Creating an Epidemic: Viral Content

Viral content is a term we hear thrown around quite a bit. Yet we usually don’t try to define it or put boundaries on it. If used correctly, viral content can be great for business, but understanding the limits of viral content helps you define your goals, and create content that actually increases your revenue, not just traffic to your site.

As a business, it can be fun to create content that goes viral, but if the viral sharing doesn’t lead to trackable leads, you’re just having fun. With a good content focus and a system designed to capture leads, businesses can capture the value from your viral posts.

Creating Viral Content

What is Viral?

The term viral came from the medical field. A virus can replicate itself and infect others – eventually becoming an epidemic. As people interact with each other, the virus is shared. On the internet, the idea of a viral video or blog post is similar. As more people see the content, they each choose to share it with their friends or family. Those people then share it with others who share it with others. Soon a good piece of viral content has thousands or millions of visits and shares.

As content creators, we don’t get to ultimately determine what goes viral. Although we can look at good content and analyze what made it work, we can’t automatically decide that one of our pieces should go viral. That is up to our audience.

On the other hand, we can create content that is likely to go viral. When laying out a content schedule, we need to understand what factors determine videos going viral and how to leverage them for our business.

What Factors Determine if Something Goes Viral?

There is a great post on SEOMoz that shows what kinds of posts tend to go viral. The post is certainly worth checking out, but we’ll break down some of the key points here.

Emotional Response

When considering content topics, content must elicit an emotional response in order to be shared. There are a variety of emotions a post can invoke, but some of the keys to sharable content are humor, awe, anger, or anxiety.

Without this emotional response, people do not want to share what you’ve created. If they forget it as soon as they read it, why should they share it with their followers? The emotional response is what draws people in and makes them engage with the post, video, or topic.

Authorship Credibility

Although this doesn’t typically apply to funny or “random” viral videos, authorship does have a strong impact on whether blog posts or information based content. The more you create great content and develop a reputation within your industry, the more likely your content will go viral.

Viral vs. Sharable?

A distinction we don’t often make is the difference between viral and sharable content. Viral content is remarkable, elicits an emotional response, and gets shared over and over again. As more and more people see the work, they begin to spread it around to their friends, then those people share it with their friends, and so on.

On the other hand, sharable content tends to be more useful. Most business or self-help articles are sharable. They don’t elicit a strong emotional response from people, but they do provide helpful, useful information. Content gets shared, but usually only within a very narrow niche market.

Sharable content tends to be easier to create. It can often be created over and over again. Lists like “Top 10 Reasons to Buy a Used Car” or “Top 5 Ways to Cook an Egg” are all sharable. Perhaps they may get to viral status if they are really good, but most of them will never get beyond a few moderate shares.

Typically, shareable content can have just as big of an impact on your bottom line. Why?

  1. Sharable content is (generally) cheaper or less time intensive to create – You likely already have the information you need to begin creating sharable content.
  2. Focused sharable content tends to appeal to people within your own niche market – the people who you are really selling to. It doesn’t matter how many visitors you have if no one converts. Good sharable content tends to drive visitors that are likely to convert on your site.
  3. Sharable content is generally more predictable. You can use your own blog metrics or metrics from similar blogs to predict how the content is going to perform. This allows you to determine the budget and time requirements you need to make the content.
  4. Sharable content has a long shelf life – Viral content is only funny, sad, frustrating, or awe-inspiring the first (or maybe second) time you see it. Many how-to guides, tips, tricks, and other “general” knowledge articles have a longer shelf-life. If keyword optimized, they also provide SEO value.

Although it can be difficult to make a distinction between these two, it is always nice to understand which category you are aiming for with your content. Shareable content will sometimes go viral, but content intended to go viral tends to be more hit-or-miss. Either it will really take off, or it won’t get any traction at all.


Coca-cola uses the 70-20-10 rule for all of their advertising and marketing. This is a good rule for many organizations to consider in their marketing efforts. It’s really quite simple:

70% of the content is the “meat and potatoes” content. It’s simple, effective, to the point, but doesn’t blow you away. It’s dependable and predictable, but not likely to ever go viral. All of this content should be sharable, but it’s not extremely clever or creative.

20% of the content is a middle ground. Takes some risks here. You’ll likely get pay off in the end, but even if none of it works out, you still have the first 70% paying dividends on your investment.

The last 10% is the high risk/high reward type content. This is content that is designed primarily to go viral. It tends to be very emotional content (funny, awe inspiring, or angering).

Striking a balance with the 70-20-10 rule allows you to create great content, while investing the majority of your time in areas you know will have a solid ROI. With the 20% and 10%, you are taking more risks, but the payoff in the end can be huge.

Start an Epidemic!

Hopefully we’ve given you tips to help you think about the strategies you use for your content creation. Now that you have some direction, go make great content! The best way to get better is just to start doing it. Start small, but be creative.

About the Author
Tyler Brooks
 is a SEO and video production specialist at Proof SEO.