Does it ever feel like the wrong content goes viral?
I remember when I first started out creating content. I would sink hours and hours into a blog post, hit publish, wait…
And watch what felt like every other post in the world zoom through my news feed. I’ll happily admit that I was frustrated—even jealous. Why were these other posts succeeding where mine had failed?
First I looked in the obvious place. The place that most people in content marketing will tell you to check if you aren’t having success. The content itself.
But even after a long, honest look at my own writing, I had to conclude that the quality of the content wasn’t the problem. Was it perfect? Of course not. Still, I truly believed that the things I was writing could solve real problems—if I could ever get people to read them.
And then I went viral.
My first viral article, on how to go to the gym more consistently, exploded overnight. It generated 45,000 pageviews in the first 24 hours (and hundreds of thousands overall), was shared by major fitness influencers, and reached the front page of Reddit.
A year later, it went viral again. A few people had continued to share it quietly, and it got attention when one of their posts became popular in the /r/fitness subreddit.
In some ways it was an accident. I didn’t set the goal to go viral or write viral blog posts. My content just started to pick up speed, like a boulder rolling down a mountain.
But in other ways, going viral was the inevitable result of a new process. I had taken a step back to look at how I approached creating content, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of new website visitors.
The best part? Going viral is a process, not a guessing game.
I can’t guarantee that you’ll go viral if you follow these steps. No one can. But it turns out that the anatomy of viral content is fundamentally different from other content.
If you understand the components of viral blog posts, you can write more compelling content that drives shares, clicks, and conversions.
Start with your content promotion strategy
If you want to go viral, you can’t start by creating content.
Every piece of content that has ever gone viral needed to be promoted by someone. Whether that was the creator of the content posting it on every social media channel imaginable, or one person who found something interesting in a corner of the internet—viral content needs to be shared.
So if you want to write viral blog posts, you need to start by asking: who is going to share this content?
You need to know who will shout about your content before you hit publish
The content promotion strategy you choose will help when you sit down to actually write content. When you know what promotion channels content is for, you can create content that will perform better in those channels.
How do you go viral on the internet? Social media.
When we’re talking about viral content, we’re probably talking about social media.
Social media platforms are the main way that content goes viral. Social media is the easiest place to share and spread content—and it’s also the most visible way that content get shares.
If someone loves your content and sends it to a friend via email or Facebook Messenger, that’s great! You’ve spread through word of mouth, and might get a new reader.
But even if that person becomes a superfan, the reach of your content is limited to that one email or message.
Social media is powerful because it’s public. A post from one person can reach a dozen, a hundred, a thousand, or a hundred thousand new people. So if you’ve engineered your content to spread (as we’ll talk about later), you have more opportunities to get shared.
And by the way, social media is more than just Facebook and Twitter. You don’t necessarily need to be active on every social media platform, but it’s important to keep in mind that social media includes any place where content gets shared. That includes:
What’s the best way to share content on social media?
First build your following. Then find your advocates. Finally, share your content.
If you look at most content creators on social media (especially in marketing), they don’t do much beyond post their own content. Maybe they use a hashtag or tag an influencer, but the content doesn’t really seem to spread.
If you want to spread content on social media, it helps to have followers. I won’t go into details on how to get more Twitter followers or Facebook fans—as Jonathan Goodman says in his excellent book Viralnomics, social media platforms change, but principles of sharing don’t.
Maybe someday the hashtag will go extinct. Even if that day comes, you can bet people will still share content.
Build your audience over time by sharing valuable content and connecting with influencers. Let’s talk about how to connect with influencers to make sure your content doesn’t disappear into the Twitter void as soon as you hit post.
Co-create and borrow followers with influencer marketing
If you don’t have a massive following already, it’s harder to create viral blog posts. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an audience that hangs on your every word, finger hovering over the retweet button?
It sure would, and I know I don’t have that. But there are a lot of people that do. Influencers. If you can tap into their audiences, you can massively increase the reach of your content.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Influencer marketing is more than just tagging someone in a Facebook post.
