How To Make Your Content Marketing Go Viral [Research]

3 Secrets to Creating Remarkable Content Every Time

3 secrets to go viral When it comes to content marketing, the advice experts often give is to create remarkable content. Why? Because it attracts readers, shares and, of course, sales. More importantly, remarkable content tends to go viral.

3 Factors to increase content virality


To help you make your content marketing go viral, let’s examine the research by Wharton professors Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman entitled, What Makes Online Content Viral?  from The Journal of Marketing Research. Their analysis provides three important insights that can help you craft viral content.

Berger and Milkman’s analysis found that the emotional nature of content shapes its social transmission.

  1. Deliver positive, upbeat information. No one likes a downer. People want positive information. The more positive content is, the more likely that it will become viral. Negative content tended not to become viral.
  2. Show some emotion. If you want viral content, skip having a stiff upper lip. The more emotional or extreme the content, the more viral it has a chance to be. In Berger and Milkman’s words, content that evokes high-arousal emotions (i.e., awe, anger, and anxiety), regardless of their valence is more viral. It’s characterized by activation or arousal. Specifically, awe-inspiring (positive emotion) content is more viral while sadness-inducing (negative emotion) content is less viral.
  3. Offer useful or surprising information. Make your content practical, useful, interesting, and/or surprising to increase its virality.

3 secrets to remarkable content

Understanding what makes content go viral helps you create remarkable content that attracts readers, sharers and buyers. Derek Halpern of Social Triggers shared his three secrets to create amazing content that produces measurable results every time, at Affiliate Summit East, a great place to learn how to create optimized content. (Note: These titles are Halpern’s, not mine.)

  1. Create ego bait. As a special spin on linkbait, this type of content attracts both traffic and builds lasting relationships. At its core, this content compliments others for something great they did. It works because you’re giving to others and they reciprocate in the form of shares and links. Halpern’s example: 19 Women Who Will Teach You How to Kick Ass Online by Corbett Barr. This article lists nineteen online superstars with photos and links. (Did anyone say vanity?)  Remarkable content -ego bait
  2. Create a constructive controversy.  Using controversial topics that aren’t too controversial yields the best result, based on research by Zoey Chen and Jonah Berger. The secret behind establishing credibility (and getting traffic) is to keep your goal in mind. You want to build a discussion, not stop the conversation, which is what happens when a topic’s too hot to handle. Halpern gave as an example his own post, The “Content is King Myth” Debunked, which is based on controversial research showing that 94% of people who distrust a site do so in 3 seconds based on the layout! It attracted designers and content creators. (Think celebrity gossip.) 
  3. Take advantage of the drafting technique. This title comes from racing cars where everyone follows the leader to get less friction. With regard to content, find a hot topic people are already talking about, come up with a different perspective that gets people talking and write that article.  Halpern advises to go one step further and email the piece to the reporters and bloggers who cover the topic to extend your reach. Halpern’s example: Kickstarter Failures Revealed and The Untold Story Behind Kickstarter Stats by Jeanne Pi. Pi took a contrarian view on Kickstarter successes with a homemade infographic. The article performed well but a Wharton professor showed that her research was wrong. Pi turned this into another opportunity to create remarkable content. 

Of course as with any marketing strategy, make sure you track your content marketing results back to your business goals.

To ensure that your content consistently performs, use one of these three forms of remarkable content, ego bait, constructive controversy and the drafting technique. Then incorporate the three elements that help content to go viral.

Have you had success with viral content? If so, what did you learn?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


Here are some related articles you may find of interest.

Photo sources:

  • Girls’ secret: http://www.flickr.com/photos/18472724@N00/1088994511/
  • Derek Halpern: http://socialtriggers.com/
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  • RizzoMB

    This of course is the most requested outcome. Much easier said then done. 

  • malharbarai

    Thanks Heidi!! Liked the ‘Ego bait’ part, might try that as well soon.

  • http://my168project.com/ Matches Malone

    Not sure that I’ve had any content go viral, however, as a ministry that is financed 100% by donations, I’d sure like it to happen someday soon.