How Do Social Media Posts Go Viral?

For small businesses and large corporations alike, social media virality is sort of the holy grail of internet marketing. If you can make a post go viral, your brand could end up in front of millions of potential customers.

Unfortunately, social media virality is elusive. There’s no way to guarantee how a post will be received, and it’s even harder to consistently produce content that’s recognized and shared. However, there are some commonalities between successful posts.

3 Ways Social Media Posts Go Viral

By studying some of the common elements of social media virality, you can hopefully increase your chances of developing valuable and high-returning content.

Here are a few tips you need to know:

1. Weird is the Word

When is the last you saw a “safe” post go viral? The answer is never. Boring, safe, predictable posts don’t go viral. After all, who wants to share something that’s unexciting? When trying to produce viral content, start with the weird factor.

“The weirder I am, the more viral it goes,” says Tim Sykes, a successful penny stock trader and coach who’s mastered the art of social media. One of Sykes’ most successful social media posts came in November 2014 when he asked his followers to leave a comment below a picture of his Porsche. He told them he would give the car away to the person he thought was most deserving. The post has more than 20,000 Facebook “likes” and thousands of Instagram comments.

Would that same post have gone viral if it had been a picture of a cookbook, lamp, or some other random object? Absolutely not. The success of the post was found in its incredible weirdness.

Who gives away a $100,000 car, right?

2. Go Against the Grain

Most of the content you see on social media is the same. Save the Pandas. Donald Trump is a racist. Everyone is equal. People love reiterating these same boring topics and perspectives over and over again. And because these topics get shared so much, it’s easy to believe this is the only way to create viral content.

When someone is bold enough to go against the grain, the content stands out. Everything You Know About Pandas is a Lie. 27 Reasons Why Donald Trump is Anything But a Racist. The One Situation that Proves Equality is Not Possible. Do you see how these headlines take a contrarian stance to the aforementioned oversaturated topics? It’s enough to make people click and share.

3. Target Specific Emotions

Why do people share social media posts? In almost every situation, it’s the direct result of emotional stimulation. When people feel something inside as a result of reading a post, watching a video, or viewing an image, they’re much more likely to share it. According to psychologist Robert Plutchik, there are eight primary emotions that guide human behavior. They are joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust.

Here’s a little experiment. Scroll through your Facebook newsfeed right now and look at the posts that have been shared the most. Try to pinpoint which primary emotion each post is tapping into. If you understand which emotion a particular post is most likely to incite, you can better predict how it’ll be received on social media.

The Heart of Viral Posts

Anyone who says they can produce a viral social media post instantaneously is lying. There are hundreds of independent variables in play, and most of the time viral posts gain popularity out of sheer luck. However, by understanding some of the common elements of viral posts, you can increase your chances of creating superior content.

Larry Alton (@LarryAlton3) is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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