What is the key to creating viral-worthy content?

Yon Heong Tung
Eli Schwartz

At Echelon Asia Summit 2016, Eli Schwartz, Director of Marketing at APAC, SurveyMonkey, breaks down the steps of crafting viral content


Creating viral content is one of the most inexpensive yet effective ways to promote one’s branding. One great example is the American lady who posted a hilarious video of her reaction to wearing a Chewbecca mask. Sales of the said mask skyrocketed, selling out at many online retailers –all with zero marketing expenditure.

Many companies eager to jump on this vogue marketing bandwagon, however, fail to grasp the mechanism and nature of viral content, just because a video of a kitten garnered a million views on YouTube does not necessarily mean you can easily replicate its success by sticking another cat in front of a camera.

There may not be a specific formula to concoct viral-potent content, but there are some underpinning basic principles that you can apply to guide the creation of your content.

Also Read: Times Internet acquires viral content curator app Viral Shots

Last week, at the Echelon Asia Summit 2016, Eli Schwartz, Director of Marketing at APAC of cloud-based online questionnaire tool SurveyMonkey gave an animated presentation to a packed audience on steps to make a piece of content go viral.

Being emotive

No one is going to share your video or article if they do not give two hoots about the content. Essentially, everything and anything can go viral — just as long as you have emotion.

“People need to feel something, there needs to be controversy; I feel very angry about something, so I want to tell everyone how angry I am; or I feel very happy about something, so I need to share with everyone how happy this makes me feel,” said Schwartz.

The content also needs to be digestable, newsworthy, and/or practical and useful.

“If we are not connected with something emotionally, we are not going to share it,” Schwartz added.

Example of viral triggers include:

  1. Ego – sharing to make yourself look good
  2. Topical – discussion on relevant/latest topics
  3. Delight – making others cheer up
  4. Actionable – practical tips that can be applied in real life (e.g steps to losing weight)
  5. Insights – confirming a flattering attribute of yourself
  6. Attributes – tie in with who people are (e.g. students, patriotism)
  7. Tribes – make them a part of something (e.g. pissed off consumers)
  8. Competition – e.g. challenging to beat your high score
  9. Collaborative – bringing a feeling of togetherness (e.g. together we can expose corruption, together we can change the world)

Schwartz shared a few cases of good viral content. One of them was the ice bucket challenge: Participants were required to send out challenges to two other people once they have completed their challenge, and the two appointed people were, likewise, expected to do the same.

Another interesting example Schwartz cited was the very recent Gorilla enclosure incident in Ohio. He noted a similar incident had happened just a year before at the exact same location, but failed to grab the headlines.

The reason being was the incident this year had fear, identification, and controversy (the gorilla was shot dead; debates raged over whether the mother of the child who fell in was negligent).

Also Read: Buzzfeed’s Scott Lamb reveals 4 ways in which you can generate virality!

Where to get ideas

“We need to have content. When you are digging for ideas, you must ask yourselves: What will I bring out, what is an idea that can make things get emotional?” said Schwartz.

Using surveys, you can easily generate content that connect with people. First, you build up the participants’ personas by asking generic questions such as their age and sex, where they live and relationship status.

Then, you get to the pointed questions such as – “What was the last lie you told?”, “Have you ever been unfaithful?”

Schwartz said that 80 per cent of people queried will answer the questions.

“You just have to customise them [the questions], and from there, you get a lot of interesting ideas and emotional content that people can relate and connect to.”

Schwartz also suggested pre-writing your headlines to get craft a more attractive angle on your piece.

“When you are creating surveys, you have taken your own unique spin on content and made something worth sharing.”

Media portals such as Buzzfeed are pros at repackaging content to go viral: through the creation of the lists and surveys generated by user input or other external sources.

It is vital to craft questions that interesting, unique (and maybe quirky) and three-dimensional, so that the answers will capture readers’ attention. Schwartz cited a survey he made for the Restroom Association of Singapore. In it, he managed to gather that males were twice as likely to feel comfortable with eating in toilets than females.

His findings garnered so much attention that it was published in Mashable, and the Straits Times.

Another good example is a survey on gifts. Instead of asking participants what gifts they would love to receive, you look at it from a different perspective and ask what gifts they would prefer not to get or how look it takes for them to re-gift an item.

Also Read: 4 marketing masters you definitely need to learn from!

Conclusion

Besides asking the right emotional questions, one must never forget some basic design considerations. The URL has to be short, headline needs to contain the most controversial facts and figures, use images above the fold, and time the publication of the content right (no one will watch/read it at 4 am).

To get a further boost in virality, you can also rely on influencers or paid social tools.

Ultimately, you can never be 100 per cent sure your content will spread like wildfire, but if you follow the steps above and always keep in mind its emotional potency, you are in good stead.

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