The Viral Equation: Breaking Down the Variables in Massively Shared Content

blog-post-viral-equation-0Online publishing rates are astronomical; they make marketer’s jobs incredibly difficult. Putting the right message in front of the right audience at the right time is an art – and somewhat of a science as well.

It’s especially challenging when the objective is to broaden awareness at the top of the sales funnel because often, viral content is the goal. Making a niche topic meaty enough for the masses is challenging enough.

While there is no exact formula for guaranteed virality, years of experience and hundreds of content marketing campaigns have helped us narrow down the key variables in the elusive viral equation.


Viral Solutions: Creating Content Primed for Media Coverage and Social Engagement

Strategic media coverage via exclusive, top-tier placements will gain exposure for your content. Exposure equals additional media mentions, leads, and placements through syndication; it also involves social sharing. These factors perpetuate virality.

Taking the following variables into account throughout all stages of content creation will help you achieve a promotional trifecta that acts as a catalyst for the viral journey. Let’s explore each of the variables in our control (and those that aren’t).

Highly Relevant and Newsworthy

Your content must be newsworthy to pique the interest of the media. (Seems like a no-brainer, right?) While most people associate the latest breaking news with newsworthiness, that’s not always the case. We recently broke down the six qualities of newsworthy content, including timeliness, localization, significance, prominence, originality, and data journalism.

While viral content may not always exemplify all six qualities, their main takeaways are generally present. Knowing your audience, timing your promotional efforts, and presenting something new and of value are key aspects of relevant and newsworthy content. No one wants to read, let alone publish or share, content that’s been repackaged.

Credible and Data-Driven

Creating content based on data journalism is thought to be the next big thing in content marketing, and for a good reason. Utilizing mass amounts of readily available data and extracting the most interesting data sets to tell a compelling story directly (or tangentially) related to your brand is the secret to engagement.

Establishing thought leadership for your brand and authority for your content through this strategy catches the attention of publishers, and the credibility of the data helps further establish the publication’s authority. It’s a win-win for everyone.

There’s a lot of questionable content floating around the web. This content is created with the sole intent of attracting clicks without providing value to audiences through credible and thought-provoking material. Luckily, data-driven content from authoritative sources transcends this low-level content that often hurts brands in the long run.

Emotional and Broadly Appealing

Your content must tap into the emotions of universal audiences to help perpetuate social sharing. Research shows a viral hit is the product of an emotional experience and personal connection to a broad audience. An emotional combination of high arousal and high dominance was most commonly reported among viral images.

This means content stimulating complex positive emotions someone has control over have a higher chance of becoming viral. Research also showed admiration, happiness, and love were the most common emotions elicited by viral content.

By tapping into these universal emotions, your content offers broad appeal by giving audiences a way to connect with your content on a personal level. Another study supports the viral emotions research and reveals that Facebook users don’t just mindlessly share content. Rather, users are often motivated to share content that elicits an emotional response and informs their networks of the issues they care about.  

External Variables

Some variables are in our control, while others are out of our hands. Outside factors that influence the potential virality of content fall into the hands of the publishers and readers, and they often relate to timing. Full editorial calendars, the simultaneous release of eerily similar content, and breaking news stories that impact sensitive aspects of your content’s topic are all external variables beyond your control; however, we do have some tips to mitigate the odds of them interfering with the success of your content.

Tying It Together

While virality is never guaranteed, the key variables in the viral equation prove that the holy grail of engagement isn’t a matter of luck, and it isn’t limited to big brands with big budgets. While some external issues may deter publishers, most of them are still always on the hunt for the next big story. With the right formula, your content has the potential to turn that big story into the next viral narrative.

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