Viral content is inseparable from social context. Without certain social triggers, media has no chance of gaining momentum, because without interaction, content falls flat.
While there are certain buttons you can push to guarantee a certain response from your audience, the path to creating viral content is a dubious one; there is no certain way forward.
Sometimes a piece of content takes off, and the only reason this can be put down to is social context. Sometimes it is just right place, right time.
Let’s take a look at what has been taken off in the digital world recently and why. Hopefully it will help reveal the secrets of viral media and inspire you to consider integrating viral content into your ongoing social media digital strategy campaigns.
Social triggers are they key to content spreading. Without something to spark action and subsequent reaction, viral content is not possible. Let’s take a look at some of this week’s most shared content and try and find out why.
King Tutankhamen’s Space Dagger
Science and technology news publication I Fucking Love Science are viral content kings. Despite publishing in a relatively niche market (science), they consistently create material that resonates with a wide audience.
Their content is scientific in nature, distilled for an everyday audience. And it’s this winning combination that has won them just shy of 25 million followers on Facebook alone.
In light of these staggering figures, its no surprise that their content is received at the tremendous rate that it is. The publication is just a few years young, and its readership reflects a neck-breaking rise in such a short amount of time.
Why is this?
Let’s take a look at their piece King Tutankhamun’s Dagger Was Literally Out Of This World as a prime example.
This particular topic was shared around the world by innumerable sources, from music blogs, to broadsheet newspapers and buzz news publications, each who took the story and spun it in a way that would resonate with each of their audiences.
However, IFL Science‘s piece towered above the rest in terms of virality, with over 45K shares according to Buzzsumo.
IFL Science have found the perfect middle ground between academia and entertainment, and their content reflects this, with astounding results. Their subject matter is scientific, but they pick, choose and deliver this material in a way that resonates with a wide audience.
Their piece on King Tutankhamun’s meteorite dagger is conversational, but also reflects its place in the realm of academia.
It references a scientific journal, quoting academic sources in its content, thus giving it a certain credibility as trustworthy scientific resource. It takes this a step further by throwing in terms likes X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and quotes from researchers.
Despite its academic backbone, the piece is light and engaging. Easy to digest and highly sharable.
Readers don’t like sharing content that may reflect poorly on their intelligence, and the academic tone of the article works wonders in this respect. But dull, tedious content is just not going to resonate with a wide audience either.
IFL Science strike the perfect balance between these two counterpoints creating something that is entertaining and enlightening, and that people would be proud to share as it contributes to their social capital. There’s a lesson the be learned in this.
The Death Muhammad Ali
The passing of boxing great Muhammed Ali resounded with an iron clang across the digital landscape this week. It’s the kind of news that is unmissable – everyone talks about it. However, as news likes this bubbles on the surface, a few key pieces of content spark a little more interest among the quagmire.
A quick survey of the most shared pieces with “Muhammad Ali” in the title on Buzzsumo yields pretty peculiar results. The most viral piece – with 50k more shares than the top news piece about Ali’s death – is merely a video on Twitter.
The clip was posted by Shaun King, a writer for the New York Daily, with the caption “A child asked Muhammad Ali what he would do when he retired. His long, beautiful answer stunned the crowd.”
It was shared 146K times on Twitter.
A child asked Muhammad Ali what he would do when he retired. His long, beautiful answer stunned the crowd.https://t.co/qAuYcJUmv1
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) June 3, 2016
The key to this particular piece of viral content is emotional fortitude – a positive emotional force in the face of adversity. Content that elicits a strong emotional response is more likely to be shared than ‘beige’ content.
Furthermore, content that evokes a positive reaction is shared more times than that which elicits a negative reaction.
Of all the content being produced around Ali’s death – news articles, videos, memes etc – those with the most viral potency were those that shone a light on Ali’s positive attributes: his tireless social activism, his conscious objection of war and his desire for peace.
King’s video epitomises this notion. It functions as a tribute to Ali, an appreciation of his gracious and intelligent nature, and as a “glimpse into his heart”.
By sharing the video on Twitter, users are in turn perpetuating positive energy that Ali’s death had created. This kind of vitality is infectious, and once it takes hold can spread like wildfire.
Any piece of content published about Muhammad Ali this week would have been guaranteed to get a slice of the pie that an event like this produces. But in many ways King’s video was the ultimate viral tribute to Muhammed Ali seen online this week.
Engaging, enlightening and inspiring, it trumped any published eulogy, any re-share of a classic Ali quote or any news article about his death by a long shot.
It was a well placed and well timed with an engaging title; and the people responded.
The Stanford Swimmer
On a much darker note, another topic spiked an unprecedented amount of discussion this week, and that’s the case of the ‘Stanford Swimmer’.
The case relates to the lenient sentencing of a young man who sexually assaulted an extremely intoxicated young woman in the US.
Sadly, this is kind of tragedy is commonplace in the modern world. But this particular instance has had a resounding impact on the digital landscape. The story was inescapable. There may be a reason for this.
There is one aspect to this particular story that makes it stand out from others you may have heard in the past; one that contributed greatly to the it’s potential to go viral: a statement from the victim.
In so many sexual assault cases, the victim is silent, unseen. It’s the perpetrator who is publicised and vilified, and rightly so. But in this case, the victim was given a voice through the outlet of a long, heart-wrenching statement about the incident and the affect it has had on her and her family.
Read the full statement here.
This kind supplementary content within the story is a social trigger like no other. It sparks conversation, it makes a resounding statement about the life-altering impact that sexual assault has on victims, about rape culture and it provided an outlet for women (and men) to express their sympathy and vehemence about the topic, simply by clicking share.
— Slate (@Slate) June 8, 2016
As highly publicised story like this is often followed by supplementary content, such as statements from family members and social commentators, which serve to perpetuate a wider discussion.
Who’s to blame for the sexual assault? Stanford swimmer points finger at “party culture and risk-taking behavior.” https://t.co/KrUhZGpWms
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) June 8, 2016
It’s this kind of content, one with a wider social function, that triggers a chain reaction and is infectious in this respect.
Viral Content Roundup
While not all of these instances of content going viral may be directly applicable to your content marketing strategy, they no doubt shed light on why some pieces of content spread like they do. And they key is often social triggers.
Just think, if you ran gym or popular sports institution, sharing a piece of content like Shaun King’s Muhammad Ali video might have worked wonders for driving traffic to your site this week.
It’s this kind of awareness that allows you to be nimble in your content marketing strategy, and in turn eat up your slice of the viral pie that so often presents itself before if vanishes into thin air.
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