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How to go viral on social media

How to go viral on social media

Gazillions of people liking, sharing, retweeting your content. Without warning, the world is talking about your brand. New customers are falling over themselves to buy your product. Your content has gone viral online. You’re a social media superstar… in an ideal world.

Why do I want to go viral online?

I want more website traffic, more views, more followers, more likes, more comments, more revenue… more love.

If you can create something that goes viral online, wow. Just, wow! With a snap of your fingers, you’ll have exposed yourself to thousands and thousands of people - Okay, that didn't sound quite so creepy in my head.

I’ve been looking at content that’s gone viral and I’m going to share what I’ve learned. Tips that’ll up your chances of going viral on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. I’m not going to spin you a line, there’s no magic formula, I can’t guarantee virality. But, you’ll up the odds.

First, let’s look at why we share stuff and what going viral on social media means.

Why do you & I share stuff?

If you understand why people engage with content, you’ll be better equipped to post stuff they want to share.

  • Reflected glory - if I share this, people will think I’m uber cool
  • Credibility - sharing this will increase my authority and trustworthiness
  • Humour - I just want to make people happy
  • Endorsement - brand, product, movie, song, book, shop, opinion
  • Condemnation - brand, product, movie, song, book, shop, opinion
  • Promotion - my brand, my business, my products, my blog, myself

What does going viral on social media mean?

Most tweets have the fleeting life of the mayfly. A viral tweet lives longer.

A mayfly tweet will be retweeted shortly after being posted, and then nothing. A viral tweet can continue for hours, even days. And, retweeting can gain momentum over time.

How many hits make a post viral? Virality is not determined by a specific number of shares/likes/retweets, there’s no benchmark. It’s relative to the person sharing.

While I aim high, when I post content - Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn - I consider myself lucky to get a handful of likes. So, if one day I get more - OMG, MAJOR VIRALITY!

Viral on social media

71 Likes, 6 Comments on LinkedIn - MAJOR VIRALITY!

If Donald Trump tweets and is liked 71 times - something’s gone wrong and he best start looking for a new job - I'm keeping shtum.

When Trump’s Twitter account was ‘accidentally’ taken down, his response went viral.

Viral Tweeter

The tweet, originating in the US, spread rapidly round the globe.

Talkwalker Diffusion Map

This Virality Map reveals how a tweet from Nike spread across various media channels, was, picked up by blogs, then mentioned on Twitter.

Track the journey of your tweet, Facebook post, news article, as it spreads across the Internet. Tools like our Virality Map identify the multiple media types, countries, languages, influencer engagement.

If you understand the buzz behind your content, how it’s spreading round the world, you’ll have insights that’ll help with future virality campaigns.

Virality Map

Beef up your outreach with our Influencer Network.
Find key influencers and gain a wider reach.

How to go viral online

It starts with the right kind of content, perfect timing, and being jumped on by a trendsetter - someone who’s content goes viral with such regularity, they should be vaccinated.

Recognize & understand your audience

Viral content is seen by thousands, millions if you strike gold. Are they the right people? Has it gone viral for the right reasons? ‘Fraid so, there’s a good viral and a bad viral.

Soap star, Dove, knows how to go viral. Unfortunately, not always for the right reason.

Women Viral campaign

Dove’s #RealWomen campaign went viral because it acknowledged the fact that female beauty norms are not always ‘normal’ - the most beautiful person you can be is yourself.

“They’re one of a kind - just like you.”
Body diversity or body shaming?

Both campaigns went viral, but the brand landed heavily on its soapy ass with the body type one. Dove certainly recognizes its audience, but doesn’t always understand or empathize with it.

Virality isn’t always a good thing. The body type campaign was met with anger and ridicule.

Take a stand!

Develop an opinion and forget about trying to please everyone. Only try this if you’re prepared to fight your corner... or apologize.

ANGER | DISGUST | HAPPINESS | SURPRISE | SADNESS | FEAR | PITY | LOVE | ENVY | JOY
DISDAIN | HATRED | PASSION | RAGE | PRIDE | REMORSE | SORROW

Feel one of the above when reading content on social, and chances are you’ll like and/or share the post. How you feel - the uncontrollable giggle, the ice in your heart, the fire in your belly - influences your behavior.

That’s why Dove’s two campaigns went viral - they stirred emotions. But the body type campaign was way too close to the bone. No one likes being compared to a short, dumpy bottle - unless you’re a short, dumpy bottle.

Can you handle this kind of reaction?

If you’re cool going viral with something that’s going to cause a potentially explosive reaction - go for it.

Jump on virality to go viral

It figures that if something is current, happening now, trending online, then people are watching it or searching for it. If you can jump onto one of these trends or events with an awesome piece of content, you’re halfway to going viral.

Only halfway - your content has to be mind-blowing, seriously mind-blowing.

There’s no better example of jumping on a situation and running with it, than Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet. In 2013, power went down for 34 minutes during the Super Bowl. Oreo’s timing and content was sublime.

Makes you wonder who pulled the plug.

For this to work, you have to be in the know, at the cutting-edge. Pay attention to trending keywords and hashtags - sporting events, celebrity news, politics, world news. When you see something you can exploit - go, go, go - speed is of the essence.

Arrive late to the party and the booze is done, mini pizzas are crushed into the carpet, and the lights are up.

Stellar online virality comes via a VIP

Trendsetter, superstar, big cheese, major leaguer - any of these guys like, share, retweet your content - YOU WIN!!! Seriously, you can’t fail in the virality stakes if someone of note shares your content with their audience.

There’s no time limit on this. Having posted your content in February, it languishes for a couple of months. Come April, it’s picked up by a big name and bang! You’re viral online.

Getting in on the viral act

You’ve seen it. An image posted online, that’s been picked up and doctored. Over and over and over again. The original image made us laugh and we want to play, spread that happy feeling. Audience participation is when people are inspired to join in and get creative.

Dove struck lucky and covered many virality enhancing bases.

OMG, I didn’t expect that!

Remember Chewbacca Mom?

In May 2016, Candace Payne posted a video of herself maniacally laughing while wearing a Chewbacca mask. Initially posted on Facebook, it quickly went viral. Picked up by multiple media and social media channels, the Star Wars mask sold out and Candace was rewarded with $2,500 in gift cards.

Look at the tweet, and check out the date. Over a year later, it's still being talked about.

A funny video of a lady wearing a mask, a guy walking into a lamppost while looking at his smartphone - who needs words? Visual humour crosses the language barrier. It makes us giggle. Naturally, we want to spread that good feeling.

Catching the viral bug

  • Get involved - if you’re not online and participating, you’ve no chance. Create social media channels, for yourself and/or your business.
  • Listen - you need to find what’s trending, events, news items, stories. Jumping on hot topics with an awesome twist, will get you noticed and maybe… get you a viral online reaction.
  • Act - fast, real fast. You’re not the only person or business out there trying for online virality. Using social media allows us to broadcast to a huge, global audience. If you strike viral gold, you could end on TV.

Like to learn more? Discover what's trending, what hashtags you should be using, how your content is spreading online - sign up for a free demo, and we'll show you how.

catching viral bug