Everyone is hung up on creating viral content. Recently, I was asked to provide some tips on how to get your content to go viral. What I think they meant to ask, was what can you do to get your content shared broadly. It’s just that the phrase “getting your content shared” isn’t quite as sexy as saying viral.

Viral content is a very different game. We call content “viral” as if it’s a goal. Viral content isn’t a goal, it’s an outcome. And, it isn’t one you should take lightly.

The Mystery – Not a Mystery of Viral Content

There is no mystery of what makes something go viral — just get a video of yourself doing something so thoroughly embarrassing that you’d never want anyone to see you and BAM — you have viral.

One thing that creates virality in content is its unassuming quality; its rawness, vulnerability, and sheer organic authenticity with zero BS. Viral videos are able to connect with something deep inside an audience.

Viral Content is Shareable Content

Instead of focusing on viral in the broad sense, consider creating relevant shareable content. In his best selling book Contagious, Jonah Berger provides six elements of widely shared content.

  1. A relatable story: Like all things worth sharing, it has to start with a relatable story that happened to a person “just like me” and could happen to me too.
  2. Timely content: Right now, anything having to do with COVID or Politics is something that is talked about.
  3. Provides “insider” info” – Your goal is to make the audience feel like this is something no one knows about — only you and you are on the inside.
  4. Focus on feelings: Your content has to trigger some raw emotion, humor, connection, fear, anger, awe, surprise, etc.
  5. Publicly visible: I’m specifically thinking of No-Shave November, Lance Armstrong wrist bands, Ice Bucket Challenge – these are all ways that your message can advertise itself and be visible to others.
  6. Information is useful: Thinking back to being on the “inside” of having information, the information you have must be useful and perhaps help people do something previously difficult very easily – or help someone in terms of staying safe, etc,.

Even if you follow these steps, there’s no guarantee your content will become viral — that’s why viral content is so much fun and so fascinating.

Why You Don’t Want Your Content to Go Viral

True viral content: content that spreads rapidly online and via word of mouth, can be a double-edged sword, In other words, you may not get what you’re hoping for.

There are many examples of viral content gone wrong.

7 Campaigns That Went Viral for the Wrong Reasons: The big lesson here, watch out when asking people to submit their own content — especially on platforms where you can’t control the outcome. One great example is a campaign that asked people to tweet a selfie. But the problem was automation — all images were automatically submitted to show in the picture frame. So the audience started uploading irrelevant pictures. Even worse, they sent pictures of famous criminals.

When Viral Content Goes Wrong: This article outlines what can happen when a hashtag is misconstrued and your true intention gets obliterated.

7 Times Brands Went Viral for All the Wrong Reasons: Bad viral content hits the biggest brands with the best and most successful brands, In this article, what really stood out was the story of United Airlines when a passenger’s video went viral.

Viral content is fleeting.

That means it runs viral for a few hours, a few days or, if you’re lucky, a few weeks. But “viral” attention is fleeting. You’d have to stand out from the 4.4 million blog posts published every DAY. 5 BILLION comments are left on Facebook pages each month. There are a lot of people at there and a lot of content out there and whatever you spend creating will be invisible in a matter of hours. You don’t want that.

When the trigger disappears, so does the content.

Another element that leads to the fleeting nature of viral content is the topic or trigger that is at the core of the content. If circumstances change, and the subject that is at the root of the content becomes irrelevant — your content becomes irrelevant.

Viral content puts the focus on quantity over quality

By definition, viral content is a fad and a distraction from the important issues of the day. What makes content viral is the sheer speed and quantity of the sharing. Think about what type of content typically goes viral (or has gone viral); conspiracy theories, cute animal videos, people doing something wrong, or something embarrassing or silly. It’s all so general. There is simply no guarantee that you’ll reach your target audience.

You suffer unintended consequences

Another element of viral content is that it’s not easily controlled. Once it’s out there, and hits this general and broad audience, you’ve lost control of the message and the intention of the content. And this can backfire on your brand.

One timely example of just such a viral campaign is the #myNYC hashtag — back in 2014! What was intended as a way to honor NYC police turned out to trend for the opposite reason as people started posting unflattering images on social media.

The lesson here is that once content is out on the internet, it is out of your hands. If you’re in a bubble regarding your brand, this can end very badly for you. What you perceive as a good thing can trigger your audience in a way you hadn’t imagined.

Why Is Creating Viral Content So Hard

Creating viral content is hard because human beings are unpredictable. The most common answers to this question are that creating viral content is hard because the only guarantee you’ll get is that there is a 99% chance that you will FAIL.

Given that, here is the best infographic I’ve found on the topic.

The bottom line is that viral content is a function of all of the element that include curiosity, newsworthiness, emotion and connection with an audience coupled with insane velocity of sharing.