Contagious Content

InsightsRead time: 6 mins

How to create viral content that benefits your business

Viral content is contagious. These are the videos you talk about around the water cooler, the songs you can’t stop singing, the trends that everybody wants to try, or even the memes you can’t help but share on social media.

Viral content makes for some fun conversation, but marketers and business owners see them as more than that. Viral content, when used correctly, can be a great way to improve online visibility, share your message, and increase sales.

So how do you create social media content that is likely to go viral? There may not be an exact formula, but there are certainly some common features and tips that we can identify to help make your content more engaging and shareable:

Connect the content to your brand

Viral content is enjoyable for various reasons — it’s funny, it’s catchy, it tells an important message. Sometimes it will even be senseless entertainment (Harlem Shake, anyone?), but when it comes to marketing, senseless just won’t cut it.

Viral content is great, but valuable content is better. That is, viral content is only useful if it actually helps the individual or business that made it.

Here’s an example. In 2009, Evian (a producer of mineral water) launched their Roller Babies advertisement. Babies performing amazing roller-skate stunts — sounds awesome, right? Over 86 million views on YouTube can’t be wrong. But here’s the catch: that ad did not improve Evian’s sales. In fact, the company soon lost market share, and their sales dropped almost 25 percent in the United States.

And the problem wasn’t that it was a bad video. People loved the video, and even shared it. But the video had nothing to do with Evian. The content could have been associated with any number of brands or products, and thus many of those millions of viewers would not recall the video as being associated with the Evian company.

So what’s the solution? Connect the content to the brand! Viral content can increase sales and brand awareness, but only if viewers can remember who made the content in the first place. Make it entertaining, but always include calls to action that connect strongly and memorably to your business.

Include images (and make sure they’re optimised)

Needless to say, viral content can be more than just videos. Think about the things you see on your Facebook wall and other social media networks: the articles that everyone seems to have read, the quizzes that everyone must try, the recipes that everyone is drooling over. And you will often notice a popular element in these virals posts — they use images.

Visually compelling images not only increase engagement, but also improve the shareability of the posts. In fact, some studies have found that posts that contain at least one image are shared by twice as many people.

And importantly, content that links elsewhere should always include a Facebook preview image. The same study found that articles with a Facebook thumbnail received three times as many likes and shares than those that had no image. Unsurprisingly, images are also important for virality on Twitter and other networks.

The key message here: add images to your content. And more specifically, add high-quality images that are on-brand, are visible on all devices, and serve a purpose.

Diversify your content types

There’s only one way to find out what type of content works best for your business, and that’s to try them out. Many styles of content have the potential to go viral, but not every post will suit every business.

Here are a few different content formats to explore:

Research what is trending on social media. Research what your competitors are doing. Share your content, and then analyse its effectiveness — is it liked? Is it shared? Has it impacted your sales? Has it affected web traffic?

Test several content formats, then test different versions of those formats. For example, your specific audience might prefer skim-friendly list-style blog posts, over an in-depth 10,000-word research article. Or vice versa.

Ultimately, you want to provide professional, surprising and enjoyable content that is backed by research and easy to share.

Leverage a trend

People like trends — obviously. That’s how they become ‘trends’ in the first place. From fashion tips to foodie tricks, society as a whole will adopt their favourite trends, spread them around, and keep them in the spotlight for days, weeks, months or years at a time before allowing them to fade back into obscurity.

Social content is the same. And for the savvy marketer, trends are an opportunity to produce timely content that gloms onto the idea and feeds off its already-popular status.

I have a good example for you. Remember Daniel? ‘Damn, Daniel’, to be accurate. This popular video was posted on Twitter in February 2016, and was quickly noticed; it currently has over 332,000 retweets and 468,000 likes on Twitter alone. It spawned many imitations and parodies, and online shoes retailed Zappos was eager to jump on the bandwagon.

A mere week after the video was posted, Zappos promoted their brand on Twitter with a simple image of their Vans, with a link to the product and a caption: “Back at it again with the white vans! #Damn Daniel.”

Simple, yes. But well-received. Zappos usually sees a handful of retweets and a few dozen likes per post. Their ‘Daniel’ tweet, however, received nearly 550 retweets, and over 1100 likes.

The moral of the story? Keep up with online trends. Content can go viral in the social space very quickly, so marketers need to remain on the ball. Tie the trend to your brand in some witty way, and post it immediately. The trend tide waits for no man.

Evoke emotion

You scroll through Facebook; you see a post; you share it. Ask yourself… why? What made you want to share that content? To quote every psychiatrist ever: how did it make you feel?

The most shared content online will have evoked some form of emotion. Joy, amusement, sadness, anger. You ‘awww’ed or ‘argh’ed or laughed out loud, and in sharing it, you hoped to bring that same response to others.

Various surveys have identified some of the most common reasons why people share content online:

Content that works is content that evokes emotion. Just as you might recommend a powerful movie or loan your favourite book, people are more likely to share the content that spurs a reaction. Again, aim for variety and humanise your brand with content that brings value to your audience.


You’re armed with knowledge, so now you can go out there and make fantastic viral content, right? Alas, maybe not. There’s no secret formula to creating viral content. In fact, many businesses owners discover that their favoured posts will flounder in the social space, whilst others will unexpectedly receive high levels of engagement.

We’ve given you some reliable tips to help you produce shareable, enjoyable posts, but don’t rely on the luck of a viral post. Instead, devise a solid content marketing plan (nucleo can help you with that), keep at it, and one day, you could create that perfect piece that spreads far and wide and takes over the world.

Categorized as Content Marketing, Digital Marketing