Why 'Going Viral' Doesn’t Work

Posted May 03, 2016

By Larry Alton

Small business marketing has matured to the point where most brands understand the value of—and invest in—some form of content marketing. However, only a very small percentage of businesses create content that provides any real value. If you want to enjoy tangible benefits—enhanced reputation, more site traffic, better customer engagement, to name a few—creating content for your website isn't enough. You need to create content that people actually want to share.

The Downside of Going Viral

Your goal with content marketing is to create compelling content that engages readers and ultimately turns them into paying customers. And while you can choose lots of different strategies for engaging readers, social media plays an important role in almost every approach to content marketing.

The overused term "going viral" remains the gold standard for many marketers, even though it's practically impossible to achieve with consistency. You may never publish a piece of content that people share 2 million times, but you can consistently create content that gets shared 200 or 2,000 times. And the return on investment from these pieces of content is equally powerful. It leads to more website traffic, it increases brand awareness, and it reinforces thought leadership.

Content marketing tips

How to Create Shareable Content

Start by re-framing the question. Don't ask: how do I create viral content? Instead, ask this: how do I create content that gets shared? When you focus on creating viral content, you lose sight of content marketing's fundamental goals. You focus on unrealistic metrics that may or may not add value.

Let's take a look at three of the top tips for creating shareable content.

1. Make Content Actionable

Actionable content is highly shareable. People like to read content that gives them tangible advice they can use in their everyday lives—everything from DIY home renovations, auto repairs, to finances, and raising children. If you want more shares, then select practical topics. And don't be afraid to zero in on a very specific micro topic.

Take this article on common auto repairsfrom eEuroparts as an example. The article provides instructions to repair several common BMW X5 issues that drivers frequently encounter with the E53 model. It's extremely practical for people who own a BMW X5. It also includes—in a non-intrusive way—the exact BMW auto parts needed for the job (oftentimes with the correct BMW part numbers).

The article also provides a genuine OEM parts option, as well as cheaper aftermarket options, if available. Based on the helpful information in the article, readers can fix problems they're dealing with. There's nothing theoretical about the content. Specific and actionable attributes make this article worth sharing.

2. Go for Visual Appeal

The images you choose—both in the article and as the thumbnail image—have a direct effect on whether, and how much, people share your article. Choose polarizing images that attract attention, as opposed to safe or cliché images that blend in with everything else.

Take the Rachel Ray Every Day blogas an example. The blog incorporates striking images that grab the readers' focus and encourages them to keep reading. In an industry that's conducive to using stock photos, this blog gets it right.

3. Craft Compelling Headlines

The headline is one of the most important components of shareable content. While a headline may only be five to ten words, it must grab a reader's attention on social media. Content writers use a number of strategies when drafting headlines, but most agree that the following characteristics hold true no matter what:

  • Short and sweet: When it comes to social media and search engines, most headlines with more than 70 characters get cut off or abbreviated. And a reader's average attention span is less than eight seconds, so get right to the point.
  • Strong words rule: Boring words get you nowhere. Use strong adjectives to grab readers' attention. While you can debate the authenticity and honesty of the National Enquirer, it's hard to deny the rag's strategic headline writing.

Another headline tip: take a counter stance. When everyone else supports—or opposes—something, you can create a lot of buzz by taking the opposite viewpoint. While some people will certainly disagree with you, it will garner a lot of traction and attention.

Maximize Your Content Marketing

Quality content holds little value if nobody ever clicks on it or shares an article. It's merely an unutilized resource. However, once you attract readers, the content value suddenly comes to life. You can maximize the value of your content by investing in a strategy that prioritizes social sharing.

Use the aforementioned tips to develop content that resonates with your target audience, and that you can distribute quickly and easily through social media channels. Your content will flourish and your brand will benefit greatly.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter.

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