I got the idea for this piece from Todd Heim over at Search Engine Journal. As he notes, it goes without saying that you should focus on the quality of your content. If it isn’t as good as you can possibly make it, then you need look no further for the reason it didn’t spread. The problem is, while high quality is necessary for the spread of your content in social media, it isn’t sufficient.
So why might high quality content fail to catch on? One reason might be the simple assumption that “if you build it, they will come.” It doesn’t exactly work that way. “They” won’t come if they don’t know it’s there. And guess who needs to tell “them” that your content is there? You do.
If you’ve already built up a strong base of users, you can use them to help get the word out about your new content. If you don’t, you will need to put in the time building up your traffic. Even content with the greatest viral potential in the world needs a nudge to reach its audience. Fortunately, if you blog, there’s a fair bit of cooperation built into the culture – so if you help someone spread their content (by writing about it in your blog or maybe letting them do a guest post), there’s an excellent chance they’ll be happy to return the favor. So the first thing you need to add to your viral content checklist is promoting your new content.
For the second reason your awesome content might fail to go viral, you need look no further than your title. If you can’t write a good headline, you’re not alone (as regular readers of my articles and headlines probably know by now!). These days, though, with so much competition for a reader’s time, your headlines need to be not just good, but compelling.
If you can bear to be a little sensationalist in your headline, go for it. “One in 12 Children Suffer Life-Threatening Condition” is a bit more likely to make a reader click than “One in 12 Children Suffer From Food Allergies.” If you know anything about anaphylactic shock, you know it really IS a life-threatening condition…and your target audience will read your article all the way through.
If your headline is compelling enough, people will not only read it, they’ll spread it to others who will read it, too. Heim notes another reason to make sure your title isn’t boring: most of your readers won’t read the whole thing. They’ll form their opinion of the entire work – over which you’ve labored long and hard – from the headline alone. So, as Heim notes, “if you want your content to spread, even if it’s the most fantastic and interesting article ever written, you’re going to need a fantastic and interesting title.” Make sure that writing a winning headline is the second item on your viral content checklist.
For the third reason your great content might fail to go viral, consider your last experience with a pushy salesman. I don’t know about you, but the last time I had to make a major purchase, I hated it. I felt like I had to play a guessing game. Is this what I want, or just what the salesman is trying to convince me that I want? What isn’t he telling me that I need to know? Can I believe what he’s saying about this item? Am I going to regret spending the time on this?
If you come off as a salesman, you’re going to inspire the same biting-into-a-lemon reaction from your readers. Intelligent web users possess some of the most sensitive BS detectors known to man (and I’m not talking about bachelor of science degrees). And the worst part of it is, even if the content you’re trying to promote isn’t full of marketing speak, you could still turn off your readers. Heim points out several things that could leave a bad taste with them: “Perhaps you have too much advertising on your site. Maybe your revenue generating call-to-action form is too prominent. Sometimes it might just be that your brand message is too in your face.”
“But Apple and Google get away with pushing themselves all the time!” you may think. Yes, they do. They’re also two of the sexiest and coolest brands you can find. That means readers will probably cut them more slack. As Heim notes, “in social media you need to keep a balance between your marketing goals and the viral potential of your campaign.” So put dialing back the commercial message a notch or three on your viral content checklist.
A fourth point you need to consider is the design of your cool new content. Is it set up to do what you want it to do? Does it look pleasing to the eye? Granted, beauty isn’t everything, and a beautiful design can lose a reader as fast as any other, but remember that form follows function. If you don’t want to lose your readers, “You need to remember why you want them there, what action(s) you want them to take, and be sure the UI and layout is optimized for those actions first,” according to Heim. “Then make sure the aesthetics is up-to-par, but more importantly, appropriate for the content and message you’re trying to convey.”
To add this point to your viral content checklist, ask yourself three questions. First, is your content’s message or intent perfectly clear and up front? Is your call to action clear and prominent? Is your content easy to read and digest, given the limited amount of time that most web users can spend reading it?
Speaking of those web users, the fifth reason your incredible content might not go viral is that you’re targeting the wrong ones. Does this mean that if you target your business and website to new mothers, you can’t expand your market to, say, mothers of school age children? Of course not. But your user base of new mothers won’t necessarily spread the word about your new content to this new group you’re trying to reach.
And it’s actually a little worse than that. The kind of messages and language you’d use to reach one target audience can totally turn off another one. This is why Heim advises you to “tread carefully” because “the further outside your normal zone you go, the more challenging it becomes to create content that spreads.” So add making sure your great content is on target to your viral content checklist.
Finally, the sixth reason your wonderful content might not spread in social media is because you’ve misused the tools and networks. Remember what I said about intelligent Internet users possessing some of the most sensitive BS detectors known to man? If you come across as inauthentic in any way, you’ll set them off. And you can do that unintentionally simply by not taking the time to learn the culture of the regulars on the service you’re using. “Understand the limits to what kind of ‘push’ or promotion is acceptable and what borders on spam,” Heim explains.
Each social network is different enough, by the way, that you might want to create content just for that network, rather than spreading one particular piece of content to several networks. As Heim notes, “some content does better on Twitter than it does on Facebook. And if you want to do a simple poll, perhaps a Facebook widget is the way to go.” So make sure you’ve put knowing your social media on your viral content checklist – and good luck.