How do you make your content achieve viral success? Here's what we learned when a post written by Greg Savage, who founded our Firebrand division, ended up on the Huffington Post, received 351,000 Likes, and even got mentioned on The Today Show!
1. Trust the Long Tail
The post in question, "How did it get to be 'OK' for people to be late for everything?", originally appeared on Greg's personal blog in June, 2010. It did all right: 606 Tweets, 3,700 "likes," 485 shares on LinkedIn, and 157 comments.
Since the post already had legs, with Greg's permission we posted it a year later (July, 2011) on Firebrand's blog where it received 1,149 Tweets, 18,000 Likes, 1,569 shares on LinkedIn, and 208 comments (not to mention 306 +1s on Google+!).
Now, we don't really think of something that takes three years to make a splash as "going viral."
Nevertheless, the lesson to be learned here is this: If you create something that strikes a chord with people, and that addresses a universal theme or pet peeve, it can have a surprisingly long and productive life!
2. Promote, Promote, Promote
One persistent misconception about viral success is that it happens over night. As you can see, that's not always the case.
The other misconception is that content goes viral "on its own." While it would be nice to think that great content gets found accidentally and spreads serendipitously on its own, that, too, is untrue.
Greg shared his original post across his social networks, as did others. Re-posting on Firebrand's blog was another promotional step that greatly increased it's reach.
Finally, when Aquent's sister brand, Vitamin T, posted Greg's article on October 22nd and shared it on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, that reach was effectively extended to 155,000 people.
And that seems to have been the tipping point. An editor at the Huffington Post saw it on Facebook, asked Greg if they could post it, and it just blew up.
3. Say Something Meaningful!
I firmly believe that no amount of patience or promotion will make something without inherent value go viral. Viral content needs to speak (at least potentially) to a broad swath of humanity.
Greg's piece succeeded because it hit a nerve: It's annoying when others are late. More than that, it feels disrespectful. And being the social animals we are, little gets people more riled up than the perception of disrespect.
Interestingly, the Huffington Post changed the title of Greg's post. When it initially appeared, it ran under the heading, "No, you are not 'running late', you are rude and selfish." This is, of course, more "in your face."
By placing the emphasis on the fact that it now seems "ok" to be "late for everything," the Huffington Postwisely increased the universality of the post. Rather than merely reflecting the opinion of a person miffed by the rude behavior of others, it suddenly offered an impassioned commentary on the age in which we live.
4. Be Careful What You Wish For
The final point that I would like to make is this: Maybe you don't really want your stuff to go viral.
In the wake of his post's runaway success, Greg has received a lot of requests for interviews from the media in North America, which he has declined. Why? Greg's business is based in Australia and, as he told me, he's not really trying to build his profile in this hemisphere.
This is important to remember.
If you are in the business of selling impressions, hundreds of thousands are going to be inherently valuable to you.
If, on the other hand, you are in the business of consulting and speaking to a particular industry in a particular region of the world, all those Likes may or may not have any value (though, admittedly, they probably can't hurt!).
When Greg called people out for being rude and selfish, he wasn't aiming to create a viral hit. He was simply trying to express his personal views on a subject that, as it turned out, mattered to a lot of others as well.
You shouldn't plan on creating viral content, either. Instead, as I mentioned above, you should focus on sharing your views and your knowledge as honestly as possible. Of course, if you want to get any attention at all, it doesn't hurt to focus on topics or issues that are actually interesting to other people.
If you do that and promote your work as widely as you can, you might get lucky.
If you don't, at least you created something that will be meaningful to those lucky enough to find it.
Image Source: PDXSasquatch