Viral Content Strategies: Overview of 11 Basic Types
To get a better understanding of how to create viral content, it's helpful to understand a few terms. Here's a basic glossary of viral content types you should consider for online marketing and SEO efforts.
Creating controversy isn't for the weak-willed, but it's a great way to engage readers and get them to spread ideas far and wide. Before publishing controversial content, think through how you'll defend yourself to those who disagree. Prepare to be called every name in the book. And, get ready for a massive influx of organic visitors to your site as the conversation takes on a life of its own.
To create controversial content that goes viral, consider ideas you feel passionate about that are outside the mainstream of your niche. Recall arguments with co-workers or competitors. Choose controversy that's fresh and exciting, not the same old thing you can read all over the Internet. Just make sure you're correct in your position. There's nothing more embarrassing than issuing a retraction because you really didn't know what you were talking about.
A subset of creating controversy, attack content focuses on negative aspects of competitors. Political campaign ads are a prime example of attack content. Customers should buy from you because something is wrong with your competitor. It doesn't have to be nasty—in fact, it should always be based in fact and defensible, and stay far away from name-calling.
Viral attack content often takes a humorous angle, portraying the competitor as old-fashioned or out of touch with customers. For long-lasting effect, some companies (such as car insurance providers) create characters that slam competitors, and those characters end up going viral. It does you little good to simply attack the competition; you must show readers and viewers your brand or product so they can make the "right" choice.
It takes a certain level of creativity to make content appealing, funny, heart-warming, or dramatic. Adding personality to blog posts or videos is a risk worth taking because people share things that stir their emotions. Run your ideas past a friend to find out if they're truly stirring or if you need to bring the entertainment factor up a little.
For entertaining content to go viral, it should be ruthlessly edited to remove pauses and distractions. The very best pieces are unscripted, but those rare moments can be bolstered by things you create on purpose. It's perfectly OK to be sassy or a little sarcastic, but steer clear of abusive or offensive. Aim for the emotions and you'll hit the viral mark.
In-depth and Educational Content
If website visitors truly learn something from you, they're more likely to share your name with social networks and colleagues. Educational content explores your niche fully and adds to the surrounding conversation. Don't repackage your own or others' ideas and call it a complete treatment of the topic; visitors need new answers to questions and problems.
You'll find in-depth content going viral if you've spent some time defining your audience and made the writing or video particularly relevant to them. While an individual blog post or podcast might go viral unexpectedly, increase your chances through planning and encouraging shares and comments. Work your SEO strategy carefully and this content serves you well for the long term.
Offer incentives to build clicks and shares. Money, prizes, white papers and ebooks, free trials, and coupon codes are easy incentives. You can be more innovative, however. Donate to charity for every Facebook like recorded for a month. Write a song specifically for the person who garners the most tweets and shares. Withhold the launch of your video series until you've reached an attainable social sharing goal.
Incentives help content go viral if they're truly valuable to your audience. Well-recognized brands have an easier time using incentives because social proof is a powerful incentive in itself—the more people who already like a product or company, the more people will like it in the future. Set your viral goals to a reasonable level and be creative in your incentives if you're a small business.
Ever seen the video with the adorable kitten? So has everyone else. Create content that's be-first rather than me-too and your audience will be more likely to share. Think back to when you first started your business: Was there information you needed to know but never found a source? If you are self-taught, your knowledge could create be-first content. Think of products that address customer needs in a new way. Write about important but marginalized areas of your niche.
News and current events are the best examples of viral be-first content, but you should aim to create long-term or evergreen content instead. Ask visitors what they want and need, and do a competitive analysis at least yearly to keep generating new ideas. The longer you're in business, the better you can recognize when customer needs aren't being met by your competition and swoop in to save the day. Play up newness in your launches and be-first content goes viral with the right audience.
Tools as Content
Many niche businesses offer complementary tools to enhance products and make them available to non-customers as a convenience. Think of bank mortgage calculators, Google's Webmaster Tools, or a calorie counter on a weight-loss website. Tools open up a whole new area of content creation because you must teach people how to use them. This is great for SEO and product marketing.
