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Viral Marketing: 27 Ways to Make Your Content Go Viral!

Trying to market your business without understanding the science of virality is like trying to steer a ship with no sails. With the dawn of social media, the ability to reach large audiences at low costs has never been greater. But neither has the competition. With anyone and everyone having a web presence, the noise has never been louder, and every marketer from here to Timbuktu is shouting out the "best advice ever."  But how can you sift through the noise to find out what really works? By referencing some viral marketing case studies, we'll leave that question up to a little thing called science... 

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The Science of Virality

1. Positivity

Animation of woman celebrating at her laptop

A  BufferApp survey of over 800 people shows that images that evoke positive feelings such as joy, interest, anticipation, and trust ranked highest. 

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Write things that uplift and leave people with a positive impression. As we discussed in our viral marketing case study 4 Powerful Marketing Lessons from Willie Wonka's Golden Ticket Campaign, brand association is a verifiable concept. And all said and done, wouldn't you rather your readers associate positive feelings with your brand/content than negative? 

2.  Sense of URGENCY

Creating a sense of urgency is a great way to increase clickability. Clinical psychology suggests that humans tend to act rashly when faced with urgency, likening the principle to a sensitive brake pedal. 

Urgent Bart Simpson animation

"Individuals with high levels of positive urgency tend to lose control over their behavior when they feel exhilarated or happy, whereas individuals with high levels of negative urgency tend to lose control over their behavior when experiencing sadness, anger, fear, or other negative emotions.  An easy way to think about this would be to compare high levels of positive or negative urgency to a faulty brake pedal.  When individuals experience intense emotions, it is as though they are driving a car at a dangerously fast speed.  For individuals with elevated levels of positive or negative urgency, the brake pedal either does not work or is simply highly ineffective, thus making them less able to stop themselves from going off the road." 

The Viral Marketing Takeway? 

Think of ways to include a sense of urgency around your content like creating an e-book and offering it "Free for X amount of days!"

3. Infographics

A LinkedIn report shows that infographics receive 4x the likes of presentations and 23x more than documents on Slideshare. Although not as stark, the same trend holds true when applied to other social media platforms as well. 

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

The path of least resistance is often a key to creating viral content. If you can take complicated concepts and turn them into easily digestible content, chances are you're going to get a lot more traffic coming your way. Rather than conducting new research, consider converting content you already have into infographics.

4. Interactive Content quoted several viral marketing case studies claiming that interactive content was their most shared content, even amongst well established publishers like The Atlantic

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Use tools like Qzzr, to create quizzes that play to people's interests but are also in sync with your brand's overall goals. Here's an example of a quiz we recently made using Qzzr.

5. Surprising

Surprising, interesting, intense and practical content are the descriptors used by Professor Jonah Berger while studying three months worth of New York Times emails, testing which pieces went most viral.

Dorothy and the Scarecrow animated gif

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Treat viral marketing like its a drama! You don't want to bore the crap out of your audience do you?

6. Curiosity Gap

Business Insider noticed a trend among Upworthy content which outperformed several other large publications like Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, and Business Insider—a curiosity gap in headlines. The curiosity gap implies leaving just enough to the imagination when it comes to content as to "tease" the reader into clicking. 

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Just like any extremely addictive TV show (we're looking at you Game of Thrones) you need to leave something to be desired if you want people to continue consuming your content. Be informative in your titles and subheadings—but also give them a reason to continue reading/watching.

7. Lists

Animated gif of a list and a prince

Admittedly lists carry a certain click-bait cache with them. Sites like Buzzfeed have built an entire empire on curated listicles. Are they tacky? Maybe. Are they efficient? Definitely. And we're not the only ones who think so.

Psychologists show that we process information spatially, and that lists also help eliminate choice--making your content easier to digest.

In 2011, the psychologists Claude Messner and Michaela Wänke investigated what, if anything, could alleviate the so-called “paradox of choice”—the phenomenon that the more information and options we have, the worse we feel. They concluded that we feel better when the amount of conscious work we have to do in order to process something is reduced; the faster we decide on something, whether it’s what we’re going to eat or what we’re going to read, the happier we become.

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Do your research on what's already out there, see what's performing well and improve/put your own spin on it. People love to see that you're putting your money where your mouth is. When you make a numbered list, you show your readers that you have verifiable and actionable insight. It also helps give readers a sense of accomplishment and breaks up monotony which is always a plus for SEO purposes.

8. Images

According to Jeff Bullas viral marketing case study, articles with images get 94% more total views. In fact 2 of our most popular articles have been primarily image based.

Image-Heavy Bookly Examples:

Utah's Top 5 Workspaces

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Holy cow, 94% more views! Can there be any margin of error big enough to convince you not to include images? Consider using sites like Pexels or Pixabay for high quality, and stock photos to improve your articles' clickability. 

9. Videos

Like images, videos are another killer way to step up your viral marketing game. cites The Viral Video Manifesto, stating that creating viral videos for the web is NOT the same as creating quality video for TV. The point they argue, is not to hold attention, but to evoke a response.

When creating videos, they suggest four core principles:

  • Be true.
  • Don't waste our time.
  • Be unforgettable.
  • Ultimately, it's all about humanity.

10. Color Choice

Image of watercolors

It's important to carefully consider color when considering branding, image text, headings, or hyperlinks as this can affect the favorability of your content. According to a study by Joe Hallock, blues, greens, and reds seem to hold a high level of favorability amongst men and women while browns, oranges, and yellows were on the lower end of the spectrum. However, we recommend you take a look at Joe's viral marketing case study which shows in detail how factors such as age and gender also play an important role. 

