The Science of Virality: 8 Steps to Going Viral

Gabriel Ryan

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August 11, 2023
November 21, 2022

What Does It Mean To Go Viral?

When a post, or a piece of social media marketing content, goes viral, the image, video or written content spreads rapidly throughout the internet: akin to a virus.

A viral post is highly engaging to a large number of viewers and compels them to share with their friends on social media or other online communities.

Seth Godin said it best

“Your goal is to do something that is remarkable, worth remarking about.”

Although going viral seems simple enough to understand, many argue over what defines viral content. But we can all agree that viral marketing is marketing worth remarking about.

For instance, some argue that content with 100,000 views is the benchmark for viral content. In the meantime, others maintain that it does not matter how many views, per se, but rather how rapidly it is shared.

The general consensus is that viral content reaches a large amount of people and spreads quickly. Consider two different posts that have two million unique views.

One post achieved its views steadily over three years. The other post gained views in three days. Even though both posts have the same number of views, the velocity of reach with the latter post indicates that it has "gone viral."

What Are The Types of Viral Content?

There are several types of viral posts that use different mediums to convey a message. When creating a viral content strategy, evaluate which type of media will align with the target audience in order to gain more mileage.


Articles can sell products, describe current events, or share practical advice. Articles are shared generally when someone is trying to prove a point or assert their individuality.

For instance, after Russia invaded Ukraine, many shared the Wall Street Journal or New York Times articles to spread awareness and express solidarity with a particular side.


Videos are a powerful tool to reach many people. Many videos use compelling imagery and are able to convey emotions quickly.

The most-watched video on YouTube is "Baby Shark" by PinkFong which has more views than Earth has inhabitants.


Images can spread through the internet like wildfire. A recent example in the United States is a photo of a father who is a coal miner and his son attending a baseball game.

People shared the image because they considered it to be heartwarming and a symbol of the American Dream.


Audio can go viral also. From songs to sound-bites, audio can reach its way through internet culture rapidly. For instance, the song "Oh No" by Capone has become a phenomenon on TikTok often played alongside funny videos.

Other Digital Content

Other types of content can go viral. For instance, a website, meme, social media post, research paper, email, or any other type of digital media has the potential to spread rapidly.

Benefits Of Viral Content

Viral content creates high brand awareness with little to no overhead. By creating viral content, a brand does not have to focus on creating a lot of backlinks or heavily invest in advertising. 

Instead, internet users do the work for them.

With the increase in brand awareness, content like viral videos helps to remove pressure off a sales team because potential clients will already know about the product or service.

Moreover, viral posts have the potential to build instant customer relationships while improving both trust and the company's image.

Viral posts instantly raise the status of a company and give access to global markets. A viral content strategy allows a brand to extend its reach.

Viral Marketing: The Science of Virality

A viral marketing strategy allows a brand to extend its reach into new demographics beyond its target audience. Going viral can create more followers, more buzz and more value for your company.

In order to create viral content, one must have an understanding of what it takes to go viral.

A viral post will speak to a large portion of the online community and stir the right emotions. Making content that will go viral is not an easy feat.

Establishing Marketing Goals

The first step of a viral marketing strategy is to determine your marketing goals. First, evaluate how many people you would like to reach with your content and what audience you would like to speak to.

Common metrics to keep track of are

  • Leads
  • Conversions
  • Revenue
  • Clicks
  • Views
  • Shares
  • Return On Investment
  • Cost Per Lead

Measuring A Campaign's Marketing Goals

After establishing marketing goals, you can look at key metrics and evaluate the success of the viral content. Moreover, decide what the optimum reach is for a specific amount of time. Some common key metrics to evaluate are:

  • Google Analytics
  • Ruler Analytics

Additionally, save all data to a dashboard or CRM to see what works for your content and your brand.

As your content receives feedback, read the comments to get a sense of which ideas get the audience interested.

Since creating viral content is a difficult task, start small by focusing on a niche online community or regional market. Hopefully, your site will one day reach millions or even the entire world.

As your brand grows, it is important to never stop testing and evaluating your strategy. Media and online content are always changing and top content is cognizant of this fact.

Keep an eye on both your metrics and worldwide trends.

Why Measure Marketing Effectiveness?

By using metrics and establishing clear goals, you are more able to evaluate the effectiveness of your strategy and determine whether you are creating interesting content.

Furthermore, goals and metrics offer a window into how to expand your brand in order to go viral.

Perhaps there is an issue with the type of content, the medium on which it is shared or the emotions which is portrayed. Key metrics allow you to diagnose potential issues and improve your content.

Viral Content On Social Media Outlets

Social media allows people and businesses alike to connect with one another. As the modern town square that contains politicians, businesses, athletes, artists and consumers, social media is a tool for selling products and promoting your brand and message.

Facebook Virality

Facebook virality can be determined by evaluating the percentage of people who, after viewing your content, share it to their Facebook page or feed.

When a person shares content to their feed, all their friends have the opportunity to share as well. This drives both traffic and engagement.

Twitter Virality

A tweet can equally go viral. There are no hard and fast rules that define a viral tweet. There are several metrics on twitter such as likes, retweets and replies that all offer other Twitter users the opportunity to see the post.

Most often, a viral tweet has hundreds of thousands of different engagements regardless of the type.

Instagram Virality

Instagram offers better metrics than both Facebook and Twitter.

Uniquely, Instagram offers analytics sections that measure engagements per follower, follower growth, comments received, reach, most engaged hashtags and referral traffic.

Viral Video

YouTube and TikTok dominate video social media at the moment. However, both platforms use different strategies to increase reach.

YouTube generally promotes content from well-established creators. Therefore, it may take a while as a new creator to gain a follower base. Virality is measured by a video's view count per hour.

On the other hand, TikTok broadcasts a video to 300–500 random users based upon their interests and past content.

The amount of time each user spends on a particular video will determine whether TikTok will show the video beyond the original set.

Viral Blog Post

Blog posts are becoming a more popular media form in recent years as people strive to acquire all the answers to particular questions.

A Blog post is more suitable for long-form content that conveys a lot of information.

Viral blog posts generally create emotions within a reader.

Good quality content is more shareable.

Creating content on various social media platforms or branching out to long-form blog posts can introduce your brand to new subsets outside your target audience.

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Creating Viral Content

Creating content on various social media platforms or branching out to long-form blog posts can introduce your brand to new subsets outside your target audience.

Therefore, viral content is the best, most cost-effective way to increase reach and build trust and engagement.

Below are the 8 steps to go viral, and 8 questions to help you create your next viral marketing campaign

8 Steps To Go Viral

1) Get to know your audience.

Know which social media they use, their interests, and what drives them to share content. Many people share as a form of community building, so knowing your audience will help foster a sense of community within the viewer. 

What are the types of content your audience is already sharing on social media?

2) Make an emotional connection.

Content that makes people happy, angry, or anxious is more likely to be shared than content that makes people sad. Stirring the right emotions is an essential component of viral content.

What subjects and ideas does my audience care deeply about? What are their “hot-button” topics?

3) Build sharing into your campaign.

Interactive content is a great way to drum up support. Use a call to action and tell the viewer to share the content to support a particular cause or event.

How can I incentivize my audience to share my content?

4) Encourage YOUR audience to create their own content.

Currently, the One Chip Challenge uses this strategy to grow their brand and encourage others to purchase the overpriced chip in order to post funny reaction videos.

How can I involve my audience to help me create content?

5) Make your content useful enough for your audience to share on their own

This speaks for itself - if you have something that educates on a popular topic or elicits strong emotions, then you won't have to even ask for a share.

How does this piece of content help my audience? (ask this for each new piece of content)

6) Share your content at the right time

By knowing the trends, you can gauge the best time to release content.

That way, you are able to ride the wave of increased Google searches instead of your content being buried in newer content.

Where is my audience already giving their attention? Can I piggyback on any current trends?

7) Use powerful visuals.

Visuals are a great way to share information quickly and stir up emotions--both great strategies for viral content.

How can I engage all the sense with my social media marketing?

8) Share your content with powerful influencers.

Influencers with a high amount of reach can share your content and, in turn, increase the reach of your brand exponentially.

Many influencers are willing to be brand advocates and promote your product in the middle of a video or post for a fee.

Who can I partner with that is already in front of my audience? How can I add value to them with my content?

Other Tips On How To Make Viral Content

Create a sense of urgency

Any good salesperson will tell you "ABC" or Always Be Closing. Viral content often uses this strategy to reach many people quickly.

Research the best kinds of video formats.

In general, long-form content is best for YouTube while short-form is best suited for TikTok or Instagram. Additionally, platforms like Twitter and TikTok may be better for jumping in on quickly changing trends. Whereas, YouTube video and written blog content has a much longer tail to reach your ideal audience months and even years after that initial viral spike in traffic.

Keep on top of trends

A great site for researching trending topics is Google Trends which will tell you trending searches. Alternatively, you can also use Twitter and look at trending hashtags.

In general, Google Trends will give a more comprehensive view.

Focus on a specific niche

The goal of viral content is to reach as many people as possible. However, people share content they identify with. By pinpointing a target audience, people will share it to express their identity.

Use keywords in your captions, hashtags and descriptions

By using keywords, you can drive more traffic to a site. No one will find your content if it does not have an accurate description.

Keep it short and sweet

In order to go viral, it must be easily digestible. This is why memes are so popular because they contain a lot of information and imagery in a small amount of space.

Post content regularly and consistently

If your goal is going viral, then slow and steady wins the race. Many people will post vast amounts of content before the site snowballs and expands rapidly.

Spread yourself across all platforms

If you create YouTube content, edit it for TikTok, create stills for Insta, Facebook and Twitter. The more places people can find your content, the more opportunities there are to share.

What will you create that is worth remarking about?

Now that you've got all these ideas, and the 8 steps to going viral, what is one strategy from this article that you will implement in your business right away?

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