Have you heard about that viral video that everyone is talking about? You know the one, it's the YouTube video featuring cats doing the Harlem Shake while making trick shots from the bleachers?
I'm kidding, of course, but you can't deny the financial impact that going viral has on our pop culture obsessed society. Take South Korean pop singer Psy, for example - in 2014, his song "Gangnam Style" became the first YouTube video to hit two billion views, which, in turn, earned the artist a cool $12.5 million in commercial deals and digital sales.
Obviously, content marketers are obsessed with creating the next viral hit - but do these sensations happen by chance, or is it something that can be carefully engineered? The answer may surprise you.
Engaging Emotionally - The Secret Factor to Viral Content
It may seem arbitrary but all viral content actually has one thing in common - the ability to tap into an emotional response. The more intense the emotional response, the greater traffic the content will generate.
This phenomenon was recently the subject of a study conducted at the Wharton School of Business. In it, researchers discovered that social sharing was more likely prompted by positive content, but more importantly, they learned that materials that generated high complex forms of psychological arousal (anger, awe or anxiety) were shared significantly more than others with a lesser emotional state (i.e. sadness).
So beyond the cuddly kittens and acts of kindness, viral content has to engage consumers on an emotional level in order to encourage them to pass it on to others. This connection can be established best through using words and images that best bring about these feelings.
Once you have the right emotional tone for your message, you next have to make sure that the material is entertaining for consumers. Although this can mean different things to different audiences, there are some universal themes that make content enjoyable - according to a recent article in Forbes, the most entertaining viral content is generally:
- Short in length
- universal appealing
Although it is possible for content to go viral without all of these five elements, the likelihood of success increases when more than one is present.
Even if you created the most incredible content, it'd be difficult to gain an audience without the right headline - identifying the words that work can make all the difference in driving customers to your site.
Researchers at Ripenn recently did an extensive study of over 2,616 viral headlines in order to determine what made them successful. What they found was that the most effective ones had some of these traits:
- Using popular celebrities and culturally significant themes to establish common ground
- Relying heavily on building curiosity to drawing people in.
- Using a call-to-action
- Making bold statement
- Using language that is relatable to the average reader
Example of Viral Content that Works: Old Spice
Old Spice is a sterling example of how an old product can find new life through viral content. The grooming products, which recently celebrated their 80th anniversary, were suffering from declining sales as recently as 2010. That's when parent company Proctor & Gamble decided to change the brand's stale image.
Through focus groups, they realized that Old Spice was mostly rejected by millennials as a fragrance more suitable for their grandfathers. To counter this, they cleverly began the "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" campaign featuring Isiah Mustafa.
The unusual ads, which often featured quirky imagery such as a Mustafa dressed as a Minotaur, were featured online as well as male-oriented networks such as Spike TV and Adult Swim. They also tapped Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, who had gain fame through their own absurdist Adult Swim show, to direct some of the spots.
Although Old Spice's more traditional customers were confused by the content, it quickly resonated with males in the highly-coveted 18-34 age group.
Content that goes viral always engages on an emotional level. The material must be entertaining, relatable and informative in order to be sharable.