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What it takes for content to go viral

"There’s a science behind what kind of content does well online and there are factors you can influence that will affect your content’s shareability"

4 min read

Brands & Campaigns


There’s a science behind what kind of content does well online. Even having all the right ingredients doesn’t guarantee that an item will go viral. So what makes content shareable? Is it the image, the catchy headline, or the fact that it was written by a respected leader or influencer? Do people share content that has been shared by their friends or peers?

To an extent, the answer is yes to all of those questions, but the last one in particular.

The popularity of a piece of content in a person’s mind is directly proportional to the popularity of the content’s premise among that person’s peers. For instance, people belonging to a group of dog lovers are more likely to share dog related content compared to people who have no such affinity. Scientists call this the “herding effect.” BuzzFeed specifically banks on this phenomenon, as they know readers like to promote their own identity.

“Hype can work and feed on itself as well,” Sinan Aral, a professor of information technology and marketing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a study covered by The New York Times.

Social influence may seem difficult to control, but there are factors you can influence that will affect your content’s shareability. Here are five to consider:

Break news, or piggyback on it

If something is newsworthy, it will sell like hot pancakes. Whether it is some small news about your city or a huge celebrity scandal, you can trust people to share this content quickly. If you don’t have newsworthy content, you can break ground through offers and discounts or be the first ones to create thought pieces and opinions on the latest industry news. Also share your news pieces through email and social media to spread it quickly.

Lend a helping hand

From MensXP to, a lot of websites earn bread by creating how-to guides and step-by-step tutorial videos that are designed to solve a problem and make life easier. Helpful content spreads easily because we humans are biologically as well as psychologically wired to help out other human beings. From how to make coffee ice cubes through to career tips, everything that helps people has a good chance of being shared.

Be silly, but tactfully so

From cartoons to memes through to funny videos, if your content has the “fun quotient,” it’ll do very well. However, a word of caution: don’t go overboard when creating funny content. We have seen many social media gaffes resulting from silly proofreading errors to condescending, body shaming posts, and you can easily find yourself slipping on thin ice.

Help others to get a boost

Twitter hashtags supporting a cause often start trending. This is because people like sharing and supporting a cause because of their inherent altruism. Kathleen Chell, a PhD candidate at Queensland University of Technology, found in a study that people want to receive social value or be recognized for supporting a cause as it is an important part of who they are as a person.

Make it interactive

Content with interactive elements are more likely to be shared than content without. These elements can be funny quizzes, trivia, personality, and even interactive videos and images. Interactive content has become one of the hottest viral properties and is even believed to benefit SEO. So if your content is engaging and interactive, it is more likely to be shared.

We are living in a time of information overload with so many brands vying for attention, and it has become more challenging than ever to create shareable content. But taking your cues from BuzzFeed and other successful sites will help you gain traction on the Internet. While not all of your posts will become a viral hit, these tips, practice, basic A/B testing and use of social media ads to promote posts will help you get the needle of content shareability move.

Avinash Nair is a digital marketer at E2M, one of India’s fastest growing digital marketing agencies committed to meeting the highest ethical standards of digital marketing strategies and drive sustainable business growth. He is responsible for SEO and Content Marketing Services. Follow him on Twitter.