Most Common Characteristics of Viral Content

Most Common Characteristics of Viral Content

Virality – a seldom seen Holy Grail of content marketing, the elusive unicorn that content creators are trying to capture every time they get to work on a piece of content.

Wikipedia defines virality more accurately as a tendency of a piece of content to spread like wildfire through the Web, shared and proliferated by Internet users themselves.

However, virality doesn’t just happen, contrary to popular belief. Casual internet users would say that they are swamped with viral content on a daily basis but marketers know that for every piece of content that goes viral there are millions which are ushered into obscurity on a daily basis.

So how do you hit the nail on the head and produce a piece of content that is going to garner thousands and maybe even millions of shares?

All viral pieces share several distinct characteristics that connect them together. They are all:

  • Surprising
  • Intense
  • Positive
  • Interesting
  • Actionable

Psychology behind Virality

Is it really science or is it a mental checklist you need to have prepared when creating content?

You decide.

What is evident is that viral success can be replicated to a certain degree by following a simple, above-mentioned formula. If your post contains everything listed up there, it’s going to generate shares.

It might not go full on viral, however – that part is still going to depend on your niche and the type of content but we’ll talk about that in a minute.

But back to this emotionally loaded lists. It’s pretty obvious that people will share things that they find surprising and interesting. And when we’re feeling good we want to share it with the world so positive is not surprising either.

There is a caveat here – not everything that goes viral is positive nor does it have to be. Intense emotions play a huge part in what gets virally shared and what doesn’t. If your content can provoke an emotion strong enough – anger, disbelief, outrage, ecstasy –chances are high that it’s going to be shared.

There is only one emotion that consistently underperforms and fails to push a piece of content toward virality.

That emotion is sadness.

No one shares sad content, at least not in the numbers needed for it to go viral. Psychologists explain that this is because humans inherently don’t like to be harbingers of bad news. In essence, we don’t want to be responsible for other people feeling bad. Hence, sad content will be hard-pressed to go viral unless it has a strong, surprising element to it.

Dr. Jonah Berger, the lead scientists behind the virality research, adds another point to his list and that’s sharability. Sharability has nothing to do with making content readily available on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social network for that matter.

It has everything to do with social currency – what people get out of sharing a piece of content. How does it make them look? Does it increase their popularity? Is it a conversation starter?

People want to look good on social media. Sharing a post and getting 0 traction on it is a nightmare for most – they’ll rather delete it than let it hang there with just to likes and a comment from their aunt.

So make sure you’re creating content that strokes people’s ego – pieces that, when shared, will make them look smarter and in the loop, a part of a special clique of those privileged enough have access to that type of material.

Other Elements of Virality

But virality doesn’t just hinge on emotional elements and psychology. There are several more factors to consider.

First, one is the topic.

Remember those cat memes? They are still going strong – as are the minion quotes. They rode the wave of virality straight to an evergreen status. Other topics that are always popular are babies, fitness and health, longevity, and pets.

Aside from them, we have trending and seasonal topics that are guaranteed to go viral in every format when it’s their time of the year. This winter it was zombies, thanks to ‘The Walking Dead’ – right now it’s dragons, knights, and murder and mayhem thanks to ‘The Game of Thrones.

Creating content around trending and seasonal topics will help you get the exposure you need and if you can connect it to your business in one form or another – even better.

Another virality factor is the content format.

When it comes to written content, good researched articles tend to get more traction and shares. Insightful pieces with original thoughts and data will capture the attention of readers – under the condition that they are well-written and devoid of spelling and grammar mistakes.

List posts, quizzes, and practical tips are also share-magnets – they will regularly outperform long-form posts and articles.

By far the most shared types of content are images, infographics, and videos. On the millennial-driven internet of today, these work like a charm because young people have little to no time to devote to reading, unfortunately.

So to wrap it up: you can create content with a singular purpose of going viral with it.

However, should you? Maybe not.

It still matters what you have to say and how you say it. If you have a good piece that you think is interesting and adds value but it’s just not performing that well, rework it. Sprinkle a bit of emotion into it, make sure that it connects to people on a deeper level, and consider the format.

Create content that:

  • Connects emotionally and invokes strong emotions from the audience
  • Adds value and is actionable
  • Makes people look good – has social currency
  • Is centered around popular or trending topics
  • It’s in a format that is easily shared on social networks

This virality checklist is a guideline for making sure that you hit that home run every once in a while, so make sure you use it.

Amy Cowen is a content marketing strategist who specializes in maximizing the commercial impact of the content. She manages her own team of content writers at Aussiessay and contributes to different sites and blogs on marketing topics.