ClickThrough copywriter Oliver Pyper is going to show you how to make a post go viral. Follow him as he takes the advice of the experts and crafts an embarrassing mess featuring Justin Bieber, cat photos and a whole lot of nonsense. (Moral: creative content needs great ideas, not just snappy titles.)
‘Viral’ is a magic word. Many strive for it, some achieve it. Most don’t.
Of those that do, many are individuals seeking their 15 minutes of fame. A few are hugely successful sites that have turned virality into a business model.
Many would like you to believe that going viral happens completely by accident. But even the Internet’s dumbest viral content was likely made with at least some knowledge of the things that make a post shareable.
But I don’t want to do any thinking. I want some easy rules to follow, so I can just strap on the armbands and wait to be washed away by a sea of retweets.
Thankfully for me, sites like BuzzFeed have given us a glimpse into their super-secret, alchemistic methods for creating viral content. If I follow their rules, I’ll surely create some totally rad content that loves to be Liked.
The Ingredients for Virality
BuzzFeed is one of the biggest creators of viral content on the web today – and it relies heavily on user created content. To help its would-be viral superstars create great content, it’s produced a helpful infographic called ‘How To Go Viral’.
Sounds like a good place to start. So let’s follow some of its most pertinent pieces of advice.
1. Make Lists, Nine Out of Ten Lists Go Viral.
Nine out of ten? Okay, whatever I write, it’s got to be in the form of a list. It’s a no brainer – just look at the stats. Stats. Never. Lie.
2. Appeal to Readers’ Vanity
When we go online, we turn into semi-anonymous narcissistic glory guzzlers, apparently. So I should create something that lets readers talk about themselves. Do a quiz, BuzzFeed says. OK.
3. Keep it Relevant
Celebrities, check. Current events, check. People online hate old stuff, so let’s fill our post with celebrity gossip and references to the latest YouTube phenomenon. (I haven’t checked today, but it’s probably something to do with an emotionally charged cat.)
The safest option is Justin Bieber. The safest option is always Justin Bieber.
BuzzFeed also says you’ve got to have an engaging title, and a succinct, humorous description. Oh, and a provocative image too.
So if we combine this advice with what we’ve already learned – i.e. we’ve got to make a relevant celebrity list-quiz – then we end up with:
There you go – the ideal viral post. It’s relevant to the here-and-now (New year! Yay! Bieber! Yay!), and it’s got a quiz. This is tailor-made to go viral supernova. Now, if you excuse me, I have to go sit by the phone and wait for the president of the Internet to call and congrat…
Oh wait, there’s more.
In his blog post for Facebook Stories, Jonah Peretti also says:
4. Be Nostalgic
I thought you had to be relevant to the here-and-now? Nostalgia is good for virality (says Perretti). People love nostalgia because they love themselves and are terrified of the ever-ticking Retro Casio Watch of Time (says me). So it’s got to either about something really new, and something just old enough to remind my target demographic of their pre-pubescent salad days. Hmmm.
Okay, so how about:
We’ve lost Bieber, but we’ve gained a healthy dose of 1980s nostalgia. I think we’re on to something here.
5. Appeal to Human Emotion, Make Something That’s People-Relevant
Okay, so there’s got to be an emotional element. That makes sense. My readers need something to tug the heart strings. And there’s no emotion more universally understood than disgust. How else can you explain the appeal of dreadful gross-out comedy films? (Note to self: Must contact shiny Hollywood agent to discuss inevitable movie treatment. Possible title: THE VIRAL GUY?)
This is an easy fix:
6. People Love Sharing Photos of Cats
How could I possibly forget? Phew! I was so close to going ahead and creating a piece of content that DIDN’T include a picture of a cat. That’s okay though, with a few hours of research I’m sure I can find one deep in the recesses of Google images.
The Final Attempt:
Let’s look back at what’s we’ve learnt so far.
My content has to tackle current affairs through a haze of nostalgia, whilst being a list and a quiz. And it’s got to be disgusting, and include a provocative picture of a cat.
I really want to get Justin Bieber back in there too.
The Moral of the Story
We’ve created a horrible mess. But that was the point.
BuzzFeed’s advice is very good advice. By taking their recommendations on board, content creators can quick-fix their content to improve click-through rate, engagement and shares.
But it’s very daft to rely on this advice alone. We’ve followed BuzzFeed’s directions by the book and have ended up with a piece of content that’s possible illegal in several countries, and eminently avoidable for anyone else.
The moral is this: shareable content can’t be wished into existence, or crafted based on a few tips and tricks, or based entirely the advice of an overpriced ebook. There’s no recipe.
Of course, BuzzFeed never intended its advice to be a recipe. It intends its contributors to have great ideas, then use its tips and tricks to shape it into a viral time-bomb.
You can learn how to create great content. But you’ve got to invest some good-old-fashioned imagination time before you have any chance of going viral. You’ve Got To Put The Hours In.
(Even then, it’s unlikely, to be honest. Especially if you haven’t got the readership to spark the viral fire in the first place. But that’s a story for another blog.)