The way people talk, you gain the impression that having a piece of content go viral is like being struck by lightning. It’s a random act of God and there’s nothing you can do to cause or stop it. Indeed, some of the completely arbitrary items that hit viral success, particularly in the realm of YouTube videos, do seem to uphold that vision.
On the other hand, the lightning metaphor is truly an accurate one. If you want to be struck by lightning, you can control a number of factors. You can buy a long metal pole. You can travel to the highest point in the area. You can calculate when a thunderstorm will be passing through and time your visit. And, just like with lightning, you can control a number of factors that help make your content go viral. Try out some of these ideas.
1. Set reasonable expectations for what viral means.
You’re not likely to hit millions of views per day. Still, if the average view count for a picture in your industry is 5,000, hitting 50,000 is a coup.
2. Make sure your image is valuable enough to warrant going viral.
If you’re trying to force a picture that isn’t interesting, it’ll just look pathetic after a while. Make sure the content you’re sharing is worth sharing.
3. Appeal to nostalgia.
There’s no faster way to the like and share buttons than through nostalgia. By now you should know the average age demographics of your users; find something they would have loved as a kid or teenager and capitalize on it.
4. Use niche relevant humor.
Sometimes a joke doesn’t have to be common to everyone. A niche joke may not appeal to the uninitiated, but it certainly helps gain shares amongst your colleagues. On the other hand, you could go with a pun.
5. Ask for Facebook likes and shares.
It’s surprising how easy it is to just ask for what you want. Couple this with some of the user interaction formats. Post a brain teaser and add “share if you get it.”
6. Share your image on Twitter.
Twitter is a great place to share links to images, because they’re content on a platform limited in scope. A picture is worth a thousand words, which is nearly a thousand more than you can use on Twitter.
7. Share through other relevant social networks.
Google+ and LinkedIn may not sound like hubs for viral content, but that’s not the point. You need to get your image on as many platforms as possible so it gains maximum exposure.
8. Ask users to share it on Instagram and Pinterest.
Again, exposure. Instagram helpfully is a platform focused on image sharing, and Pinterest is a great place for an image you want to go viral.
9. Ask for user input.
The aforementioned “share if you get this” technique is one of many. Ask users to post their answers and quiz their friends. Post one of those “item next to you + color of your dog = your car’s name” polls. Gain user interaction.
10. Strike up a healthy debate.
Get users talking by posting an image of two related things – actors, movies, sports teams, nostalgic toys – and ask them which they like more. You can quickly gain a discussion and a ton of shares if you appeal to nostalgia and competition at the same time.
11. Newsjack current events.
If you can piggyback on something that’s already famous by adding humor or a unique perspective, go for it. Just avoid controversy or trying to bring thoughtless humor to tragedy.
12. Capitalize on recent memes.
The Internet is constantly coming up with and capitalizing on social memes. For a while it was rage faces, and before that it was animals on colored backgrounds, and before that it was cats. There’s always something, and if you can keep on the front edge of the meme world, you can capitalize on developing momentum.
13. Use a linkbait title.
Why else do you think every list these days has a subtitle along the lines of “you won’t believe number six!”? This works particularly well if your image is something that can’t be seen in its entirety in a thumbnail. A linkbait title encourages users to check out the full sized content.
14. Write a compelling caption that adds to the image.
A caption can include an extra joke, a bit of relevant commentary and a little bit of SEO. Don’t go overboard with forcing keywords in, just use them enough that users will be able to find the content again if they want to.
15. Focus on strong, positive emotion.
Buzzfeed, kings of viral marketing, have concluded through exhaustive study that positive emotion is far more viral than negative or apathetic content. If you can make your users feel good, you can harness that feeling to gain shares.
16. Don’t emphasize tricks to force a viral explosion.
It’s like SEO; if you’re working for the search engines, you aren’t going to succeed. Focus on what people get out of your image and use the tricks to enhance it, not the other way around.
17. Make sure it’s readable via mobile device.
Facebook takes care of the web layout itself, so most of your job is done for you. In the image itself, make sure any text you use is large enough to be read on a mobile device. Make sure if your content relies on detail, that the detail comes through on a smartphone. Otherwise, you’re alienating a sizable portion of your possible users.
18. Submit to relevant subreddits.
Reddit is a place where a single piece of content can strike Internet gold with millions of users. It’s also a place where a business stepping in to try to force the viral success of an image will get that account banned for promotion. Follow the rules and submit to relevant sections and you may have a hit on your hands.
19. Analyze existing viral content.
Determine what content n your niche you consider viral and figure out what that content is doing. Gather as much information as you can – tools are available for this – and as large a sample size as possible. Then try to come up with something that meets as many of the same criteria as possible.
20. Occasionally promote older content.
Just because an image has been posted for a while doesn’t mean it’s forgotten. You’re always able to resurrect an older piece of content, particularly if it’s still relevant in some way. Post it again, or share the old link to bring it back into the public eye.
21. Add it to StumbleUpon Stumble is a great way for images to find their niche.
Most users hitting the Stumble button are doing so with an incredibly short attention span. It takes seconds to view and image, enjoy it and promote it. Blog post investment is much more intensive.
22. Investigate color theory.
Colors have emotional significance. When you’re designing your image, utilize colors to evoke the thoughts and feelings you want. No color is particularly taboo; just use the colors that fit the emotion of your content.
23. Share at the right time.
Nine in the morning and noon, Eastern. Nine a.m. Eastern is when most corporate workers are reaching the office to begin their day – or rather, to begin a little procrastination before they begin their work. Noon is nine in the morning for the west coast, and all the same applies.
24. Take the positive stance on human rights issues.
Everyone likes a good bit of social activism. You can’t go wrong by taking the right stance on a human rights issue; promoting a charity, pushing for signatures or even just explaining the issue in simple terms.
25. Try many ideas, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
No matter what you do, you can’t force an image to go viral. The more effort you dump on one image, the more that image looks forced. Use a shotgun approach instead; fire as many ideas as you can and see what sticks.