The Anatomy Of A Viral Blog Post

Viral Blog AnatomyWhat makes viral content? Is there a secret formula that some content creators have managed to pin down? Even though everyone wants to see their content spread like wildfire through social media networks, there might not be a set recipe for developing a viral blog post. However, there are definitely ways to put content on track towards racking up millions of views. We turned to the experts for guidance.

“Things go viral when they have the unexplainable x-factor,” says Connor Storch, social media associate at Sparxoo, a marketing and branding agency. “Content goes viral because we as humans respond to it in some way.”

It’s not easy to create viral content, Storch says. While we know that content is vital to every business, most marketers will tell you there is no formula for creating a viral blog post. There’s no 10-step process that guarantees people will read your content, love it and pass it around like a note in middle school. But while there isn’t a manual for creating an imminently shareable post, when you break down which posts go viral, there are certainly some patterns that come to the forefront. Once you identify these traits, you can use them to improve the likelihood of your content going viral.

The definition of viral

There are varying definitions of “going viral.” Some strategists say content needs more than a million views to be considered viral, while others say 100,000. Both are tremendous achievements in terms of social distribution, however, and at the end of the day, it’s not really about the number of views; it’s about gaining exposure. Would a small business owner balk at a post getting 10,000 shares on Facebook? Of course not. The definition is subjective.

However, as we attempt to break down the anatomy of viral blog, the examples we’ll use have 100,000+ views and racked up thousands of shares on social media.

Let’s take a look at two examples and examine the similarities we find. You can take these similarities and use them as a checklist to reference the next time you’re writing a viral-worthy blog post. The two viral examples are:

How to Travel Around the World For $418Viral Blog Post 1

and

Here’s a Quick Way to Get More Likes On Your Facebook PageViral Blog Post 2

Title

The titles of both blogs grab your attention. They make you stop and think to yourself, “I’d really like to know how to do that.” They are written with the readers’ interests in mind. The words and concepts are easily digested and understood, and the readers can tell exactly what they’ll get from reading the post. Make sure your title isn’t misleading, though, as this can lead to a swift death for your article.

Introduction

In the Facebook article, the introduction starts out with a simple statement, “The number one question everyone asks me is: How do I get more likes and fans on my Facebook page?” The introduction drives straight to the point of the article and tells the reader that they’re about to learn of a firsthand account of how to tackle this social media dilemma.

In the travel post, the introduction starts with a quote, “I have to tell you sir, this is easily the most ridiculous itinerary I’ve ever put together.” It’s a unique set up to a story that will detail information about travel. Again, it gets to the point, and it’s a great hook to keep the reader involved and intrigued.

Body

Though the titles are the immediate selling point for readers, the content in the body has to back up the claim. The better articles contain actionable information; readers are often looking for instant gratification or a way to make immediate changes. In other words, after reading each of these posts you can actually do something to boost your Facebook following or book cheap travel. That’s the right way to do viral content.

Voice

Both articles are written in a conversational voice and tone, one that propels the reader to keep reading. The Facebook post even uses swear words, which is fine, but remember that you’ll need to take your target audience into account, as well as how you want your brand, whether it’s personal or professional, to be perceived. These viral posts are aimed at their specific audience and each author caters to them well.

Length

Both of these posts are more than 1,000 words long. It can be difficult to provide enough informational value in a post of a shorter length, though it’s certainly not impossible. Many content creators use infographics as a short-form method of posting. However, in the world of blog posts, you should aim to provide as much information as possible, which may take you well past the 1,000 word mark. To really flesh out an idea, you need to give it the appropriate space.

Links

Both of these posts feature at least a dozen links. Some of the links connect readers to other pieces of content written by the same company, while others are external, helpful links that increase the blog’s usefulness and provide further background research.

A last look at anatomy

Both articles end with questions, encouraging people to comment on the post. The Facebook post has 2,000+ comments and the travel post has about 150. More controversial articles will often generate a good deal of comments, though remember that it’s possible not every opinion will match your own.

Research tells the viral story

Looking at the anatomy of these two viral posts can teach you a lot, but marketing professor Jonah Berger has conducted extensive research on this very topic. The Journal of Marketing Research published his research, What Makes Online Content Go Viral.

Berger, based at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, worked with his colleague Katherine Milkman to figure out why certain pieces of content are more shareable than others. Together the duo analyzed 7,000 NY Times articles to see which ones made the most-emailed list. In particular, they examined how valence and emotions affected the likelihood of content going viral.

Research results

What did Berger’s research find? Here’s a look at some of the key results:

  • Positive, awe-inspiring content is more likely to be shared rather than sad or depressing content.
  • Useful, practical content is more likely to be shared.
  • Longer articles go viral more frequently than short articles.
  • Famous authors, particularly female authors, have high sharability.

Increase your chances of going viral

In addition to Berger’s research on the subject, he also wrote a book, “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” that outlines several tips to help writers create viral content. We asked him to share some of those tips with our Ebyline readers.

Social currency

People share things that reflect their own thoughts and emotions; it’s our own form of social currency, Berger says. We want our friends to see that “we’re in the know” or that “we’re cool” so if your content can boost someone’s social street cred, it has a good shot at going viral.

Emotions

People share posts that evoke emotion. As mentioned above, positive emotions are the most viral and tend to gain traction. Both Berger and Storch agree on this one. Storch says one of the best ways to create a viral blog is to be honest and write posts as though you’re writing to a friend or family member.

Practical value

Funny cat videos might seem like all the viral rage, but in truth, most viral content has a practical value. Create something that has a real intellectual or practical takeaway. Whether you’re writing a how-to article or a deeply personal story, make sure the reader learns something from your piece.

Stories

You should never underestimate the value of a good story, especially if it is told well. If you can take the reader on a journey, they’re more likely to share it with others so they can enjoy the experience too.

“People see through the phony content and demand authenticity,” Connor Storch says. “If you tell a great story you’ll separate yourself from others.”

It’s important to understand that when you work to create a viral post, even if you follow all of the tips above, there’s still no guarantee that millions of fans will knock down your content door to read it. However, if you’re always striving to create viral posts, you’ll always create powerful and useful content and eventually build a strong content portfolio on your site. That kind of effort can only improve your content and brand.

Have you written viral content before? What was it about? What tips would you share with others trying to achieve similar results? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

 

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About Lisa Furgison

Lisa Furgison is a freelance journalist and co-owner of a media company, McEwen's Media. Find her on Twitter @lfurgison.

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