Engaging Ideas for Viral Content

If you’re trying to get visitors to engage with your site’s content and share it, it helps to create the kind of content with which they’ll want to interact. That’s not easy, but if you start with the right idea, and put yourself in your readers’ shoes, you’ll be surprised as how popular your site could become.

It’s hard to resist something that encourages you to interact with it, or that seems to be interacting with you. That’s why video games are so much fun. And when we’re having fun with something, we naturally want to share it with others. The content ideas I’m going to give you today, mostly from Jordan Kasteler’s recent guest post on Search Engine Land, will help get your readers involved and interacting with your content and your website.

The first one that comes to mind as a type of content that can engage your readers is “The Quiz.” Casteler notes that quizzes are popular for several reasons: “they’re interactive, they’re fun, and they’re user-focused.” And anyone who takes a quiz will naturally want to pass it on to his friends, so they see what results they each got. So there’s a built-in spur to discussion.

Casteler notes that there are three main types of quizzes. The first kind is user-focused. These can be whimsical (“Which Superhero Are You?”) or quite serious (“Are You Saving Enough For Retirement?”). You can build either kind around the product or service you offer. You might even be able to disguise a serious quiz as a whimsical one. I haven’t seen anyone do this yet, but imagine an investment company offering a 10-question quiz that asks what you would do if you suddenly won increasing amounts of money (say $100, $1,000, $10,000, $50,000, etc). From your answers, they could get a sense for what kind of investor you are. Obviously, serious investments with them will rely on more than just a quiz, but it would make a nice icebreaker, wouldn’t it?

The second type of quiz tests your knowledge. There’s one out there that challenges you to name all 50 United States capitals in 10 minutes. I’m really bad at geography, so the quiz that asks you to name all the 50 states in the United States in 10 minutes is more my speed (I got 46 the last time I tried). This quiz boasts a particularly nice interface; as you enter each name into a box, if it’s correct, the name sails down from the text box onto the correct state on a blank map of the US that shows all the state borders. There’s a count down clock, and if you press the “Give up?” button before your time is up, it fills in the names of the blank states in red (the state names you guess successfully show up in black). You don’t need a fancy interface to make this work, but it does add to the fun.

Speaking of fun, the third kind of quiz is just for fun. You can even make it kind of silly; Casteler points to the one that asks you to guess whether you’re seeing the name of a rapper or McDonald’s menu item. In a sense, it’s a subset of the “test your knowledge” kind of quiz. Keep it quick, make it fun, and visitors are more likely to share it.

Here’s a time-tested way to engage your visitors: give something valuable away. That’s known as “The Freebie.” If you’re trying to position yourself as an expert in your field, it could be invaluable. Seth Goldin did it when he put out his free e-book “Unleashing the Ideavirus” and encouraged people to share it.

You can pair “The Freebie” with a contest. Before you do this, however, you need to be careful to make sure you understand the laws surrounding contests; you’d be surprised at the ways they could bite you if you don’t do your homework. But lots of websites do this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a website offer to give away a free book to those who comment on a particular post. Usually it’s something along the lines of “tell us how you would use what you’ve learned in this book” or “tell us why you need this book so much.”

You can also put a unique spin on “The Freebie” by letting users create something from a sort of template. At this time of year, for instance, OfficeMax’s Elf Yourself is very popular. It lets you load an image of yourself and up to four other people into a silly, singing elf video. Kasteler calls this “The Create-Your-Own Activity.” It lets a visitor “create something unique, personalized, and (generally) brand-related,” he notes. And naturally, once a visitor creates it, they’ll want to share it with their friends…who will then create their own versions. I’ve seen movies promoted in a similar way; one campaign let you enter the name and phone number of a friend, and an actor from the movie called them up with a (canned) message in character.

Now we come to one of my personal favorites: “The Collaboration.” This one isn’t easy to carry off, yet it’s the kind of thing that many blogs live for. You get readers sending in stuff that’s on topic, and you’re off to the races. Snark blogs thrive on this stuff; just look at Regretsy and Cake Wrecks. When you get people sending you pictures, you know you’ve hit content gold. Casteler notes an added benefit of this is that “you’ve got a head start on the viral sharing snowball effect: users naturally want to share and promote content they’ve helped make.”

But you don’t have to be writing a snark blog to benefit from this. Ask your readers to send you some of the biggest questions they have about your product or field, and then answer the 10 or 20 most common in a blog post. Casteler links to 21 Readers Tell What They Wish They’d Known About Photography as an example; I’m sure you can come up with something appropriate relating to your own product and/or service.

That’s all I have room for in this third part of a series of articles on viral content. But it should give you plenty of ideas until the next part. Good luck!

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