Digital Marketing

Brain Hack: How To Increase Your Content’s Viral Potential

Patrick McCarthy

“Find what you love and let it kill you.” - Charles Bukowski

I saw this quote posted in a bar some months ago. The text overlaid a black and white photograph of a somewhat roguish-looking bearded man holding a lit cigar.

“Who is that?” I asked the bartender, bewitched by the statement. “My darling,” he replied, “that’s Mr. Chuck Bukowski.”

I was simultaneously inspired by and averse to the message (the one inside the quote, that is––not the bartender’s sweet talk). Inspired because I’m a writer and simple, punchy statements like that one get my attention. Inspired also because “find what you love” is a quest that every single one of us is on or has been on at some point in our lives. It’s highly relatable

But I was averse to the quote as well because it suggested that what I love will, eventually, also cause my demise. The thought of that pisses me off; I don’t want to believe it.

Charles Bukowski is something of a genius with the written word. As a best-selling author, we could say that his content is viral. Though his content isn’t written specifically for the Internet, it’s useful to squeeze the juice from such statements and compare them to the psychological research on what draws readers to a page and make them love it so much they share it across their social networks.

(Side note: As Shopify website designers, we also focus on all that lies on the periphery of running an ecommerce business, including content. In fact, compelling content may be your single most useful tool for boosting sales.)

Contagious content has 2 main characteristics:

  • It creates an emotional charge (it pissed me off).
  • It poses a relatable paradox or contradiction (it created emotional conflict).

Infuse your content with those features and you’re already winning. But there’s more to boosting your content’s viral potential. Is there a formula to creating great content––enough to go viral? 

“Formula” may be too technical a term to describe something that is highly unpredictable. It’s almost like saying that you’ve discovered Google’s algorithm and solved your SEO issues for good. It’s extremely difficult to predict if a piece of content will explode across the World Wide Web. 

However, viral content contains some common features.

What Makes Content Go Viral?

Can you manipulate your content to make it go viral?

Yes and no. It’s never a sure thing. Unless it’s some headline news story, viral content is more a hoped-for outcome. 

Why do we care if our content goes viral or not? 

The simple answer is that it gets the attention of millions of viewers, which is good news for any business. More traffic means more leads means higher conversions.

The more complicated answer is that we’re all a teensy bit narcissistic. We also want our work and efforts rewarded. We want to know that other people care about and/or agree with us. We want to be seen. 

Therein lies the secret: what we want, others want too.

Remember that famous platitude we all learned in kindergarten? Treat others the way you want to be treated. Nothing holds more true than when we’re determining how to behave and how to produce content. If we want to be seen, so too does everyone else.

When you dive into content creation, the first thing you must ask yourself is: Do I care? The rule of thumb is that if you don’t care about what you’re writing, or at the very least, how you’re writing it, no one else will either. 

Then dig a little deeper: What do I care? Is it solving a problem? Is it making my life better?

Obviously life quality has multiple contributors. Finally discovering a whitening toothpaste that actually whitens your teeth isn’t going to be the thing you remember when you’re 95 and reflecting from your corner rocking chair on all those things that made a difference in your life. 

But your content can make it seem that important. If you care enough about it, someone else will too. So you produce content that touches that tender inner spot that holds philosophical resonance for the reader. 

What is the deeply-rooted life-changing benefit of having whiter, brighter teeth? You’ll feel more attractive, and attractive people in general have more friends, more money, and more happiness.

Whether that’s actually true (though research does point to it), there is hope, and hope makes people buy. It also makes them share messages of hope with others.

What Types of Content Go Viral?

While we lean more to the emotive impact inside the message than to the type of content itself when ascertaining viral potential, content type does hold some weight.

An important cause, breaking news, something humorous, a corporate marketing campaign, a universal truth stated in a unique way (through a meme, perhaps), or, unsurprisingly, cat videos. These content types have bigger potential than a blog post, for instance (ahem).

Feel-good stories are also huge on the viral front. Stories, if well written, sweep the reader into a pleasant alternative reality for a few moments, in which they can forget their worries and real-life drama or boredom. Or, it resonates with their own story so much that it elicits hope, reward, or a more solid sense of self. The logical next step is to click that CTA button because they want the story to continue. Stories that elicit anger also have the same effect, provided they have a positive outcome. 

The impact of a well-written story can linger for a long time, but it takes a skilled writer to create content that can illustrate human emotion through words alone. That’s why visuals help. If you can tell a story using visual content such as photographs or infographics, then you’ve nailed short-form, digestible content that has the potential to go viral. 

What Are The Characteristics of Viral Content?

Many! We can’t narrow it down to one. But we can narrow it down to two: emotion and identity.  

If you want to make it stick, it should appeal to human emotion. If you can strike awe, wonder, or joy in the heart of your reader, you’ve got it made. As mentioned previously, anger is also a highly-arousing emotion. At either end of the spectrum, those intense emotions make us feel something we don’t feel regularly in everyday life, or simply are unable to express. 

It’s our human nature to share what makes us look good and upholds the values through which we want to identify ourselves. We also like to be in control. If you can strike a simple truth through your content, people will share it. Remember, it’s not only the desire to be seen, but the desire to be seen a particular way. It’s true too that if what we read, watch, or listen too gives us a sense of being in control of our lives, we are more likely to share it because it reinforces a  particular image identity.  

Below is a quick-hit list summing up some key points for making your content go viral. Keep in mind, this applies to any type of business or business model, B2B or B2C. 

Tips For Creating Viral Content

  • Make it easy to share 
  • Give something away
  • Make it practically useful
  • Elicit an emotional reaction
  • Deliver on a fascinating title
  • Use positive, feel-good stories
  • Keep it short - requires less effort & time to consume
  • Make it visual, e.g. infographics, high-quality photos or videos

As Shopify experts, we’ve learned through our experience helping many ecommerce business owners that everyone struggles to create content. We can help. Click here to book a free strategy session for anything related to your Shopify store.

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