12 Techniques We Use to Architect Virality into Content

on August 18, 2014

Ah, I got you with the headline, but let me warn you before you take a deep dive, this article will not teach you how to create a “viral” video, or create any kind of “viral” content.

virality_01In fact, you should be wary of anyone who asks you to create a “viral video” or any other type of “viral” content. The request is non-instructive. Sure, everyone wants their content to “go viral” because it’s the equivalent of not paying for distribution. But there’s a deeper lack of creativity happening when someone makes an “I want a viral video” request. They’re simply saying, “I’m a cheap person that won’t pay for advertising, so my advice is to go make ‘Star Wars.’”

Please do me a favor and fire any non-creative clod that offers the “oh so unique” suggestion of making a “viral video.”

While “viral videos” do exist, their prescription is only possible if your company is willing to completely divorce itself from its business model. Cat videos, pornography, and teenagers hurting themselves probably aren’t part of your video marketing plan.

Instead, this article will focus on the mechanisms of adding viral hooks into the production and promotion of your content. What follows are many of the techniques we’ve used at Spark Media Solutions to architect virality into content we produce for ourselves and our clients.

1: Multiple content units from a single effort

virality_02Far too often we have clients that just want to produce one video. I always warn them that it’s risky and costly to just produce one single piece of content. For example, if you’re going to extend the effort to send a crew to a location to produce a single video, why not look for other content opportunities (e.g., more videos, photos, articles, podcasts, etc.)? By producing more content at a single trip, you’ll reduce your cost per content unit, and you’ll have more opportunities to reach your audience.

2: Slice up the content

virality_03When producing the content, think about how you could slice it up in different digestible pieces. For example, if it’s a long article, can you pull excerpts out for tweets, or posts on a blog, Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn? If it’s a video, could you pull short excerpts and post them on Instagram? With each slice you create, make sure there’s a link back to the main piece of content. Each unit can then have its own promotional push, supporting the main content effort.

3: Put lots of people in the content

virality_04Most people like to promote themselves online. Why not ride that wave? Simply put a lot of people in your content, make the content something participants are proud to be a part of, and then they’ll promote their appearance in your content, thus promoting your content.

Including a lot of input in your articles, videos, photos, and podcasts is not as simple as it sounds. It requires the skills of coordination, negotiating, and relationship building to finally craft the piece of content you want. Also, be forewarned that not everyone will supply the same quality resource. You may need to elevate participants’ responses to deliver at the level you need.

Here’s an article we recently produced for CIO.com for their client Dimension Data. We reached out to hundreds of experts and culled down their responses to quotes from more than 40 high tech experts. They went out of their way to promote themselves and thus the article, which has driven close to 500 shares.

4: Get PR people involved

virality_05While it’s a good idea to put a lot of people in your content, we’ve discovered sourcing experts yourself can be incredibly difficult. That’s why it’s a good idea to work with PR pros to get you the resources you need. A key job responsibility for PR pros is to source ideal candidates for your content. Plus, when it comes time to push your content, the PR pros will go out of their way to promote it, since promoting their clients is one of their core job responsibilities.

5: Put big names and big brands in your content

virality_06The celebrity factor can definitely draw attention to your content. This is something we learned early on when we were producing podcasts for Sprint. The superstar doesn’t have to be a literal movie star, just someone or a company that has respect and industry influence.

6: Time content around trending events or news

A simple tactic to gain attention for your content is to hook it into a current event or trending issue. The technique works because the audience has already shown a predisposed interest in the topic. All you’re doing is attaching your story to the news item or trending story. David Meerman Scott refers to this technique as “newsjacking.”

virality_07It works when there’s a clear connection between your story and the news story/trend. It fails and can sometimes backfire if there is no connection and it’s obvious you’re just trying to game the public’s interest.

Here’s a completely inappropriate example. It’s an email I recently received from a PR flack trying to tie Robin Williams’ death with his client’s knowledge about online security.

“Robin Williams’ tragic death leaves consumers at high risk of identity theft. The 1.2 billion people already endangered from the massive Russian hacking just got more vulnerable as identity thieves lure curious citizens with links promising details about Robin Williams.”

7: Create meme photos

Given the unbelievable amount of content coming through our social media feeds, we’re forced to scan content, often drawn first and foremost to photos and headlines.

HairlessCats-350Meme photos combine these two highly scannable items, photos and headlines, to create a highly attractive and shareable social piece of content. One technique we’ve used at Spark Media Solutions is to slice up our videos into meme photos so as to create extra units of content, more social content, and to promote our videos. Plus, we’ve turned these meme photos into Slideshare presentations which do extraordinarily well in search, and in some cases do better than the videos themselves.

8: Let people know they’re in the content you’re publishing

If you only take one piece of advice from this article, take this one. It’s sadly the one thing most people, especially journalists, do not do.

When you publish your video, article, photos, podcast, or whatever, let people who made it in know that they’re actually in it. You would think this is a standard course of action, but sadly this is far from standard. Most do not do it, and this is a huge mistake. Not just because your participants will inevitably promote content that they’re in, but it’s also a key move to deepen a relationship with an influencer. If you don’t follow up, you not only lost an opportunity for promotion and relationship building, but you may have done damage to the relationship and that source may not be so friendly the next time you reach out.

9: Let people who didn’t make your content know that it’s published

Similar to the last piece of advice, you want to maintain relationships with all your sources, especially when you don’t quote them. Because you’ll need them for the next article or video and you want them to be available the next time you reach out. If you’re sincere about your follow up, apologize for not using them, they’ll recognize that someone has to be cut eventually and they’ll give you a break. They’ll also probably promote your content as well because they were initially interested in the topic to participate.

10: Pre-write shareable items

The sad reality is a lot of people will not consume your content, but will be happy to share it. Sharing without consumption is a highly prevalent phenomenon. We’re all guilty of it. And even though I don’t condone the behavior, I enable it by pre-writing shareable items. When I follow up with contacts to let them know they made it in the content, or didn’t, I write out a tweet with a shortened link, my Twitter handle, and any necessary hashtags. Plus, I write out a two-line description and the link to share on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.

11: Publish across multiple social networks

“I tweeted it out.”

Really, that’s all you did? Couldn’t you do something more?

Of course you can. You have multiple social media accounts. Use them all.

12: Let your staff know about the content

It’s one of the easiest things you can do, yet most people don’t. It’s an obvious formula for success:

  1. You have staff members with social media accounts.
  2. They’re predisposed to want the company to do well.
  3. Therefore they want to promote the company.
  4. Simply let your staff know that some company content has been created and provide all the necessary shareable links.

CONCLUSION: Increase your chances for success

There are no guarantees for virality, but by making these moves you can increase your chances for successful viral content. We’ve been doing this so much with our content that we’ve been able to gain repeatable success, especially with our articles, videos, and meme photos.


Creative Commons photo attribution to Dugg Simpson, Will Scullin, Roland Brunner, Shanta Rohse, Richard Masoner, www.tomleighton.co.uk, Patrick Mayon, and See-ming Lee.

Previous post:

Next post: