The science behind viral content

Make WowEvery marketer’s dream is for their content masterpiece to go viral. They shout from the rooftops as loudly as they can, “Pick me! Pick me! Oh, Pleeeeze, won’t you please Pick meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” More than likely, said masterpiece suffers a quick, unremarkable death after a couple Tweets. Lost in the scrap heap of forgotten content. You just can predict exactly what’s going to go viral. No matter how hard you try.



Or can you?



Dan Zarrella thinks you can. In fact, in his latest book, Zarella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness, he outlines a scientifically repeatable process for creating and delivering content that has more than a fighting chance of sticking. While debunking a few myths along the way.

Social media is still a wild frontier that most companies don’t yet get. Yet like anything on the web, just about every interaction is measurable. Dan’s done a great job over the last few years analyzing and reporting on the science behind social media.

He developed a model for decision making before an idea is spread:
1. The person must be exposed to your content (i.e. be a follower or fan of you and your brand)
2. The person must be made aware of your specific content
3. They must be motivated to act in order to want to share it.

You can increase your odds of the above happening by increasing your reach, creating relevant, provocative content, and finally, including a valuable call to action. I recommend you grab his book to see how he dissects each of these areas. Just like in traditional advertising, the size of your audience matters.

What’s interesting, though are some of the myths he shreds in the book. Like it’s okay to call yourself a guru, expert, authority, etc. In fact if you do, you’ll have an average of 100 more followers on Twitter. This has been one of my hot buttons as I’ve often said that if you have to call yourself a guru, then most likely you aren’t. It’s the principle of show don’t tell. I always think it’s better if others figure that out for themselves. And he does clarify that just adding the word doesn’t make this happen – but having the confidence to do so (meaning you can back up your claim) – makes a difference.

Talking smack doesn’t work. In fact it pushes people away. People hanging out in social media want to be uplifted, helped. Not depressed. Plenty of other places to get the bad news.

Nor does talking incessantly about yourself. Quite boring. Instead, have a point of view and share it. That’s what people want.

If you get nothing else out of this book, what people want is interesting content to share with their followers. It makes them look good and enhances their reputation. No one wants to share what’s freely available. They want the scoop. They want to be perceived as breaking the news rather than rehashing it.

The more personal your content, the better. And think a lot about when you send your content. Turns out weekends are a great time to do so. Why? Less Clutter. And people have more time to snack on it.

“Messages sent over weekends had click-though rates twice as high as messages sent during the week. And the messages sent on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday had the highest unsubscribe rates.” – Dan said.

Don’t be stupid with your writing but don’t be pompous either. His research shows that the best content is simply written. Makes sense when you consider how little time you have to capture attention. If a reader doesn’t grasp your message quickly, they’ll move on to the next competing for their attention. Make your point and make it clearly. Don’t make someone work too hard to decipher it. There’s a difference between communicating simply and talking down to your audience. Treat them with the respect they deserve and give them credit. They’re not stupid.

If you haven’t read Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, there’s no time like the present to do so. The principles of reciprocity and social proof also apply to creating viral content. We’re imitators and tend to follow the crowd. People want to know that the content they share makes them look good and that it’s something others do to.

If you want something to go viral, you have to create something that’s relevant, compelling and newsworthy. Dan’s provided a good framework that gives you a leg up on most marketers who ignore the data and science, preferring to focus on chance. Because we’re irrational right? We may be irrational but people like Dan Zarella and Robert Cialdini among others have analyzed our irrationality and uncovered the patterns in our behavior.

It’s time to get strategic in how you develop content, using the data and frameworks available to give you a better chance of success.

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