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Creating viral content

February 15, 2013

I notice that some folks seem very good at getting their posts and blogs and videos to go viral, as they say. But I can’t do it. I create what I think is good content for my website but I rarely get comments or ‘Likes’, etc. Any thoughts on what to do differently?

There are all sorts of reasons to want to a blog post or article or podcast or video of yours to go viral, but the most important one is this: It gets you a ton of free publicity, and it is the sort of publicity that you could never afford to purchase in the first place. Having your content go viral is a free and incredibly powerful way to get your name known and build your brand.

My first experience with the virality of the Internet came a few years ago when I wrote a negative piece about Twitter. Thereafter, I received a deluge of comments, posts, and emails about my article, almost all of which disagreed with me. What happened? The column got reposted on Twitter, the Twitteratti were outraged, they shared it amongst themselves, and they slammed me. The “stupidity of Strauss” was tweeted ad-naseum.

Hoisted by my own petard!

But it proved to be a great and valuable lesson, and brings us to today’s subject: is it possible to purposefully create content with the intent that that content go viral in a positive way and thereby snare us some much-desired name recognition and publicity?

Well, I hate to sound like the lawyer I am, but the answer is, possibly.

First, let us note that not a few big corporations now have viral video strategies and they pump gobs of money into both creating creative videos and publicizing those videos. But what they do cannot be duplicated by most small businesses because we simply don’t have budgets for such things.

That said, there are things you can do to prod your content along the road towards virality, the most important of which is to create the sort of content that practically compels people to want to share it:

Be outrageous: To the folks on Twitter, an article about how Twitter was mostly a waste of time was outrageous. But the broader point is this: What gets people to share a link, a post, or a video is emotion. If you make them laugh, or cry, or get mad, you geometrically up the chances that someone will forward your content on.

The deal here of course is that most small businesses don’t want to be controversial or outrageous. If you can, great, but if not, don’t worry. Other options abound:

Crack them up: Why do Jon Stewart clips get so much e-love? Because they are damn funny. Funny works. People love to share funny. If you can figure out a way to create some humorous content that puts your business in a good light, bingo.

Offer something weird: It is tough to get noticed online because there is in fact so much content out there. That is why being weird/different/quirky works. Weird is still, well, weird. People will share weird. Maybe you will need to dance Gangham Style.

Be heartwarming: Remember, emotion is the key here. If you have content that tugs at the heartstrings – a true story, an emotional interview – that is good because that works.

And finally,

Be cute: Who doesn’t love adorable kittens?

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