Going viral: the stuff dreams are made of. Well, at least for tweens and content marketers.
Want know how to go viral with your content? What does it take? And is it something you can impact? Or is getting millions of views/likes all up to chance?
If you’re thinking about the steps needed to take your content marketing strategy to the ultimate level, here’s everything you need to know about how to go viral.
What Does “Viral” Mean in the World of Content Marketing?
One of the things about ultra-popular social media posts is that most people have their own idea of what “viral” success means.
Ask an Instagram micro-influencer, and they’ll tell you it’s getting 50K views over 12 hours on a random post they put up between purposefully planned pieces of content. Or, search for “most popular YouTube videos” on Statista, and find out that that the bar for viral is set just a little bit higher, at 7.9 billion views.
But while you should definitely not expect to reach heights of success comparable to the Baby Shark Dance posted by Pinkfong!, you can still do quite a lot to get a large number of eyeballs on your posts in as little time as possible.
Now, before we get to the “how to” part of going viral, let’s talk about benchmarks first.
How Many Views You Need to Go Viral
While there’s no checklist for you to go through to see if your content has gone viral, numbers can be a pretty good indicator of whether what you’ve done is working. Still, keep in mind that not every post has the capability of hitting 8 billion views or 100k engagements.
For example, potential reach exponentially varies by the distribution channel you decide to go with. As you can see from the statistical data below, Facebook boasts over 2.7 billion active users, followed by YouTube at 2.2 billion and Instagram at 1.2 billion. TikTok, however, has almost four times fewer active users than Facebook, while Twitter has a “mere” 350 million.
So, as you can imagine, it will take much more engagement for a YouTube video to be considered viral than for a tweet to achieve the same status.
On the whole, you can consider the following numbers to be indicative of whether a post has, indeed, “made it:”
For YouTube, a video can be considered viral if it hits 5 million views during the week of its launch. For example, if you checked out the Trending page on June 5th, 2021, the top five videos on YouTube included a post by Mr. Beast, one Minecraft video, and two music videos, each boasting anywhere between 940K and 10M views over two days. Generally speaking, all of these could be considered viral.
For Instagram, finding out what’s doing great is a bit trickier. However, a good rule of thumb is to say that a post can be considered viral if it earns over 100k views and likes.
On Facebook, the criteria are much looser. For example, the most shared post in 2020 got just below 2 million engagements. This shows that despite its almost 3 billion users, the network doesn’t lend itself to going viral as easily as other social media apps (like TikTok, where 15 million views make for a common occurrence).
Finally, let’s look at Twitter. Though impactful, it’s a much smaller social network than the ones we’ve just talked about. There, only a very few users have managed to get more than 1 million likes or retweets. Therefore, a post can be considered viral as soon as it hits the 100k mark for engagements. Although, it’s important to remember that exact numbers will vary by region and topic.
How to Go Viral
Now that we have a few guidelines on what viral actually means, here’s a step-by-step guide to content creation that’s likely to result in your business becoming the next best thing.
Learn About Human Psychology
The first step towards getting thousands (or millions) of views and engagements on your content is understanding what drives people to interact with social media posts.
Your initial reaction may be to think that viral posts become such at random. However, if you take a deeper dive, you’ll find that there is an actual pattern. According to Psychology Today, the following are the most common reasons for a post to get on the trending pages:
Relying on the fact that all people look up to each other, psychologists distinguish between imperative social influence (“everyone is doing it”) and normative influence (“society says you should be doing it”). Campaigns that managed to go viral due to social influence include the #MeToo movement, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and Blackout Tuesday.
Seeing how people have strong beliefs about what’s wrong and what’s right, psychologists believe that content that drives moral action has a greater chance of going viral than that which does not.
People often act based on their feelings. So, it’s no surprise that content produced to elicit positive (or negative) emotional reactions has a higher chance of being viewed and shared by thousands of social media users.