11. Color Palettes

A 2011 study by Karen Schloss and Stephen Palmer argues (using empirical data) that comparative color combinations with similar hues are generally preferable. Although, when highlighting special figures, a higher contrast is acceptable. 

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Be conscious of your color choices. Consider using sites like to source preconceived and tested color palettes.

12. Narcissistic Appeal 

Animated GIF of Rob Lowe

People love things that appeal to their narcissistic side. A large scale Buzzfeed study concludes that content like personality quizzes tends to perform so well because sharing it fuels the users' ego and let's people share their identity with others.

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Create opportunities in your content that allows your audience to find something out about themselves, or says something about their identity if they were to share it. An article such as "10 Wonderful Things About Californians" is obviously going to play to a Californian's ego (no offense California, this could be any state!). Make sure that if you do create this type of content, you use hyper-detailed targeting so that you reach the audience most likely to identify with your content.

13. Easy Access Share Buttons

Easy access share buttons makes it so your audience doesn't have to deal with the hassle of copying and pasting your article's URL into various social networks. Reducing the barrier to entry, is obviously a good idea. 

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Consider using a service like SumoMe which let's you customize placement of share buttons throughout your website. 

14. TuesdayS

Whether you're sharing articles on social media, or you're sending out an email blast—Tuesday is typically the best day for everything.

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Theories abound when it comes to the WHY of Tuesday, but all that matters is that you capitalize on it. Organize and plan your content schedule around it if possible.

15. Long Form vs. Short Form

The guys at BuzzSumo did an awesome viral marketing case study in which they analyzed over 100 million articles. Yes, you heard that right, 100 million articles. In this study they found that long form content outperformed shorter content. Among the articles they analyzed, those with 3-10k words performed the best

16. Superlatives 

According to Jeff Bulla's research, one of the keys to Viral Nova's success has been their use of superlatives in headlines like "Unbelievable, Mindblown, Absolutely, Unforgettable, and Best." 

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

When creating headlines, avoid using good, wonderful, amazing, bad—instead use phrases like "most" "best" and "worst" like this an article that opted to phrase their headline with a superlative like “The 5 Manliest Authors of All Time" rather than simply "5 Manly Authors." 

17. Use "This" 

Buffer conducted a study on the most viral headlines out of 3,000 articles, some of the top performing articles contained "this" to draw attention to the topic. Such as, "This study proves anyone can go viral!"

18. "You" and "Your"

In the same Buffer report, "you" and "your" were also found to be highly effective.

19. Emotion

Crying GIF

According to a Wharton Business School viral marketing case study, there is a strong relationship between emotion and virality regardless of whether it is positive or negative.

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Share things that bring out strong emotions in your readers. Think about what image you want to project as a brand, but if your goal is virality—don't shy away from controversy. Controversial statements can often be more emotion-provoking than middle of the road statements. 

20. Relieve Pain

As Inc. points out, consumers are more tempted by solutions that alleviate pain than those that provide pleasure. Your job whether writing informative articles or soft-selling your product is to alleviate the points of pain readers and potential clients find in your niche. 

21. Readability (Subheadings, bullet points etc.)

The way you structure your content affects how long your readers stick around. And how long your readers stick around affects the share ability, engagement and even SEO rankings or your content.

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Break up your paragraphs with headings, sub-headings, pictures, and bullet-points.  The key to creating readable content is making it pleasing to the eye and providing variety so that your reader doesn't get bored. 

22. Use Images to Direct Attention 

When it comes to CTA's like sharing content—neuromarketing wisdom says to use the subjects eyes to direct attention. Lead Pages' top performing landing page for example, includes a woman gazing over at a form. 

The Viral Marketing Takeaway?

Use eyes, hand gestures, and contrast to bring attention to the most crucial parts of your content such as a share button. 

23. Plain Speak

Grass Roots Marketing claims that most newspapers are written on a 5th or 6th grade level which leads to better readability. 

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Keep it simple stupid!

Admittedly, there is no scientific study to back this one up—but it does seem like common sense to assume that the easier you can convey your message, the less people will have to work, and no one, we repeat no one wants to work to understand why they should spend their hard earned money on your product. After all, isn't making the value-add easy to understand the crux of marketing? 

24. Use Metaphors

Part of the "Keep it simple stupid" strategy is the use of metaphors. Metaphors help readers better visualize difficult concepts and will create a more pleasurable experience.

The Viral Marketing Takeaway?  

Just because you're simplifying your communication does not mean you can't convey difficult or complex concepts to your readers.  Consider using metaphors to convey your most difficult concepts but make sure that your metaphors simplify rather than distract or complicate your explanation. 

25. Scarcity

Similar to urgency is the concept of scarcity. But rather then leveraging time, you simply leverage supply. Neuromarketing has shown scarcity to be a strong tool to create demand. 

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

Create content with a limited supply. For example, e-books with only a limited number of downloads, or content visible only by special invite. 

26. End With a Bang

According to Business Know How's research, "the beginning and ending of an event or experience alters our perception of the entire experience. 

The Viral Marketing Takeaway? 

If you want to make your content go viral, you need to write articles as if they're 80's action movies. Grab attention from the get go, and always, always end with a bang!

Bruce Willis animated GIF broken window

27. Use Odd-Ball Numbers

Neuroscience research shows that the brain lends credibility to more odd-ball numbers. Why? Because we've become incredibly accustomed to numbers like 10, 25, 100 etc. But when our brains see a number like ohhhh let's say 27 for example....well, the brain pays attention.

The Viral Marketing Takeaway?

This principle is traditionally used with price, like charging $1.97 instead of $2.00—but there's no reason this shouldn't work for listicles as well. 

There you have it...27 Awesomely Scientific Ways to Make Your Content go Viral!

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KPMG SparkMay 25, 2016Posted In: Business Tips


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