This is an original guest post by Isabel Wiliams of BizDb.
Content doesn’t go viral by pure chance. In fact, there’s a real science behind the incredible success of certain posts or videos – or so says Jonah Berger, a marketing professor from the Wharton School of Business, who has spent years examining the phenomenon of content virality.
“If you understand the underlying science of human behavior, you can predict what people are going to pass on, and you can craft your own contagious content–whether it’s messages, products or ideas–that people are more likely to spread,” said Berger to The Enterpreneur.
And he might be onto something – examples of viral content have showed us that user responses can be analyzed and used to identify content that is likely to spread like wildfire.
Here are 10 essential features of content that goes viral, backed by research into user behavior and psychology.
1) It’s practically useful
Content which helps users to solve problems or makes them more efficient at what they do is always appreciated. Users want to share this type of content with their social communities because it’s helpful for their friends, colleagues and followers. Content that offers a practical value – be it current news, a comprehensive list post that helps to complete a task or an insightful how-to article – has a greater chance of going viral.
2) It’s positive
It’s simple – negative content turns out to be much less popular than positive content. Even though negative content can be powerful and capture users’ attention, positive content receives the most shares. After all, why would users repeatedly share a post about something that is depressing to their friends and colleagues?
Viral content can be entirely positive, for instance entertaining, but it can also be on the verge of negative – think about all those slightly ironic posts and videos that grab everyone’s attention.
3) It evokes emotions
This point slightly complicates the previous one. Content which produces a strong emotional reaction is more engaging than content that brings out no emotions. The interesting this is that it can be both negative and positive – the important this is that the emotion is high-arousal – whether it’s anxiety, anger, fear or even fear of loss. While it can be a bit tricky to juggle these types of emotions, they often work perfectly for certain target audiences.
4) It’s constructively controversial
Viral content usually makes good use of controversial topics, as long as they aren’t too controversial or offensive to the audience. Some topics are simply too hot to handle, effectively killing any conversation that can happen, which works against your goal of inspiring people to share and talk about your content. Still, controversy in small doses can be an excellent way to up virality. Just be aware that you will need to tread carefully – cite authoritative sources and double check to make sure that your content won’t offend anyone.
5) It compliments others
Ego bait posts always have a good chance of becoming the next online hit. This type of content never fails to attract internet traffic and give you an opportunity to build a lasting relationship with your audience. When your content is based on complimenting someone, it usually fosters reciprocation. People are more likely to share or like your content if they feel that it is complimentary and flattering towards them.
6) It presents a common topic from a unique perspective
One way to create a hot topic is to find a subject everyone is talking about and then present it from a different perspective to get people talking. If your take has potential, you can even email it to bloggers and reporters to extend its reach. People want to share a topic that sells, so finding a unique angle is normally a great strategy for creating content that goes viral.
7) It offers social currency
People don’t just share content because they genuinely like it or want others to see it as well. Sharing, liking and commenting are all public activities that are seen by our fiends, colleagues or in some cases, the entire internet. When you’re able to understand virality in this sense, the content we share becomes a representation of who we are. People ultimately like to share stuff that makes them look good in front of others. Content which continues to have social value among a selected group always has the potential to go viral.
8) It’s a trigger
Another important issue is the tendency of internet users to appreciate content that touches on subjects they actually think about. When content creators write about a topic that is already at the front of users’ minds, they stand a better chance at producing pieces that stand out from the crowd. This is something that all professional journalists realized a long time ago – in their daily jobs, they strive to create articles that are relevant to current events and highly sharable.
9) It’s appealing to the public
Success is something that never fails to turn heads. The same goes for content – we naturally tend to imitate things that we see others do successfully. It might seem like an example of herd mentality, but this idea works well for content. If a group of influences find your topic appealing – they are more likely to help you spread a post to a wider audience with the helpful support of their followers.
10) It’s based on storytelling
People like stories. They are easy to relate to and they’re easier to digest than facts or figures. Storytelling is a powerful technique used in marketing and branding. Even if you collect an intriguing set of data, don’t expect readers to find it interesting without a story to go with it. Storytelling is your single best method to increase a piece of content’s shareability.
What kind of content are you most likely to share?
The article was contributed by Isabel Wiliams of BizDb.