Knowledge Bridge

Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

//Tomas Ulej /July 7 / 2014

The secret of virality: how to make your content go viral?

There probably isn’t anyone who hasn’t heard about viral content. Similarly, almost everyone has seen and shared some viral content.

The arrival of social networks has allowed for quick dissemination of content – in a few hours, articles can fly over the whole of the internet, and YouTube videos can have millions of views.

Social networks have become an important channel for news sites. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, the way people consume news has changed. Readers suddenly don’t need to go to the home pageHome pageThe page designated as the main point of entry of a Web site (or main page) or…//read more  of the news site – it’s enough to follow Facebook and news will come to them (either from friends or directly from the Facebook pagePageA document having a specific URL and comprised of a set of associated files. A…//read more  of the media outlet).

Creating content with the potential to be shared a lot – if they want to keep their visitors – has thus become one of the most important missions of news-providing media. As has paying careful attention to their Facebook page. The key is to post the right statuses and keep in close contact with their readers.

The arrival of social networks, however, has also given news-providing websites one particular problem: creating viral content is not easy and cannot be made “on request” – sometimes it works, and sometimes it simply doesn’t. Similarly, not every article is popular on social networks and, as such, it doesn’t make sense to spread every text you write, but only some of them.

What kind of content do people like the most

What content do people like enough to share? What do they find to be the most fun? What type of content produced by news-providing sites works in the context of social networking?

Kristofer Mencak, a Swedish marketing specialist on viral content who has published books on the subject, has defined 12 indicators of virality. They include most of the viral content produced by news-providing sites.

Let’s look at them. You’ll probably find most of them familiar, but have you thought about them while you were posting a link to an article on Facebook?

Something funny – a large majority of content that goes viral falls into the funny category. In relation to news sites, the funny element works even better as it actually reflects real events “from real life”, which works much better than had the content been made up. A good example was an article “Married couple got high on a side dish” – three paragraphs describing how a couple exchanged marijuana for spinach received more than a thousand shares on Facebook and a few hundred thousand reads within a few hours.

Something wondrous – “The best example that the wondrous or miraculous works is the circus,” says Mencak. “Everyone wants to see something that is impossible” An example of such an article could be “Hero of the day – Captain Sully landed on river Hudson” about the miraculous maneuver performed by the American civilian airplane captain, who managed an emergency landing on the river, thus saving the lives of many people.

Something sexy – all tabloid themes with a sexual context, especially if they include something surprising, are also strong subjects. An example is the article, “Doctors say looking at busty women for 10 minutes a day is good for your health” on this tabloid site.

Something taboo – subjects people don’t like to talk about but think about a lot attract much attention. The more taboo a subject is, the more reactions it draws.

Secrecy – if something is secret, its price automatically increases regardless of whether the information itself has any value for the reader. Good examples are news articles containing secret documents or recordings such as documents published by

Something very personal – content which concerns specific groups of people – the information can be either personal in the right sense of the word or information that addresses them directly in another way. An example would be information about how an increase in taxation affects a certain category of earner.

Something controversial – if some social phenomenon draws different opinions, it usually spreads massively.

Something very current, with an uncertain outcome – in the case of sites providing news, this usually means informing about natural disasters, wars, coups and other significant events – especially if their outcome is uncertain.

American scientist Yury Lifshits in a study “Social analytics for online news” analyzed for Yahoo Labs what is read the most on news websites. In the study, he analysed the way the 45 biggest American sites share their content on social networks. “The 40 most-shared news items include much about lifestyle, photo galleries, interactive infographics, humour and relaxing reads. Four of the 40 most-shared articles are about current political affairs, three about celebrities. But the most popular are opinions and analyses,” says the study. According to Lifshits, the key is surprise. “Content that you can imagine someone emailing with either ‘Awesome!’ or ‘WTF?’ in the subject line gets spread”, the author says in Nieman Journalism Lab.

Four hints on how to make your Facebook page more interesting

Does your online news-site have a Facebook page? If so, here are four hints to attract more attention to your posts and thus more readers for your site:

  • Choose well – don’t post too much, but choose articles suitable for social networks. You can see above which ones they are. Two to three posts per day are an acceptable maximum. Post more only in special circumstances (for example during elections, natural disasters – i.e. in times when people are more interested in getting information).
  • Include a fun status – even if you are a serious news provider, be more personal and relaxed on social networks. This tip really works – try adding a bit of the funny and cool to your statuses and comments. Your credit won’t go down –on the contrary.
  • Select content out of your website – do you have a great caricature? Don’t link to your website– post it directly as a photo. Do the same with video or a whole funny passage of your text. Are you worried that it won’t increase number of visits to your site? Perhaps not today, but a good picture will increase the reachReach1) unique users that visited the site over the course of the reporting period,…//read more  of your page, so the next time you post a link, more people will read it.
  • Don’t post yourself only – don’t be afraid to post links to other websites. Your readers want good content – they don’t mind that this time it’s not produced by you. If you give them good content, they will read your posts. Even those in which you promote yourself.

Three quick hints on how to reach more people by your Facebook posts

Until now, we have discussed mainly what kind of content is the most interesting, but very often the form is the key as well. Web page summarized research about how to make your posts more attractive.

  • Photo better than a status: A saying goes that it’s better to see once than to hear a thousand times. In translation to Facebook, it means that according to statistics, photos receive 53% more likes than comments and have a 84% higher click-throughClick-throughThe measurement of a user clicking on a link that re-directs the user’s…//read more  rate than text posts. If you can tell something with a picture rather than a text status, don’t hesitate to do so.
  • Be brief: Are you in a mood to elaborate? Not a good idea: short posts (less than 250 characters) get two-thirds more people than long posts.
  • The right days and the right hours: When should you write? If you have a Facebook page, you have surely noticed that time is crucial. The rule goes that the best time is when people aren’t working but are still not away from the internet. Ideal then would be the evening before sleep (around 10 pm), in the morning before work or during lunch. As far as days during the week go, statistics say that Thursday and Friday seem the best. But it’s often more complicated than that. The weather plays a significant role for example– if it’s the first beautiful day after weeks of weather misery, don’t expect people to stand in line to like your posts. Similarly, a rainy Sunday afternoon can turn out to be the best time.

Article by Tomas Ulej

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