How does content become viral? Up until a few years back, people used to believe that it was all just luck. After all, how can you guess what people will start sharing online? This is no longer the case. We are smarter now. We now know that there is a science behind why people share some things rather than others. At NDN Group, we have reviewed some of our client case studies, and studied what our clients do and don’t do – all in an attempt to help you understand why some content create more viral effect than others.
1. People Like to Evaluate Social Currency
People want to appear smart. They want to share content that entertains or educates their social circles in order to project a certain persona of themselves online.
Jonah Berger, an assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business, specializes in discovering what makes ideas and products go viral. On his blog, he wrote – “In early February, LinkedIn sent out an email to some of its users: “Congratulations, you have one of the top 5% most-viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012.” It felt good to be part of that special group, sure, but the recipients (including myself) did more than just pat themselves on the back. They shared the good news with their friends. Thousands took to Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about their new-found status. “Kind of a big deal,” some even wrote. People shared this information because it made them look good.
If a piece of content makes people seem smart, they’re more likely to share it with their friends. And people like being the first to share information because it makes them seem cool and in-the-know. While people were bragging about themselves, LinkedIn also benefited. People couldn’t share their newfound status without making LinkedIn part of the conversation, which helped the social network spread and grow its user base.”
2. Include Knowledge-Based Verbs in Your Headlines
Using keywords in your headlines drives traffic to your content. Knowledge-based verbs (action words like know, think, prove, and understand) tend to earn more shares than others. Brands that push sales when creating content need to start looking for different angles to sell their products and services like entertaining stories, challenging quizzes, or other methods that engage the audiences’ imaginations and critical thinking. Positive content also has a much higher tendency to go viral than negative content. Positive adjectives like greatest, happiest, cutest, and hilarious are far more frequently used and shared than negative adjectives.
3. Create Content that Triggers Strong Emotions
Audiences love looking forward to what will happen next. Anticipation is one of the most highly reported feelings in viral content, as is awe, anger, anxiety, fear, joy, lust, and of course, surprise. The likelihood of people sharing and talking about your content increases drastically if people have a strong emotional reaction to it. This can be tricky. While it is simple to activate these emotions, it’s not easy. You need to think about which emotion you want to target, and hit it perfectly. When your content is in video form, be sure to give people an emotional roller coaster. Create contrasts between the high levels of emotion and areas of less emotional activation, and the audience won’t find themselves becoming bored, satiated, or overwhelmed with too much of the same. Push the audience’s buttons by using content that is taboo, unusual, outrageous, hilarious, remarkable, or even a secret.
4. Consider the Public Good
To make a convincing bit of viral substance that also functions admirably with your brand image, add a message for the good of the public. Brainstorm how your brand might be able to create content that serves a public good or that creates awareness, but at the same time activates strong emotional drivers. One excellent recent example was a highly emotionally evocative video campaign from AT&T created to drive awareness for the dangers of texting and driving. AT&T hired famed filmmaker Werner Herzog. The short film has been viewed more than two million times.
In this day and age, consumers are skeptics. They know when someone is trying to sell them a service or a product. Marketing can no longer be as heavy-handed as it used to be in the past and marketers have started adding subtlety to their methods. Now, engaging with audience means reaching out to them emotionally in a meaningful way, while also contributing to society. If you are looking to make your video go viral, create content that this worthy of the audience’s time and is something they can invest in emotionally.