John Lincoln

How to Go Viral on Social Media

One of the best ways to generate buzz about your brand is to create content that goes viral. But how do you make that happen?

Fortunately, you can create viral content by following a prescribed set of best practices. The formula is part art, part science, and a whole lot of promotion.

In this guide, I’ll cover the secret to going viral.

First, Understand That Virality Is Relative

The first question to answer is: how many people need to share your content before it’s considered “viral”?

It depends.

If you’re in a small industry, even just a few hundred shares can make a huge impact.

Our Ignite Visibility blog posts tend to get 50-200 shares on average. Viral articles get 10x or 20x more shares than that.

So we’d consider a post viral if it got about 1,500 shares. That’s perfectly fine for us because we’re a B2B digital marketing company with a relatively small audience.

If we were running a fashion blog, though, we’d probably need tens of thousands of shares before we classified an article as viral.

And if we were running a site like Buzzfeed, we’d need to see hundreds of thousands of shares.

Increase Your Chance of Going Viral

Next, let’s look at how to increase your chance of going viral. This formula explains virality:

(Virality Level) x (Number of People Who See the Content) = Number of Shares

As you can see, there are two components to the product on the left side of the equation:

  • Virality Level
  • Number of People Who See the Content

So right off the bat, you have two options when it comes to increasing your chances of going viral. You can generate content with a high virality level or you can increase the number of people who see the content.

In either case, you’re increasing your chances of going viral.

I’ll use the next few sections to cover triggers that help content catch on.

Understand Your Audience

Want to attract some eyes to your content? Trigger an emotional response.

To do that, though, you must first understand your audience.

How can you do that? Find out what kinds of content they’re already sharing.

Chances are pretty good that if they’re sharing the same kind of content over and over again, they’ll likely share that type of content if you post it on your blog.

Use Long-Form Content

According to BuzzSumo, long-form content gets more shares.

Why? Probably because people appreciate exhaustive, detailed information. 

Long-form content is usually somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 words in length. That might seem like a lot of writing, but it’s a small price to pay if the article spreads like wildfire all over cyberspace.

Pro-tip: make sure you break up your long-form content with subheaders. When you do that, you make your content scannable, so visitors pressed for time can go straight to the part of the article that contains the info they’re looking for.

A study from Backlinko found that long-form content gets the most shares


A stud from Backlink found that long-form content (1,000-2,000 words) gets the most social shares

Add Some Images

Images within articles are like windows. They shed some light on the subject and let in a little fresh air.

If you put nothing but text in your content, you risk putting your audience to sleep. Add some images that illustrate the points you’re trying to make.

You can even use images to put some humor into your content. It’s easy to do that by sprinkling reaction GIFs throughout the article.

Get Emotional

Research has found a link between viral content and the VAD model of emotion.

If you’re unfamiliar with the VAD model, here’s the breakdown:

  • Valence – The positive or negative aspect of the emotion. Fear and anger have negative valence while happiness has positive valence.
  • Arousal – A measurement from relaxation to excitement. Sadness has low arousal (closer to relaxation) while fear has high arousal (closer to excitement).
  • Dominance – A measurement from submission to control. Fear is a low-dominance emotion (closer to submission) while inspiration is a high-dominance emotion (closer to control).

People who’ve studied the science behind viral content found that articles with high-arousal or low-dominance emotions tended to generate the most comments.

However, people are more likely to share content on social media when it generates high-dominance emotions.

Viral content often plays on emotions.

Specifically, here’s the type of content that really resonates:

  • Cute stuff – Babies, adorable animal images, and of course cats.
  • Humor – Who doesn’t love a good laugh?
  • Practical advice – Did you catch the viral video about how to wrap Christmas presents even if you don’t have enough wrapping paper? It went viral because it was so practical.
  • Inspiring content – It’s awesome to see videos of humans helping each other, stories of everyday heroes, or info about new tech gadgets.
  • Rage-inducing content – People often share stuff they don’t like with a sad or angry emoji.

Get Assistance From Influencers

At some point, you’re going to limit your reach if you try to promote content alone. That’s why you need to enlist the aid of influencers.

Find people online with an audience similar to the audience that you’re trying to reach. Then, reach out to those folks and ask for a share.

Here are a few pointers about how you can do that.

First, identify the right influencers. A tool like BuzzSumo or FollowerWonk will help with that.

Next, study the people who influence you. Take a look at their digital strategies. Get some inspiration. Go and do likewise.

Then, engage with key influencers. If they post something that you think will be valuable to your audience, share it on social media.

Keep in mind: when you share their content, you should tag them. That’s how they’ll know that you’re someone who’s serious about building business relationships online.

Nurture those relationships. Be sure to keep sharing their content as they share yours.

Wrapping It Up

Now that you know the secret to going viral, it’s time to develop a plan. After all, what good is all this knowledge without an action plan?

Sit down with your team and brainstorm up a content strategy that you think will resonate with your audience. Then, identify the best ways to promote your articles.

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About the Author

John Lincoln is CEO of Ignite Visibility, one of the top digital marketing agencies in the nation. Ignite Visibility is a 4x  Inc. 5,000 company. Ignite Visibility offers a unique digital marketing program tied directly to ROI with a focus on using SEO, social media, paid media, CRO, email, Amazon and PR to achieve results. Outside of Ignite Visibility, Lincoln is a frequent speaker and author of the books “Digital Influencer” and “The Forecaster Method.” Lincoln is consistently named one of the top digital marketers in the industry and was the recipient of the coveted Search Engine Land “Search Marketer of The Year” award. Lincoln has taught digital marketing and Web Analytics at the University of California San Diego since 2010, has been named as one of San Diego’s most admired CEO’s and a top business leader under 40. Lincoln has also made “SEO: The Movie” and “Social Media Marketing: The Movie.” His business mission is to help others through digital marketing.

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