Often considered the ‘holy grail’ of content marketing, going viral is an extremely effective way of developing your brand and growing your website. Unfortunately, like the holy grail, going viral with your blog content can be elusive and almost impossible.
It doesn’t have to be, though. You may be able to integrate viral marketing into your strategy as a small business much more easily than you think.
There seem to be sites that have mastered the knack of going viral with their content, and I’m sure you are all familiar with examples of the viral marketing videos that do the rounds on what seems like a weekly basis. Think Buzzfeed, and the John Lewis Christmas adverts if you’re lost.
Businesses like Buzzfeed and John Lewis have the benefit of historical brand significance, money, time, and resources to earn their viral content. But what can you do for your business to reap the same rewards?
Luckily for you, it’s not as difficult as having a wealth of time and resources: there are plenty of pointers that we can take from existing viral content and directly translate them for your business. All you really need to do is cause an emotional impact and encourage an audience to engage and share your content. Easy, right?
As mentioned above, the main driver behind viral content is evoking an emotional response and giving the reader a reason to engage or share your content. These are the pillars to keep in mind at all times when you’re looking to go viral, but we can delve deeper into the theory to help formulate this further.
One of the most respected figures on viral content, Jonah Berger, who quite literally wrote the book on contagious content, has tried to quantify the power of word of mouth in a translatable formula for all content in his STEPPS framework. Berger devised a formula for creating content that effectively gets users to engage with an acronym in his book, ‘Contagious: Why Things Catch On’, that goes as follows:
S – social currency – content can become popular by acting as social currency, which is where users feel they can express their opinions and interests by passing on content that has value to them and what they believe in as a form of advocacy
T – triggers – triggers, such as slogans and logos, allow viewers to attach a catchy and memorable trigger to the company that made the content; think Coca Cola turning Father Christmas red to match their branding
E – emotion – strong emotions encourage users to take action by having a psychological effect, with positive and ‘high arousal’ emotions like laughter and awe being most effective
P – public – the goal is to make content go viral, or as public as possible, to get it in front of the largest amount of people possible in order to increase the chances of it being shared
P – practical value – viewers want practical value from the content they consume so, as a brand, you need to make a lasting and tangible impact with what you create – this is why quizzes are so popular because they give the audience a tangible takeaway (the result)
S – stories – audiences are more likely to engage emotionally with stories than brands, so to go viral, a brand needs to tell a story that reinforces their brand image and leaves a lasting impression on viewers
Understanding ‘Going Viral’
As with most things, to be able to go viral, you first need to understand what it means to ‘go viral’ and this – according to Fractl’s Kelsey Libert in an article for Moz – can be achieved by getting a grasp on three key variables: viral coefficient, viral cycle time, and total available market.
The viral coefficient is essentially a shareability score and is defined as the number of viewers that are generated by one viewer. For content to go viral, a viral coefficient of greater than one is essential because this means each viewer is responsible for generating more than one new viewer.
While you won’t know whether you’ve achieved a viral coefficient greater than one until the content is live, you should keep in mind two key qualities for achieving this: strong emotional drivers and piquing viewers’ interests. The stronger the feeling created by content, the more likely it is to earn a response, which will be to engage or disengage and then to share or not to share. Piquing interest is done through the snippets, so think about optimising titles, taglines, and meta descriptions to boost this.
Usually between 1 and 2 days, the viral cycle time can be described as either the time it takes for a new viewer to be generated by the initial viewer or the time it takes for a viewer to view and decide whether or not to share the content shared with them.
The key is to reduce the viral cycle time by making content as easy as possible. This means making it easy to consume and digest (which is why videos go viral so often) and making it easy to share, which can be achieved by providing the relevant sharing tools and making sure the populated snippet and title are catchy and effective.
Impact on Business
As with any marketing strategy, the base-level goal of viral marketing is to have a measurable impact on your business to help it grow by bringing in more custom. In terms of viral blog content, this will translate to vastly increased traffic, backlinks, and becoming an authority online. Then this will need to be transferred into business conversions. Many people assume that this boost is only temporary, but the opposite is actually true as an effective viral blog can establish a lasting increase in traffic that will most likely also spill out across the rest of your site.
Statistics from the previously mentioned Moz blog, ‘The Secret Recipe for Viral Content Marketing Success’, mentioned above, show an example of exponential growth thereafter the initial spike in traffic. The case study shows just how the groundwork for a viral blog post can be dwarfed by the results, which need to be capitalised upon to make it all valuable for the business. In other words, the key to viral content is more than going viral. The key to viral content is, therefore, having the acumen to capitalise on the reward of more exposure.
Your brand will also get a boost, helping to establish a narrative around your business and website and ensuring you create a favourable brand image. You can also become an industry authority if you follow Moz’s guide to creating 10x content, which is essentially the idea of creating content so good (or, ten times as good) that it has to go viral to a degree and becomes a ‘biblical text’ in the eyes of your industry.
While it’s easy to talk about the research and the theory, it’s harder to put this into practice and actually manage to achieve going viral. As a small business that doesn’t have the resources to blindly throw things at the wall to see what sticks, you’ve got to find a tried and tested formula in order to get the results you’re after.
With that in mind, we have aggregated the information available and put together the following to help you recreate the effects for your business. This is by no means a guaranteed formula, but it should put you ahead of much of the competition.
- First of all, you need to establish your audience. By researching your customer base, finding out who is likely to consume the content you plan to create, and making sure you understand who you want to reach, you can create a ‘marketing persona’ to use. In doing this, you help increase the effectiveness of your viral blog because it’s easier to target the emotions of a specific group than the whole of the internet.
- Now you need to find an idea. Again, research is key here because you want to really hone in on the message and the emotion of your content. You should think about your audience and what they want to read, what’s going on in your industry and what your competitors are talking about, and make sure you are timely and relevant to be most effective. A clear, strong story is essential.
- Nail down your title before you begin to write anything else. You need to grab your audience’s attention and make sure they want to read what you’ve written. The ideal length is believed to be around 14-17 words to pique interest, and you need to remember emotionally-driven buzz (or, ‘power’) words that make clicking irresistible.
- Now it’s time to write the main body of content itself, which, again, will require extensive research. Most viral blog content is very data-driven with plenty of visuals and potentially a controversial or unique stance to bring new ideas to your readers.
- Once you’ve written your piece of aspiring viral content, you need to make sure that you set in place the infrastructure. We’ve touched on this, but things such as an effective meta description, and the right share buttons on the page itself, should all contribute to going viral: it’s the little things that make the difference.
- Now you’re ready to share your blog. If you have a small audience, which many small businesses do, it can also be a good idea to promote/boost your content on social platforms to increase your reach.
Putting it into Practice
In essence, there is a lot that goes into creating viral content as a small business but that doesn’t mean it’s unattainable. A lot of the process is about understanding your business, your place in the market (ergo: how to cut through the noise), and the emotional factors that go into why people share content. By doing this, applying it to your business, and trying, and probably trying again more than a few times, you drastically increase your likelihood of going viral – even as a small business.
Active Internet Marketing (UK)
If you’re looking for help with your content marketing strategy, and going viral with your blogs, contact Active Internet Marketing (UK). We are content specialists and can help grow your business with a bespoke strategy.