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Going Viral: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Truth

by Susan Morgan on December 4, 2012

Going viral is one of those phrases we hear quite a bit. There are good examples like the pic of a New York cop’s kindess to a homeless man. And then the bad (but effective) Facebook post spawned by a recent Powerball jackpot of $580+ million. I saw this one myself, and to be honest, was tempted to share it. Until I came to my senses, looked a little closer. The one thing the two viral posts share — content that had the power to stop people in their tracks and get them to do things.

All of us want our web content (an article, video, photo, link, etc) to catch on… to be the thing everyone’s talking about and sharing. Such exposure can be a life changing, career-making opportunity. The problem for many businesses is that while there are all kinds of theories as to how to make your content go viral, it’s harder than it looks to actually do it.

That’s the truth, cold, hard… and ugly.

So while no one seems able to predict with any success what content might go viral and what doesn’t, there are things that all viral content appear to have in common, such as…

  • A focus on current events/trends… like the Powerball post. Google trends is a great place to start.
  • Video format as this is often shared like crazy — technology has made it easier to create and view them.
  • A photo/visual is another way to capture the ever shrinking attention span of web surfers. Images work better than text in this case.
  • Attention to keywords and tags as this is how people search for things and you want your content to come up in those results.
  • It isn’t boring, no one likes dull, repetitive or rehashed.
  • Someone “big” has to come across your content, and share it. That’s what worked for Rebecca Black.
  • A contest can be a great way to spread the word. Again, that’s what compelled about that Facebook post.
  • Humor because we all love to laugh, and we’re more apt to share something really funny.
  • Is shocking, controversial — so long as you’re okay with being disliked, perhaps even hated.

A few examples include strong political messages, news on celebs, on the spot reporting of disasters, funny home videos and NSFW (Not Safe For Work) humor. What these share is the offer of something that touches people to the core. This is what compels us all, business or personal, to share.

Going forward it’s clear that social media will keep on growing as figures from this year show that consumers continue to spend more time on social networks than on any other type of website — social media gets 20% of time on the computer, 30% of mobile time. Somehow, without us even realizing, these websites have become a necessary part of our busy lives, creating both opportunity and danger for businesses as they seek to create or offer to share viral content.

Susan Morgan on sabtwitterSusan Morgan on sabfacebook
Susan Morgan
Creative, passionate and detailed, Susan brings 25-plus years professional writing experience to a variety of projects — get-noticed direct mail pieces, full line print catalogs, eye-catching color brochures and totally original. search engine friendly company blogs, web pages and online articles.

A lifelong love of storytelling has also produced a full-length novel (Out of the Ordinary published by booklocker in 2007). Susan continues to indulge her passion for fiction with a growing number of short stories (one an award winner in 2004, another in 2008) and finalizing a second novel.

In her spare time Susan enjoys gardening, studying astrology and tarot, being with family and friends and keeping up with politics and current events.


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