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9 Things All Viral Content Has In Common

Posted in: Buyer Engagement, Sales and Marketing Management

What brand and content marketer doesn’t yearn for some viral content? The ROI on viral content through free advertising and its expansive reach can be tremendous. You can’t guarantee any piece of content will go viral, but you can give it a fighting chance by incorporating these tactics and attributes commonly found in content that has made the leap.

Viral content…

  1. Understands its audience
  2. Has clear goals
  3. Is easy to digest
  4. Has great visuals
  5. Starts small
  6. Has a strong promotional plan behind it
  7. Author is actively engaged
  8. Is mobile friendly
  9. But still … lets you be you

Understands its audience

Could you post some ridiculously cute and hilarious cat video and get a ton of shares? Sure. But if you’re a supply-chain solution, how is that going to help your bottom line? It won’t. If you want content to go viral among people who can translate views into sales, then you need to use the rest of these viral content tips in service to your target market.

Understanding what your target audience wants can help you solve the short-form or long-form dilemma. A quick Buzzfeed listicle can get 1+ million views. Yet in the B2B space, getting 100,000+ views for a piece of long-form content, like this Buzzsumo article analysing 100 million headlines did, qualifies as going viral in their market. Even outside B2B markets, an analysis of 100 Buzzfeed posts confirms that long-form content in certain verticals, like travel and entertainment, can hit the view/share jackpot too.

Has clear goals

One piece of popular advice to spur viral content is to hit the right emotional buttons. In most cases, this is great advice. If your goal is to grow brand awareness, then emotional-driven content that can spread far beyond your niche has value.

If you’re going for an emotional hook, then consider research from on “Emotions that Make Marketing Campaigns Go Viral” that found inspiring complex emotional reactions was most effective. While triggering positive reactions like surprise, amusement, and interest was compelling, content that triggered contrasting emotions was shared more often.

On the other hand, if your goal for a piece of viral content is to generate quality leads, then you want to use the other main viral hook: data-intensive, amazingly practical and useful information. Whether it’s an interactive infographic or a detailed eBook, this type of viral content explains how to solve a common problem and provides actionable information people can use immediately.

Easy to digest

You should never make the people consuming your content work that hard. Having easily digestible content is especially true if you want it to go viral.  The visual presentation of the content, even the text, must be laid out in a way that makes it easy for people to understand. This means using white space, bullet points, images, and uncomplicated language.

Has great visuals

Nothing is easier to digest than visuals. Video and image content is taking over the internet exactly because our brains can process pictures faster than words. Whether you’re going for short- or long-form content, it must include engaging and interesting visuals. This could be powerful data graphics embedded in a long article, or a simple GIF with a short caption that’s the complete piece of content.

Starts small

Viral content doesn’t go viral overnight. It builds and eventually hits a tipping point when it really explodes. Most viral content gets its start in a niche social network or group where sharing and discussion are the point – like a subreddit, Facebook group, Snapchat or LinkedIn. A YouTube video that gets millions of views doesn’t get those views because the video was posted to YouTube. It gets them because people shared the video in smaller social networks until critical mass was achieved and it got picked up by widely visited media sites like Buzzfeed or Mashable, where it starts getting shared all over again.

Has strong promotional plan behind it

Promote the content you want to go viral with marketing automation tools that can schedule social media posts across multiple platforms or send a multi-email campaign to your list. You can also consider using paid ads and direct outreach to influencers.

Author is actively engaged

An interesting analysis by LinkedIn found that not only did its top publishers’ articles get 64 times more comments and 24 times more shares than the average LinkedIn article, but that the authors themselves made 10 times more replies to comments on their articles than non-viral authors. In short, these authors intentionally kept the conversation going. The lesson here is to include comment response in your content promotion plan.


Today, 69 percent of our digital media time is spent on mobile. If your content doesn’t work on mobile, it’s not going to get shared enough to even approach going viral.

You be you

If all viral content hit exactly the same notes, it wouldn’t be going viral. These are common characteristics of content that has gone viral, so you’ve got a good checklist of attributes to apply to your own content. However, the most important quality for any content is remaining authentic and true to your brand’s voice and story. If you aren’t doing that, going viral isn’t going to help.