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5 Must Know Strategies To Get Content To Go Viral

Loren 03-17-15

5 Must Know Strategies To Get Content To Go Viral

[ Edited ]

The goal of every publisher and content marketer is to optimize the distribution of their content, or to use a phrase everyone is now familiar with, to “go viral”.


Upworthy has a great presentation on what makes things viral, and if there’s one takeaway it should be this graphic:



This graphic nicely breaks down the fact that for content to be distributed optimally it needs to be:




Getting content to be clickable is no more complex than optimizing a display ad  — it requires testing variations of the copy and image while taking into account the audience. This can be turned into a more sophisticated and automated process with the right resources; however, the same basic principles apply. On the technical side of things, it’s necessary to make sure that all meta tags are set up correctly for each piece of content.




Getting people to share content is not quite as clear cut. How shareable a piece of content is depends on various factors, such as the topic of content, the emotional response of the viewer, the device displaying the content, the design of the share buttons, the referral source of the visitor, and the channels provided for sharing. There are many variables, which is why many publishers need the help of a data scientist to pull out actionable insights. Not everyone has a data scientist as his or her disposal, though, so here are some tips that provide a starting point to get content to be more shareable.


1. Prioritize Sharing on Facebook



Facebook is king when it comes to content distribution. It’s the number one traffic source for most news sites according to the New York Times, and is now catching up to YouTube in terms of video views also. Facebook cannot be ignored when it comes to getting eyeballs on a piece of content. To drive it home, here’s a screenshot of the traffic breakdown of one of Buzzfeed’s top posts from March of 2014 before they removed public access to their analytics dashboard. 11 million of the 15 million views come from Facebook; in other words Facebook accounts for ~75% of the traffic.


So, if you’re going to get users to share, get them to share on Facebook.


Keep in mind that sharing on Facebook also takes several forms: Like, Comment, and Share. Even if someone likes or comments on a post, Facebook still distributes it to their friends. The degree to which it is distributed, though, depends on the type of action taken, and it is prioritized in the following manner:



Share > Comment > Like


This means that if someone shares your content it will be distributed more widely than if someone were to comment on it. It is also critical to understand that content can be shared on Facebook in two manners:



  • Share: Website → Facebook
  • Re-Share: Facebook → Facebook


Although people can share directly from a website or app to Facebook, the majority of shares happen once a piece of content has already made it onto the network and is then re-shared. To provide some context — at Pixable, only about 25 percent of all of our social actions originate directly from our site and apps. So, people prefer to share to Facebook from within Facebook, than to Facebook from a website.


This is important to understand and it leads to the next point.


2. Build An Audience



Getting content to go viral requires a place to seed it. The most common places to seed content are email, apps, and social channels. Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and Pinterest boards are all very powerful channels, but don’t forget about email either.


Since people prefer to retweet within Twitter, re-share within Facebook, and re-pin within Pinterest it’s best to take advantage of this behavior by building a following on social channels and then providing content to be re-tweeted/shared/pinned. The same goes for email — it is easier for a recipient to forward on an email than to type a friend’s email address into a share dialog.


Messaging apps are also beginning to offer publishers and brands the opportunity to acquire audiences and message them with content. Apps such as Snapchat and Kik have just begun this, while Line, a popular messaging app in Asia, has provided this for a while.


At Pixable, we’re seeing the greatest results from our Facebook pages and email; however, it really depends on the type of content being distributed. LinkedIn for example may work best for SAAS or B2B companies. To reference point #1, though, Facebook still shouldn’t be neglected — a fan page is usually necessary.


3. Understand The Value Of A Share



Not all shares are created equal. Some shared links include images, embeddable videos, and descriptive teasers, while others are just a text link. The degree of distribution also varies platform to platform.


So, even though Facebook is king for content distribution, that doesn’t mean it should be taken as a hard and fast rule. It depends on the business objective, and by doing some simple calculations you can quickly determine which types of shares offer the greatest value.


Since Pixable’s current objective is to drive unique referrals, we value shares by their referral rate. By attaching utm_source and utm_campaign parameters to the shared url we’re able to calculate how many referrals we’re getting back for every Facebook Share, Tweet, Pin, SMS, or sent email.


We then divide these referrals by the respective number of shares to get a referral rate metric for each type of share.

Here’s how the referral rates compare to each other for content shared from Pixable (y axis intentionally removed):

The number of referrals we’re getting from Facebook versus Twitter or Pinterest is an order of magnitude greater. Interestingly, the URL link drives many referrals too; however, it’s a bit of a black box, because users can share that link via any channel they choose.


Also, just because Facebook drives the greatest number of referrals per share doesn’t necessarily mean it provides the most value. The share rate (shares per viewer) needs to be taken into account too.


For example, let’s say that a Facebook share drives 10 times more referrals than Pinterest. If the share rate of Facebook is much lower than Pinterest, though, Pinterest could still end up driving more referral. See the example below:



4. Optimize Share Buttons



The design of a website or app influences the visitor’s behavior. Even though most shares happen within the platforms, it’s still possible to see significant results by optimizing share buttons. Color and copy aren’t the only thing to test; deciding where, when, and to whom buttons are shown are equally important (see point #5). Fortunately running these tests are very straightforward with tools like Optimizely now. At Pixable, we’ve run dozens of tests on our share buttons with several of them having a very significant impact.


Here are a couple to note:


Copy Test: Share vs. Share with Friends

This example demonstrates the power of copy. Our hypothesis was that including “with friends” would get the user thinking about specific friends that would enjoy seeing the content and make them more likely to share. We turned out to be right and it dramatically increased our share rate!


Design Test: Facebook Only vs. Facebook + Twitter Share

The results from this test surprised us. We thought that adding the Twitter share would increase the total number of shares but detract from the number of Facebook shares. We were wrong — by including the Twitter share we also increased the number of Facebook shares! There’s some psychology in play here, but it seems that by providing the viewer with a choice, it gets them deciding on which platform to share, instead of whether or not to share.


As with all product tests, it’s important to make sure that a positive impact in one place doesn’t have a negative impact somewhere else. So, it’s best to create a list of global metrics that are checked before and after every test.





For #5, head over to the original post on Medium at 5 Must Know Strategies To Get Content To Go Viral.


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Bonnie 03-17-15

Re: 5 Must Know Strategies To Get Content To Go Viral

Great post, Loren! I like all of these suggestions - simple and to the point. Thanks!

Customer Success Manager at Optimizely