Want To Go Viral? Start By Being Famous

In Lifestyle, Social Media by Andrew Selepak

Everyone wants their content to go viral. Marketers, advertisers, companies, the media, and everyone on social media want to have their own Ice Bucket Challenge moment. We are all looking for that tweet or video that receives millions of shares and takes on a life of its own making the post, and in turn the creator, instantly recognized and their words important.

Numerous blogs and experts offer advice on how to make it happen. They will suggest including multiple hashtags, creating content that answers important questions, including eye-catching visuals, using emotional storytelling, posting on multiple platforms, optimizing a post to be shareable, etc.

In fact, a Google search for “How to make your content viral” brings up 12,200 results, and “how to make your content go viral” brings up 49,000 results. Many of these results offer multiple tips on how to do it.

According to a Mashable article from 2013, there is a science behind going viral which includes making sure the content has social currency to make people want to share it, and capitalizing on “triggers” which Mashable calls “stimuli that remind us of related products and ideas. Interestingly, there is a website called Social Triggers that has an article on “Creating Viral Content? The Secret is Get Contagious…”

The three examples Mashable used were individuals who were among the “top 5% most-viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012,” NASA after it landed the Mars rover, and the Mars candy company which received a lot of additional traffic while everyone was talking about the Mars rover.

The problem is that the examples included the most popular individuals on a social networking site, an American government agency synonymous with space exploration, and one of the largest candy companies in the world. Not exactly ordinary individuals making it big.

The Mashable article though is so 2013. It is 2017, so we should know more about how to make content viral at this point. Shouldn’t we?

As if to answer that question, Sachs Marketing Group created an infographic in a December 30, 2016 article titled, “How to Make Your Content Go Viral in 2017.” As of mid-February 2017, the article had been shared 49 times. According to the infographic, the three things people share the most are Useful Content, Images, and Things that are shocking, bizarre, cute, or inspirational. While it gives additional advice to create content that will go viral, in the middle of the infographic is perhaps the most significant information under the heading: Do you have a solid readership?

It is here that Sachs Marketing Group offers the most significant advice:

Whether we want to believe it or not, the best way to make content popular and go viral is for it to be shared by those who are already popular and whose content always goes viral because of their large number of followers.

In some respects, the world of communication has not changed. Before social media, traditional media like national newspapers and network television could spread content to a large audience. While this still holds true and large media outlets like The New York Times have over 33-million followers on Twitter and CNN has nearly 32-million followers on Twitter, but now individuals can spread their ideas to a more dedicated and larger following as social media influencers. Katy Perry has nearly 96-million Twitter followers and Justin Bieber has nearly 92-million followers. In fact, none of the Top 5 most followed Twitter accounts are media outlets, and none of the top 14 are traditional media outlets.

To go viral, companies need to reach out to influencers. Justin Bieber can tweet out #PurposeTourMonterrey tonight and get over 50,000 retweets and over 124,000 likes.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t get 124,000 likes on a tweet if I gave out the winning Powerball numbers. Between February 13, 2017 and February 19, 2017, I averaged 0 retweets per day and 2 likes per day.

My most popular tweet during that time was a Singles Awareness Day tweet on Valentine’s Day that got 2 comments, 1 retweet, and 4 likes.

I used hashtags, eye-catching visuals, emotional storytelling, and triggers and still only got 1 retweet. The truth about “How to Make Your Content Go Viral in 2017” is that you have to be popular enough that everything you do goes viral and to be someone who already has influence among the public. And if you are not an influencer, you better know someone who is and will share your content.

Kristina Libby wrote about the power of influencers and the need to connect with those who are already well-connected. The “science” behind going viral is that the popularity of a post is often dependent on how popular the poster is already. Libby suggests that even using micro-influencers in a local market can have a dramatic impact on getting social posts seen by the local audience.

But this means that while you might get lucky with an Ice Bucket Challenge one in a million times, the best way to go viral is to connect with influencers who are one with millions of followers. Even the Ice Bucket Challenge didn’t start off as the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for ALS. The “ice bucket challenge” was around for six-weeks before it went mainstream and viral after “Today” show anchor Matt Lauer did it on live TV on July 15, 2014 after being challenged by pro-golfer Greg Norman. And even then it still wasn’t associated with ALS.

So for all the tips and tricks and “science” behind going viral, you really have one of two options if you want your content to go viral: be lucky or reach out to influencers.

Speaking of which, Katy Perry’s Valentine’s Day tweet got 1,800 replies, 6,300 retweets, and 19,000 likes. Looks like I am going to need to reach out to Katy before next year’s Singles Awareness Day. Maybe she can help? Or at least make my tweet go viral.

About the Author

Andrew Selepak


Dr. Selepak is a professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, and director of the graduate program in Social Media.