Going viral online is like being struck by digital lightning, in more ways than one. It’s a rare event that might only happen once in a lifetime. It has a lasting impact; a single viral post can leave you with a year or more worth of growth in a matter of days.
Like lightning, however, it doesn’t happen randomly. If you wanted to be struck by lightning, you’d have to go out in a field during a thunderstorm and carry a long metal pole. Similarly, if you want a blog post to go viral, you can take a few steps to make it a little more likely.
Say it out loud; there is no guaranteed way to make a post go viral. You cannot, in any way, force a post to reach viral status. In fact, trying to force it is more than likely going to come back and haunt you when it’s discovered. Then you may actually go viral, due to the negative press.
The chances of going viral are slim, so you need to play the numbers. Post frequently. More frequently than you think you should. You may notice some of the most viral pieces of content on the Internet come from large sites that post 5-10 pieces per day. That’s no coincidence.
Think back to the storm in a field analogy. Your long metal pole is your content, to attract the viral lightning. If you really want to make sure your site goes viral, you’re going to want to plant as many long metal poles as possible. For that matter, carpet the field with them; if lightning strikes at all, it’d have to strike you.
The wider your presence online, the more people are exposed to your content. This is important, because it’s the people at large that determine whether your content goes viral or not. Really, all “viral” means is an influx of traffic above and beyond what you usually receive. To maximize that traffic, share your posts everywhere.
At the absolute minimum, you should share your posts on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Each of the three have wide audiences and benefits to search engines of their own. Beyond them, you should establish a position on any other social media site that may have an interest in your content. The big names are all obvious.
For added exposure, add your site to StumbleUpon, post it on web forums related to your industry and share it on Reddit. You’re going to need to make sure you follow the community rules against advertising and spam on any site you join to promote yourself, so watch out for those roadblocks.
Going back to the field analogy, this step is like the storm itself. Sharing on different sites makes the storm larger; more views and shares are more lightning strikes, increasing the chances of one finally hitting you.
One thing that will always prevent your post from going viral is if someone else has already done it, and done it better. Unfortunately, the Internet is stuffed to the gills with valuable content on virtually every subject. Even this post is far from unique.
What you need to do is do the best you can to be the first to do or say something interesting or unique. It’s difficult and can take a long time to find an open question with no answer, but it can be done. Consider it a back-burner project; always be on the lookout for topics that haven’t been covered, and pounce on them when you find them.
Meanwhile, do everything you can to make sure your posts are as good as, or better than, everything else currently out there. Is your niche dominated by top 10 lists? Write a top 20 list. Do people love writing posts without statistics? Cite sources and blow them out of the water.
Back to the analogy again, your originality is the length of your long metal pole. The more original your content is, the higher your pole reaches above the others trying to attract lightning.
Typical advice for content is to make it deep enough to be valuable without going too deep and losing casual readers. It’s also suggested to make your content between 400 and 2,000 words long. Too short and you don’t have space for value. Too long and you start to turn readers away.
Well, one way you can build a swell of viral intentions is to break those rules. Dig deep and go as long as you need. In the above suggestion, you could write a top 20 list to outdo local top 10 lists. With this suggestion, why not bump it up to a top 100 list? Users will click just to see how you managed to find 100 items in any list.
If you have the depth to back it up, you can break the length rule. Case studies are a good instance of this, though it’s rare that a case study truly goes viral. They can help support your site while other content has a better chance of being struck by lightning, however.
Every blog has an audience unique to that blog. Some people will, certainly, be followers of multiple blogs. Many more will be followers of just a few blogs or only the one. In any case, there are literally billions of people who don’t read your blog. Tap into some of those billions by interacting with an interviewing the thought leaders in your industry. You gain their interaction and expertise, and their users come to your site to check out what the collaboration created.
In your field, these juggernauts have longer, taller poles than you. Working with them is touching your pole to theirs, so if they’re struck, it affects you too.
Current events are the best way to find new topics on the forefront of developments. If you’re paying attention, you can be the first to comment on developments in your industry. This gives you a head start toward viral lightning; users will share your posts just by virtue of yours being the only readily available resource. From there, you just need to build on that foundation by adding value to keep ahead of the pack.
Buzzfeed, Cracked, Gawker; many of these sites are powered by either nostalgia, culture or both. They have their finger on the pulse of the Internet and they know what parts of society and the past make that pulse pick up. If you don’t have the resources to keep an eye on the future, turn an eye to the past. Demographic information for your audience helps here; you can spot how old they are and what they may have been invested in as children, then take that and tie it into your current posts.
What does viral mean to you? If you only receive 500 views on a post on average, a sudden influx of 5,000 is a significant viral outburst. For a big site like Gawker, 5,000 views is little more than daily fluctuations due to the weather.
Define what viral means to you and make sure you have the means to support it. Can you site hosting and bandwidth even handle an influx of thousands of viewers in a day? All too many sites are taken by surprise and taken down when lightning strikes. Make sure you’re ready, and accept what you get.