The Secrets of Creating Viral Content

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: How do you create viral content? The question itself gives the impression that creating viral content is as simple as plugging some information into a formula and voila you’ve gone viral. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.

See, going viral requires doing all the right things plus catching lightning in a bottle. In other words, it’s an inexact science at best, but there are certainly several things you can do to increase your chances of going viral.

Here are some tips to get you started.

1.    Identify your goals—What’s the purpose of your viral campaign? Are you looking to promote a new product your company is launching? Or are you simply trying to build inbound links for your site? Knowing what it is that you’re trying to accomplish plays a key role in determining the type and format of the content you’ll create.

2.    Do your research—Before you blindly create a piece of content for the sake of going viral, spend a little time studying what it is that makes content go hot. One easy way to do this is to visit a site like Digg or ReddIt. Take a look at the front page to see which stories and videos have been shared the most. Take a look at the headlines, the subject matter, and the tone of the content to identify common themes. Also, pay attention to those annoying email FWDs you get from co-workers and family. Those are viral too, and you need to figure out what it is that makes people pass those along.

3.    Have a network in place—
Viral marketing is like the snowball effect. It starts off small, and as it keeps rolling, it gets bigger and bigger and spreads faster and faster. To get that snowball rolling, you need to have a network in place who can help you spread your content. Social media power users and fellow bloggers make for great allies in pushing your content.

4.    Make it easy to understand and to share—
Going back to the earlier point about those email FWDs we all know and love, the reasons they go viral so easily is because the content is easy to understand and even easier to share (simply fwd it to your address book). Whether the content you’re trying to make go viral is a blog post or a flash game, make it easy for new users to instantly understand and simple for them to share with their friends (social bookmarking buttons are a good start).

5.    Focus on the headline—
One thing you’ll notice when you visit Digg or Reddit is that most of the stories that hit the front page have headlines that instantly make you want to click on them. Copyblogger has a great resource for writing powerful headlines.

6.    Host a contest—
A contest with a worthwhile prize is almost always a lock for achieving some level of viralism (okay, I made that word up). Recently, I came across a contest being co-hosted by a prominent web hosting company and a well-known tech blog giving away an iPhone every day for a month. To enter for the day, all participants had to do was send out a ReTweet about the contest. In other words, the only way they could have a chance to win the iPhone was to help further spread the message of the contest, thus making the contest go viral.

7.    Make sure you have a good hosting plan—
Speaking of web hosting, before you launch any viral campaign, you’d better be certain you have a good hosting plan in place. Should you be lucky enough to hit the front page of ReddIt or to go hot on Twitter, you’ll have thousands of visitors every hour. Check with your hosting company to make sure your server is capable of handling this surge of traffic.

Have you had any success with viral marketing? Share your stories in the replies.

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