Finally, some campaigns will go viral because they’ve gained momentum (often due to high support and low requirements for follow-through). But, these will also tend to have the shortest lifespan. In other words, unless a campaign or piece of content connects with people’s values, its effect is going to be timed. Therefore, how you use that limited time will have an enormous impact on the success of your campaign.
Come Up With a Great Idea
Once you understand what drives people to engage with and share content, it’s time to get down to work.
First, you will have to brainstorm ideas for content that could go viral. Consider the following:
What is it that your audience likes seeing?
The best way to give your content a chance of going viral is to make it a must-see for your target potential customers.
It can be anything. A music production business like CoComelon can build on already popular topics by giving them its own twist. Or, a software company such as Ad Badger can choose to create insightful guides on optimizing Amazon PPC bids.
Of course, no one should expect the two topics to perform in comparable ways. (After all, there are much more babies in the world than there are Amazon sellers). Hence, what truly matters aren’t sheer numbers but the overall impact of the content in question.
Try to predict trends.
Knowing what’s going to be the next best thing isn’t exactly an easy feat. But, you can always count on getting some traction around upcoming events like the Super Bowl or the next presidential elections.
For example, if you remember that 2015 Aladdin magic carpet YouTube video (that’s got 33 million views), you’ll quickly see that it’s a simple idea driven forward by great timing. The creators knew that Halloween was coming up, so they created a costume and did something fun with it. That’s it – no secret ingredient.
Follow topics that are currently performing well on social media
Do you remember the #TeamTrees campaign that was almost entirely made possible on Twitter?
Well, if you think back to it, you’ll find that one of the top-performing tweets around it wasn’t posted by the official account. In fact, it was tweeted by Elon Musk. By pledging to give 1 million dollars to the cause, the entrepreneur got almost 60k total retweets and 345k likes. And that’s not all. His tweet became so popular that it inspired people like Tobias Lütke, Marc Benioff, Susan Wojcicki, Jack Dorsey, and the Plants Vs. Zombies brand to pledge well over $2 million to the cause.
Do your research
Sometimes, the best way to find a viral-worthy idea will be to do some basic keyword research.
Is there a search term that’s got great potential for audience interest? Cover it!
Is there a topic nobody in your niche is talking about? Write a blog post about it!
Is there a keyword that’s performing amazingly well? Do a pillar post like this one by Semrush.
Who knows, if you write something with value and optimize it well enough, you too might find yourself winning position zero on Google.
Choose a Format & Nail the Execution
All right, you know what works with internet audiences and you’ve done your research on topics that are likely to resonate with your target customers. Now, it’s time to start the production process.
Before you go about writing a script for a YouTube video or shooting footage for your next Instagram post, it’s actually quite important to consider the format you’re going to pick.
Yes, your first instinct may be to choose something entirely standard. However, experience has shown that people simply react to visuals better than they do to text. With this in mind, consider whether that blog post you were planning might do better if it was also shot as an instructional video or if an Instagram story might get better traction if you post it as a Reel instead.
The second thing you should decide regarding the execution phase of your content production is whether you’ve got the skills required to make something viral-worthy. Sure, the production quality isn’t the only factor in determining the success of a post. But, it does help if you create something stunning.
If you’re a business owner who can’t afford to hire a full-time content creation team, it’s not a bad idea to look into outsourcing for this part of the job. That way, you can ensure professional-grade results at affordable prices that won’t break the bank.
Keep it Short & Simple
One of the biggest struggles of producing great content is that there’s always something more to say or show to your audience. Especially when you’re an expert on the subject.
But while your initial instinct may be to squeeze everything you can into a single post, that might not be the best way to go viral.
In general, high-performing videos tend to lean towards the short end of the spectrum. Ideally, you’ll want to make them somewhere between 30 and 60 seconds long, though you might see higher engagement rates for videos that are between 2 and 5 minutes in length.
As an example of how much better you can do with shorter formats, check out these two posts from the golf world.
