The 5 Keys to Creating Viral Content Systematically

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Content goes viral when each person who consumes the content passes it along to more than one new person on average. But what makes people want to pass information along en masse? Thanks to a fascinating study performed by Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, we now have a glimpse into why people share content. Their research offers great insights that imply very practical techniques for how marketers can create viral content systematically.

To get your content to go viral, make it:

  • Awe-inspiring
  • Useful
  • Emotional
  • Surprising
  • Positive

5 keys to creating viral content are listed in order of importance

At the top of the list, awe-inspiring content is by far the most likely kind of content to cause people to pass it along to others. Awe-inspiring content gives us a sense of something vast, something greater than ourselves. Topics that inspire awe typically fall into 3 categories:

  • Physically vast
  • Conceptually vast
  • Socially vast

Awe-inspiring content that conveys something physically vast might include topics such as the Grand Canyon or the vastness of space or the solar system. Examples of conceptually vast content include exciting scientific discoveries or fascinating principles. Socially vast content typically include topics such as famous or powerful people.

Not quite as viral as awe-inspiring content, but coming clearly in second place, useful content comes in 2 flavors:

  • Directly useful
  • Socially useful

Directly useful content provides information that can be put to immediate use in a very tangible and practical way, such as a blog about how you as a marketing professional can create viral content. Local businesses can use this marketing tool to boost their coverage. Socially useful content offers a chance to deepen social ties with others, such as topics for good water cooler conversations or something interesting your better half might want to know about.

Emotional content also gives people a chance to deepen their social bonds, encouraging people to share it with others who might empathize with the people involved in the content’s subject matter.

Surprising content is almost as effective as emotional content at getting people to share it with others. Surprising content catches immediate attention by challenging preconceptions and eliciting curiosity, followed by the thrill of discovery. Sharing surprising content offers the chance to share that experience with others, further deepening social connections.

And finally, the weakest key to creating viral content, but not an insignificant one, is to make content positive. So, in the age-old debate over whether the glass is half full or half empty, we now officially have a winner: It’s half full. Stuff that in your pipe and smoke it, pessimists of the world!

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