.
  3. It has relevant keywords in the headline/title/filename/tags that people may be searching for at a certain point in time.
  4. You’ve directly asked others to share it, and they have.
  5. You’ve linked from other popular content of yours to the new content.
  6. It’s funny.
  7. Someone famous (or at least “Internet famous”) shares your content.
  8. Or, you’re lucky, like my friend Eden Spodek. She recently captured some video of Billy Joel flubbing the lyrics to his famously tongue-tripping song “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and posted it on YouTube soon after. An editor for Rolling Stone had heard about Billy Joel’s botched lyrics and searched YouTube to see if anyone had video of it. Eden’s video was the first one he found. He wrote about it, and as of March 18th, the video now has nearly a half million views.
    • UPDATE from Eden Spodek: “Okay, so maybe I got lucky and there were several other videos of the same thing that may have had better production quality but I did use tips 3, 6 and 7. I suspect tip 3 was most important in helping Andy Greene from Rolling Stone find my video. He was nice enough to let me Twitter interview him about it and I share it on a subsequent blog post. Thanks for sharing it some more and best of luck with your Genghis Grill YouTube challenge.” My apologies to Eden for making it look like luck was the only thing that made her video go viral; that wasn’t my intent.

And here’s what typically doesn’t work:

  1. Tagging your content with irrelevant (but popular) keywords. You may get some traction this way, but it’s unlikely that people will share it. In fact, they will likely be irritated.
  2. Posting once, hoping for immediate pick up.
  3. Irritating your followers/friends by incessantly promoting your content. People will tire of you, and stop “listening” to what you have to say.

When I made my video commercial for Genghis Grill, I aimed to do what works and avoid what doesn’t  (see above). Within a day, I had 500 views on my video. Because I used Bitly to create a custom URL for the video, I can see that a great majority of the clicks on the link come from Twitter, a bunch from Facebook, and virtually none come from the QR code I created. No surprises there. My next job: create Upworthy-style headlines/links that will drive traffic from Twitter and Facebook (primarily) to my video. Watch the 44-second video, and let me know: what headline would you write for it that might make you and your friends want to watch it AND share it? And if you like the video, please share it. barbara_is_listening

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