Let’s Go Viral… Three Words That Strike Fear Into The Heart of Any Communications Professional

Gisele Bundchen for Uner Armour I Will What I Want

If I had $100 for every time a client told me they want a piece of ho-hum, not particularly compelling content to ‘go viral’, I’d be a very rich woman. Everyone wants their favorite video clip to go viral. It’s every marketer’s dream to have a piece of content drop into their lap that will become an overnight sensation, shared across the world in a matter of hours.

But if going viral was this easy, surely everyone could do it, right? So how come it’s not happening? Why aren’t your friends immediately sharing with all their friends that video clip you just uploaded? Contrary to what many brands would like to believe, going viral is extremely hard.

What makes a video go viral?

Yes, you might have an edge if your video features an adorable kitten, a “twerking fail”, or a cute kid. But for the everyday brand, your video has to have something very special — be it bizarre, entertaining, or highly topical — or it doesn’t have a hope of going viral.

When you actually sit down and analyze what makes people share a video, as BuzzSumo did a year or so ago, you might be in for a shock. Of the one million posts BuzzSumo analyzed, 50% got fewer than eight shares, and 70% of them got nothing at all. And don’t think that the more content you put out, the more likely you are to get picked up — it’s actually the opposite — more content just equals more noise, unless it hits that magic touchpoint. I’ve been trying for six years to educate clients on the basic premise that Quantity + Velocity = Vomit, but some companies just can’t seem to help themselves.

Why is it so hard?

Mostly, it’s because everyone in the online world is suffering from what we call ‘content shock’. According to Business Insider, the average user is exposed to 2,210 pieces of content every single day. So it’s not surprising that it’s a challenge to stand out from that kind of crowded newsfeed.

Content Consumption Increases Dramatically YOY

Despite what businesses would like to think, there are no short cuts to making content go viral. It takes, as I said earlier, a lot of hard work. You must be prepared to:

· Produce a detailed communications plan

· Create stories that people want to watch and share

· Support those stories with a strong media campaign

Studying successful campaigns, like Dove Real Beauty or Chipotle’s The Scarecrow, we can begin to see some common characteristics among pieces that go viral. Figuring out what those commonalities are, then building a campaign that matches those particular characteristics, will give you a boost in the ‘going viral’ stakes.

There is a reason why Coca-Cola is named Advertiser of the Year at Lynx in 2017 — just check out the video.

Understand Why People Share Content

First off, you must always start your marketing campaign planning with thorough audience research. It’s the people you target who will (or won’t) share your content, so your number one goal is to understand what appeals to them. People share content that evokes strong emotions and to go viral, a piece of content must tape into those emotions as powerfully as possible.

The exact kind of feeling you should focus on depends entirely on the people you want to reach out to.. What are they interested in? What are their triggers? What do you want to tap into? Answering these questions will help you to begin building an emotional response map.

Choose The Right Type Of Content

Once you know what emotions you want to evoke, start thinking about how to conjure up those emotions. Successful campaigns are focused on visuals. Why? Because it’s human nature to respond more emotionally to visual stimulation.

While an essay or opinion piece with well-developed arguments, creative ideas, and/or helpful tips will also appeal to certain types of people, its chances of becoming truly popular are small, because reading and analyzing propositions takes time and mental effort. A video, on the other hand, elicits an immediate response — check out Bright Vibes Unbox video, which has generated 11m video views in less than a week.

While it helps to have a catchy title for your video, it’s the visual content that will hook the prospect. The very fact that the content is visual increases a person’s willingness to read it by 80%.


‘Keep It Simple and Scalable’ is the most important rule of successful marketing. Getting overly complicated or clever, or getting down in the weeds on detailed content might earn you points for being thorough, but it’s way too complicated to go viral.

Your best results will come from focusing your primary content on ONE thing (idea, image, message). If you want to tell people more, invite them to your website or blog where you can provide details, but keep those details out of your video. Catch your audience’s attention first; you can explain your brand philosophy further down the line.

Map Out A Strong Platform Strategy

How you promote your content is at least as important as is the content itself. The most amazing content in the world won’t go viral if it never leaves your comfort zone.

If you want to gain worldwide (or at least national) recognition, you must push the campaign out through every possible relevant medium. Know where your target audience hangs out on the web, so you can focus on the channels those people use — that’s your core zone, your sweet spot. Once that’s locked down, use the remainder of your budget to reach out to other mediums.

To go viral quickly, digital, social, and mobile media are your best bet — sharing is easy and billions of users check their feeds every day. Facebook alone now connects almost two billion people across the globe. For a great example of how to optimize Facebook for viral marketing, check out the Captain Obvious and Hotels.com ‘Silent Ads’ campaign — it’s one of the best uses of the platform I’ve seen.

Make Sharing Easy

Post your content on channels where sharing is easy. In fact, make sure it’s easy to share that content no matter where you publish it — make sure social media sharing buttons are front and center on all your pages.

Beyond simple sharing, incorporate some form of ‘tell your friends’ message into your content to incentivize additional shares. You can do this by contests — Qwertee has a new Facebook contest every day. Or take a cue from Disney’s #ShareYourEars campaign, which invites people to share their pictures through social media and adds an extra ‘feel good’ edge — for every post, Disney unlocks a $5 charitable donation.

Add a “Seal of Approval”

Yes, people are always looking for fun and interesting content on the web, but they don’t want to be clickbaited. Don’t lead your audience on and disappoint them. This is particularly important for new businesses that don’t yet have solid name recognition.

One of the most powerful ways to solve this problem is to infuse your content with authority. Maybe there’s a reputable expert you can tap to voice an opinion, or you have access to a (relevant) celebrity that will give you an endorsement. You should already be collaborating with acknowledged experts and public opinion influencers in your target area as part of your brand marketing, so get them to share and endorse your content as well.

Flatter Your Users

What we post on our social media pages mirrors how we want the world to see us. So, if you want your content to appear in that space, make sure it reflects well on those who share it.

I think that FP7’s Instagram Stories campaign, “Life of Farah”, which leverages the platform’s features to show the impact of domestic violence is a fantastic local example of this. Beyond the exposure, campaigns of this nature generate a tremendous amount of goodwill and respect that can turn into brand loyalty down the road.

Don’t Waste Success

When your hard work finally pays off and you have a campaign that really hits home with your audience, don’t let that hard work go to waste. Before the spotlight moves off your successful content, make sure you have a couple more lined up and ready to go. Because you can bet your bottom dollar that’s exactly what your competition is doing.

As always I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and tips!