During this process, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes for content to go viral. And if there’s one central takeaway, it’s this: virality isn’t an accident. There’s a method to going viral, and while it’s not exact, it can be learned, engineered, and applied. The secret?
You have to apply the science of growth hacking and analytics to the art of engaging, impactful writing.
Viral Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings
First thing’s first. There’s a harsh truth you have to accept if you want to reliably engineer viral content:
Success has nothing to do with how you feel about your writing.
I’ve written posts from the depths of my soul about some of the most difficult experiences in my life. I was sure they would resonate with my audience and achieve massive engagement. But after I hit the publish button, they bombed so hard I had to take them down. On the flip side, I’ve had posts I cranked out in five minutes without thinking turn into some of my biggest hits.
The point here is that you can’t always trust your intuition when crafting viral content. There are patterns that you can learn and apply to your writing, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you think of the piece. The only thing that matters is the data.
This is why I test my content relentlessly. On my two main social profiles, LinkedIn and Instagram (@igbenlee), I’m constantly adjusting variables and looking for patterns. I’ve learned how to use the roughly 140 character-preview of a LinkedIn story to maximize views. I’ve learned the fine balance of too many vs. not enough emojis for engagement on Instagram.
It’s not an exact science. Sometimes a post will buck the trend, and you still need to write from the heart with real emotion. But there are reliable patterns for every platform and every audience. The only way to learn them is to test every possible variable and look to the data for guidance. Sometimes, that means throwing your intuition out the window.
Recycling: Good for the Planet, Good for Your Brand
Another cardinal rule I’ve learned is that while there are platform-specific formulas, generally if something works, it works. And if you have a piece of content go viral, that’s now a proven asset that you can use again and again.
Take a look at this status:
This post ended up getting 6 million views on LinkedIn and was one of my most viral pieces, bringing in serious revenue for my business. So why not leverage it elsewhere? I knew it had gained traction on LinkedIn, so I had a hunch it would do the same on Quora – the audiences are similar enough to resonate to the same style and format.
Here’s the same story, with slight modifications to fit the medium, on Quora:
Sure enough, it hit the Quora Digest and became one of my highest-performing answers.
The lesson? Be shameless in recycling your content.
Too many creators fear that people will remember their content and call them out for reusing it.
“Oh, I mentioned that on Twitter, I can’t use it again.”
The Internet moves too fast now, and there’s simply too much content. Trust me when I say that no one remembers your stories, and if they do, they don’t care. In the content economy of 2018, you have to be smarter and more efficient. That means reusing the stuff that works.
Now, if my agency wants to do a campaign for an info product or a landing page, we lead with something that’s worked in the past. I keep a spreadsheet going with links to all of my high-performing content. If I need quick engaging copy, I can pull directly from that and make a few modifications instead of starting from scratch — and I know it’s good, because it’s worked in the past.
Find What Works and Use It
The content playing field on social networks is crowded, but there’s still plenty of opportunity. If you can define a niche that provides value to an audience, then test relentlessly to find out what works and what doesn’t, it’s possible to build a massive inbound funnel of traffic and leads — no matter what you’re trying to sell.
Just remember to test, find what works, and leverage it to the full extent possible.