On the one hand, there’s Rain or Shine Golf, a well-established name in the industry. And, with 64k hits on its most popular YouTube video, it has done well for itself. However, when that number of views is compared to other businesses in the same industry, it quickly becomes evident that golf lovers prefer the short and sweet approach.
On the other hand, there’s Gabriel Sauer, whose TikToks easily reach 100k views, despite taking much less time (and money) to produce.
His secret? The length. Sauer’s videos are perfectly timed to grab attention. But, they always end just before the audience gets a chance to become fatigued from information overload.
As for text, it is true that posts with a word count higher than 2000 work best. However, you still want to pay attention to readability and visual presentation, seeing how web users prefer their content to be aesthetically pleasing.
With this in mind, you might find that commissioning illustrations or creating infographics both make for solid strategies when trying to get your content to go viral.
Leverage the Reach of Your Partners
Let’s make something clear: for a piece of content to go viral, it doesn’t have to come from a brand with millions of followers. In fact, even social media accounts with a couple of hundred subscribers can make it to the Trending page with the right post.
Nonetheless, having a big following does not hurt either.
So, if you’re really determined to get your post on the front pages, consider partnering with (or being featured by) someone with an established audience.
Makeup artists, for example, do this on the regular, posting content about brands hoping that their videos and images will get picked up. And, it works.
Check out Allie Glines’ Instagram account, for example. No one could say that having 180k followers wasn’t enough. But, it just turns out that one of her videos was reposted by Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. And, with that brand’s audience of over 3 million followers, it’s no surprise that the same video got more than twice the number of views in just a fraction of the time.
Of course, producing content and tagging brands is not the only way to find partners for mutually beneficial collaborations. Guest blogging and podcast guest appearances can also be great opportunities to get instant exposure. The same goes for finding guest speaking engagements.
For example, Data Council is a community and conference series that aims to provide networking possibilities for data scientists and mentorship support to data-oriented startups.
So, a newly-founded brand like Mozart Data could reach out to Data Council and see if it can create an exclusive video for the community’s YouTube channel (which has a significant following and several videos with 200k+ views).
Once It’s Out There, Engage!
Finally, the last step towards going viral, with whatever format you’ve decided to try out, is to keep engagement rates high. Especially during the first few hours after posting.
To accomplish this, you’ll need two things:
- Insight into your audience’s online behavior – you don’t want to upload an amazing piece of content when all your potential readers/viewers are asleep or at work.
- Sufficient time to reply to the incoming comments and reactions – the more traction your post gets within the first few hours of posting, the higher its chances of going viral.
To maximize your chances of getting those comments, always include a CTA in your posts. Ask questions, invite audience members to share their experiences, or even leave some things unanswered. That way, people will be compelled to engage. Or, they will ask for further explanations, which makes it more likely that you’ll get a high number of views, comments, and likes.
Is Going Viral Always a Good Thing?
While many marketers want to get the compelling benefits of virality (organic traffic, brand awareness, product hype), they often forget all about the negative consequences.
More often than not, brands are caught off guard when they experience going viral. Just think of what happened when Mr. Beast opened a restaurant that paid customers to eat there (a brilliant idea for a viral video if there ever was one).
First, the police had to shut down roads before the restaurant opened because there were a thousand cars in line. Then, the Mr. Beast Burger app kept crashing as 10s of thousands of people tried to order online. In the end, there was a 20 mile-long traffic jam, and the whole thing was forced to close earlier than planned.
Final Thoughts: How to Go Viral & Succeed
As you can see, there’s no exact science to creating content that goes viral. In fact, you can make the world’s most viral-worthy video, and it can still fall flat.
But, some things could increase your chances of getting a huge amount of exposure. Of those, the most important ones include preparation, a clear sense of purpose, a well-executed idea, and authenticity.
And, even if you only get a few thousands of views or shares in the end, don’t despair. After all, on social media, consistency is key. And that means that slow and steady will win the race in the long run.