Elements of Viral Content. And 5 Tips To Create Content That People Will Share

Viral content is like cold. It catches easily and spreads faster. 

How Do Viral Stories Look Like?

Check 21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity which till date has received 15 million+ views. According to Jack Shepherd, the editorial director at BuzzFeed, who wrote this piece 

When people share something like that, they’re not just sharing the story, they’re sharing the strong, positive emotional experience they had. You can’t really fake that.

What’s Viral Content? 

that piece of content which users willingly share with their friends, family, and colleagues. It can be an informative article, a hillarious video, an inspirational story – basically any form of media that stirs up people’s emotions which in turn drives the users to pass on the message to others. 

Before we focus on the how-to’s of creating viral marketing strategies let’s try to find the answer to an important question – 

Why Do People Share?

Sharing is a form of interpersonal communication. Schutz in FIRO (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation) theory postulated that  people engage in interpersonal communication because they are motivated to express one or more of three interpersonal needs: inclusion (need to be part of a group/need for attention), affection (show appreciation and concern for others), and control (need to exert power in one’s social environment). Let’s dig deeper into these 3 interpersonal relations –  


The need to belong is basic human trait. According to the “belongingness hypothesis” Baumeister and Leary, humans have a basic psychological need to belong to a group and feel closely connected to others.  They feel scared of rejection and seek attention. The social campaign by the village of Obermutten in the Graubünden area of Switzerland inspires belongingness.  The town of 79 people got itself a considerable amount of fan following – thanks to the campaign which involved taking a print out of the profile picture of every Facebook fan and posting it on the town’s bulletin board. The page now has 43K+ fans!   

 In a study by The New York Times on why we share online 69% respondents said they share information online because it makes feel more involved with the world.  


We all want opportunities to show affection and receive affection. We want to form emotionally close relationships with people – it can be verbal as well as non- verbal. Remember the British Airways’ Go Further to Get Closer Ad?  


It concerns leadership, taking responsibility, and influence. Some people like to be in control, giving orders to others, having an influence over other people. In the same study by New York Times 49% of respondents said that sharing lets them inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage action. The Times of India’s Lead India video is one of the finest examples of encouraging the citizens of the country to act rather than just sitting back and complaining.  


Elements of Viral Content

Intense emotional reaction is at the heart of every viral content. According to the researchers at the University of Pennsylvania who studied the most emailed articles of the New York Times, emotional stories are likely to be shared more and people prefer sharing positive articles than negative ones.  Here’s an overview of emotions that turn a piece of content into online sensation –  

 According to Robert Plutchik’s psychoevolutionary theory of emotion, we’re capable of 8 emotions: rage, fear, grief, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and happiness. You can read here about some of the Indian brands that’re doing emotional branding the right way.  The Unruly ShareRank Score Card shows some of the key psychological responses and social motivations that affect the shareability quotient of a content piece.  

How to Make Viral Content Strategies? 

1)  Who’s the target? 

Think what kind of content would connect with your target audience. Find an issue that’s close to their hearts and is related to your product/service directly or even tangentially. Rock the Vote campaign to encourage young voters to cast their votes in the 2004 presidential and state elections is an example of a highly targeted campaign. According to political scientists Donald Green and Lynn Vavreck, the young voters targeted had 2.7 percent higher turnout.   

In a study by Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, it was found that 44% of respondents indicated they would pass on a campaign that was well targeted. 

2) What Kind of Campaign Will Strike a Chord With Your Audience? 

Whether it’s a joy-based campaign or a trust-based one? Think about the age and gender of your target audience. According to the research by Fractl  

 By gender, men reported statistically more feelings associated with joy – according to the same research.  

3) Headlines Are not Just Words. They’re Words That Open the Virality Door

 Headlines that strike an emotional connect with people do better than those which don’t.  For example, an article with the headline“BABY POLAR BEAR’S FEEDER DIES” did better than “TEAMS PREPARE FOR THE COURTSHIP OF LEBRON JAMES.” But happy emotions (“WIDE-EYED NEW ARRIVALS FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE CITY”) outperformed sad ones (“WEB RUMORS TIED TO KOREAN ACTRESS’S SUICIDE”).  Here’re the top viral words according to a research that analysed viral headlines.  

4) Understand Your Channel 

 What social media channels will you be focussing on – Facebook, Twitter, Slideshare, YouTube, blog or any other channel? Once you’ve zeroed in on the channel then decide whether the content is suited to the channel? Content that’s become viral on Facebook may not be a sensation on Linkedin. Reasons can be many – one of them being the intent. The intent of a user logging into Facebook isn’t similar to the intent when he logs into Linkedin. Also, analyse the channel where your audience is. Where’s your audience hanging out, which channels do they visit, what kind of content they share on these channels ( can you relate them to your product/service),  If your viral content marketing strategy is focussed towards Facebook then here’re 7 functions of contagious Facebook posts, according to the survey by Marketo & Brian Carter.  

5)  Content Geared Towards? 

 What’ll be your content like? Which format will resonate the most with your audience. Will it be oriented towards the product? Or will it focus on the people using it? Will it be a joy-based campaign? Or will it play with the anxiety of the users? Will it address the reader directly with suggestions or commands? Are you planning to bring in a celebrity? 

Note: Higher the levels of emotional connect better is the viral coefficient of your content. 

At this point you need to find an answer to the perennial question – how much branding is too much?  According to Harvard Research  Prominent Branding Puts Off ViewersWhen people watch ads, they focus on a few things, such as the actors’ mouths and eyes. They also focus on logos. This isn’t the boon it might seem: The more prominent or intrusive the logo, the more likely viewers are to stop watching—even if they know and like the brand. Why? People seem to have an unconscious aversion to being persuaded, so when they see a logo, they resist.

Does it mean viral content and branding can’t exist together? No. Weave the brand image subtly throughout the content.  Example : Shakira & Activa’s World Cup Video.  https://www.youtube.com/embed/7-7knsP2n5w 

Before I hit the publish button I want to share 2 images from the Buzz Feed article that made me smile in the way Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret does. Always! 

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