Great tools go viral quickly. They operate in the background of the user's life yet are so essential that the user could barely survive without them. Make it easy to spread your tool to friends and colleagues: write about it on a dedicated blog with backlinks to your main blog, shoot instructional videos, set up a dedicated Facebook fanpage, give it its own hashtag, and so on. Viral momentum can build quickly for innovative and helpful tools.
Widgets As Viral Tools
Widgets are tools you use to help content go viral. Some examples of widgets are plugins, share buttons, apps, and of course widgets themselves. Thousands are available free or for a little money, so explore the possibilities and work widgets into your blog and content wherever possible. The best widgets allow automatic sharing to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., or back to your blog if you publish on article directories.
Widgets are indispensable to bloggers and online marketers, but app and widget makers have made plenty of money when their tools go viral. Read up on how to create and monetize plugins, hire a good programmer, and follow marketing best practices when dabbling in widgets. If making new apps doesn't fit with your niche business, use these tools to promote your content—and help visitors promote content virally.
Infographics Add Visual Dimension to Content
If you use data or facts to convince visitors to take action, infographics are a welcome change from the 10,000-word assault. Hire a really good artist or design firm (probably not the cheapest) and make dry facts more interesting through graphical illustrations. Examples of infographics are time lines, process flow charts, comic strips and cartoons, maps, and the usual (and usually boring) pie and bar charts. Your infographics should be so good that website visitors would like to print them out and tack them to the wall—or at least share with friends digitally.
When creating viral infographics, don't just throw facts and pictures together and expect your audience to believe you. Cite sources (especially if your business is the source of information). Also cite and say thank you to designers or writers who helped create the graphic. This increases viral goodwill, your readers respect you more, and search engines adore strong backlinks.
Ego Bait Content
Ego baiting is the digital version of fishing for compliments: You say something nice about someone in public and they're socially obligated to say something nice about you, hopefully using a backlink. Easy examples of ego bait include trackbacks, permalinks, blog rolls, "best-of" or "top 100" articles with do-follow links, and affiliate marketing content. More effective examples of attracting attention include personal interviews, comments on other blogs, and guest posting.
For ego bait to work as a viral content strategy, you must be worthwhile to link back to—not just seeking social proof for yourself, but deserving of respect. Don't be a random baiter. Zero in on a handful of blogs or people who share your niche and spread multiple baits out over a period of time. In a funny way, the best egos to bait don't need to notice you, so focus your efforts on medium-sized egos that still love to be mentioned by strangers. Set up a long-term plan and keep at it, but don't be a stalker. Viral ego bait takes some dedication to build.
A few years ago, video was the fascinating cutting edge of content creation. Online marketers and SEO experts have saturated the market with advice on using video to promote products and services. Videos of kittens, babies, and people falling down go viral all the time: How can your niche business tap into the sharing craze? To go viral, don't rehash the beginner stuff in your niche—that's been done to death.
Viral videos are entertaining, insightful, funny, and fresh. They address the viewer personally and inject personality into what the content. Write down scripts before turning on the camera, check sound carefully, rehearse in front of a live audience, be sincere, drop names, and take time to professionally edit videos. Use all the content sharing strategies available, and get together with others to make and promote your videos through virtual conferences and top-notch video sharing sites. You might not get a million hits like the dog that barks the national anthem, but you can go viral with your audience.
Is This Every Type of Viral Content?
These 11 types of viral content are the biggest and best-known, but this isn't an all-inclusive list of content that can go viral. Pay attention to how your competitors use sharing to increase exposure to their ideas and products. Listen to readers and website visitors, and leverage networks they already use to share content. Create long-term plans to make marketing cohesive and sensible and your posts and videos are more likely to go viral.
It's possible for small or new bloggers to create sensations, but approach content creation with patience and persistence to build a big name for yourself. If you happen to go viral, enjoy the ride!