Here are the three best ways to tap into an influencer’s audience:
- Become an engaged fan
- Post on their platforms
If you could get an influencer to contribute to your content, don’t you think they would be more likely to share it?
In his book Pre-Suasion, legendary social psychologist Robert Cialdini argues that co-creation builds a sense of unity. If someone contributes to your blog post, they become more invested in its success.
If someone helps you create content, they will likely help you promote it
That’s all well and good, you still need to get the influencers to contribute. Why should they contribute to your content? What’s in it for them?
The answer here is to make the co-creation tiny. An influencer is busy, and doesn’t have the time to put together a big contribution for every request.
So instead of asking for a massive section of a blog post—just ask for a quote. A single-sentence answer to a single question.
That’s enough that it adds value and social proof to your content. It also gives you an excuse to reach out to the influencer after your content is published.
You can also quote influencers without reaching out—and you should, because not every influencer will respond. But if you can get someone to actively contribute to your content, they’re much more likely to share your work.
2. Become an engaged fan, then share your work
Most people love talking to their fans.
And I mean…wouldn’t you? I love getting emails about how my content has helped someone. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
If you just send your content to an influencer out of the blue in some stock email, you’re going to get ignored. Influencers get hundreds of emails like that every week.
But if you start by responding to their work. Commenting on their social media posts. Replying to their email newsletters. Making it clear that you’re a genuine fan.
Then they might pay attention.
Building this kind of connection is pretty simple. When you get an email from the influencer’s list, read it and specifically mention one point that you liked (and why you like it). You can even ask for advice, as long as you ask a specific question with a short answer.
When it comes time to share, lead off with why you love their content. Then share your content, with a note about how they might find it interesting.
That’s it. Don’t ask them to share it—that comes across as desperate, and it’s a played-out move. If you’ve created good content and build the relationship, sometimes they’ll share it on their own.
If you’re looking for ways to build relationships with influencers through social media, Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media has a fantastic online networking guide on his site.
3. Post on their platform
This step is the hardest, but it’s also potentially the most powerful. If you can guest post or publish on a site with a built-in audience, you can greatly increase the spread of your content.
Guest posts are a powerful way to increase reach because an influencer is highly motivated to promote content that appears on their own site. You can be confident that they’ll post it to social media as well as actively promoting it to their email list and other fans.
You can also get access to distribution channels that you would never have considered otherwise. I once published a guest post that generated 20,000 shares on Pinterest.
Pinterest!? I don’t even have a Pinterest account. I only go to Pinterest when it shows up in a Google search. But the influencer I was guest posting with had a system to promote content on the platform, and it wound up benefiting both of us.
Guest posts take a lot of work to produce, and it can be hard to get top placements with major influencers.
As you network and make connections you’ll get access to more opportunities—but also remember that you don’t necessarily need to be posting with A-list bloggers. Anyone with a loyal following of fans can help you out, even if they aren’t “internet famous.”
What about SEO? Is SEO important to creating viral blog posts?
Search engine optimization is near and dear to my heart. When I was first starting in content marketing, SEO was the first valuable skill I learned.
So it hurts me a little to say that SEO probably isn’t that important when you’re trying to write viral blog posts.
Although Google is a massive source of traffic for most blogs, SEO is more of a long term strategy. It takes weeks or months for most posts to rise in search results.
SEO can help your content stay evergreen and keep generating traffic—and even generate more shares over time, as people find your content through search—but it won’t help that first viral push.
That said, your first viral push might help SEO. If you can get in front of content creators and collaborate with people on content, you may be able to attract more links.
If your content is good enough to be link bait, being shared by the right people might result in getting more backlinks, which could in turn improve your search rankings and provide lasting value.
Email marketing can help you go viral
In any viral push, the early stages are the most difficult.
Imagine a boulder at the top of a mountain. At first, moving the boulder seems impossible. It’s a giant boulder!
But if you could get it to move with that first push, it would start to roll. Pushing it along would get easier as it gathered momentum, until it started careening down the mountain on its own.
Email marketing helps your first push.