What Makes Content Go Viral?


Going viral refers to an image, video, advertisement, etc., that is circulated rapidly on the Internet. Every day, we see social media content that has thousands and thousands of shares, comments, and likes. As a marketing strategist, you know your content is a success if it makes it to the viral stage. So, what exactly makes content go viral?

The majority of online content does not go viral. In fact, according to Contently, videos have the highest average of total shares, while list posts, quizzes, and how-to’s follow behind. In addition, text content with more than 2,000 words tend to have a better chance of going viral than shorter postings.

Even though nobody really knows why one piece of content goes viral and another similar piece does not, we can make some educated guesses.

Here are some tips for content that gets noticed:

Platform Matters

Sharing content is all about the location in which you post it. Things that pick up speed on certain mediums may not pick up the same speed on other social media platforms. For instance, LinkedIn may spread different types of viral content than Twitter and Facebook. Some stories do best on Reddit, and some images have been made famous via Imgur. Make sure to pick a platform in which you think your content fits best into.

Make Your Content Practical and Have Useful Information

People like to share practical and useful information to help out their fans and friends. For example, a personal favorite of mine are “life hacks.” (Who doesn’t love clever new inventions from everyday materials?)

Be Relatable

In addition to being practical and useful, people love to read about things they can relate to. If it can be easily shared with a variety of people, from coworkers, to friends, to family, it is bound to do well on the internet.

Is it Controversial?

A sure way for something to go viral is controversy. Whether it is news, politics, or even a fight over whether a dress is black and blue or white and gold, controversy sparks conversation. And when a conversation is spread online between news sources, people, and social media posts, it has a good chance of going viral.

Spark Emotion or Action

Who remembers the ice bucket challenge? In the summer of 2014, people all across social media were dumping buckets of ice cold water on their heads and videotaping it for social media. These people would then nominate other social media friends to do the challenge, in which sparked a chain of ice bucket videos. And for those who didn’t want to pour freezing water all over themselves, a donation to the ALS foundation to fight Lou Gehrig’s Disease was requested. It turned out to be one of the largest social media campaigns ever, raising $220 million worldwide. In addition, not only did it spread across social media, but celebrities like Taylor Swift, Kerry Washington, Justin Timberlake, Jimmy Fallon, and Ellen all participated in the challenge to spread awareness.

So, why did this particular campaign go viral? Well, besides spreading awareness for Lou Gehrig’s, it tactfully played on the millennials of social media to do something goofy—on video—and post it to all their friends (something they probably would have done despite a cause).


The next time you are thinking of a social media campaign, think about what works. Follow these tips and try to incorporate one into your original content or marketing strategy!

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