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The Secret to Going Viral in 2021

By Kaiti Norton
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If you've ever seen a post on social media that got hundreds of thousands of likes, comments, and shares, you might have wondered what made that particular post so special. After all, your content is planned and executed well, so it's just as worthy of attention as anything else, right?

The secret to going viral is that there is no secret. There's no recipe or step-by-step solution that will make people more likely to interact with your content than someone else's. Instead, it takes a combination of various tactics to optimize your content for as much visibility as possible. Stay patient, agile, and adaptive while considering the tips below, and success is likely to follow.

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#1: Know your audience

Before you can even think about going viral, you need to know who your target audience is. Consider the following questions: 

  • How close is your target audience aligned with your ideal customer? 
  • What are their demographics like? (Age, gender, geographic location, etc.)
  • Where do they spend their time online?
  • What topics are they interested in?

This is also a good time to evaluate which platform(s) are most appropriate for your business. If your business is primarily targeting a B2B audience, LinkedIn and Twitter might be the best places for you to concentrate your effort. Instagram and TikTok might be more appropriate if you want to capture a younger, visually oriented audience. 

With the answers to these questions nailed down, it's also much easier to understand how much risk you're willing to take for the sake of going viral. Sometimes thinking outside the box pays off, but it's critical to understand the point at which the risk outweighs the reward. In general, it's best to envision a narrow audience and speak to them directly instead of casting a wide net. Doing so will give you a compass that will point you in the right direction.

Read more: Do You Really Know Your Customer?

#2: Create brand guidelines

There's nothing more cringe-worthy than when an organization's social media post goes viral for the wrong reasons. For example, Chase Bank's tone-deaf #MondayMotivation tweet drew widespread criticism for shaming people with low bank account balances. Similarly, a post from the U.S. Department of Education went viral for misspelling W.E.B. DuBois's name during Black History Month.

To avoid situations like these, it's important to establish a clear set of brand guidelines that you can reference as needed. This will help you determine whether something fits well with your company's overall image and what constitutes authenticity. It will also help maintain a consistent, unified tone and voice if multiple people are managing your accounts.

You can also include specifications for how your company's logo and other branding elements should be used, so there's no confusion about whether a particular graphic is on-brand or off-brand. This is a great time to nail down your company's goals, values, and mission statement as well. Doing so will align all of your marketing efforts — on social media and beyond — and create a unified brand identity. 

For more examples of winning brand style guides, check out this article from Venngage.

#3: Create share-worthy content

This is perhaps the most fundamental element of going viral: if your content isn't compelling and attention-grabbing, no one will be interested in reading it or sharing it with their followers. However, creating share-worthy content requires some degree of emotional intelligence. You should understand what will capture your audience and motivate them to click and share a particular post. 

Sometimes this looks like an emotionally driven headline or an article that's topical and written from a unique perspective. Often, a stock photo or an infographic will make a piece of content more share-worthy, so be sure to include some type of visual element in whatever you're posting. Your audience wants something they can share easily, so optimize your content for engagement wherever possible.

Read more: 6 Tips for Writing Effective Content

#4: Leverage user-generated content

User-generated content is one of the best ways to foster interactions with your audience. When you shine your spotlight on one of your followers, customers, or someone who is aligned with your audience, you can both personalize and personify your brand. 

One example of this is Pop-Tarts on Twitter. This account uses pictures and testimonials from their customers to create humor and attract other users to join the conversation. Another example is Wendy's on TikTok, which shares Wendy's-centered content and also actively engages with other users in comment sections. Both of these accounts are well known for their ability to employ user-generated content strategically while still maintaining authenticity.

User-generated content may also come in the form of influencer marketing. As a small business, you may not be able to afford to work with an influencer with a large following, but there are likely micro influencers who have a highly engaged following that matches your target audience. By leveraging an influencer's platform, you can expand your reach and amplify your content to followers you wouldn't be able to engage otherwise.

#5: Research what's already trending

Most algorithms favor content related to other content that's already performing well. However, the idea of "trending" is a constant revolving door of criteria that varies completely from one platform to the next. For example, platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and TikTok make it easy to discover hashtags or creation tools that are gaining popularity among users. Instagram and Facebook, on the other hand, are more finely tuned to each user's specific interests and behaviors.

Knowing what's trending at any given second requires ongoing monitoring. If you're not an active social media user in your personal life, make a concerted effort to spend at least 10-15 minutes on each of your profiles each day. Trends can disappear as quickly as they arrived, so you must act quickly to leverage the momentum of what's trending in the moment.

#6: Don't make going viral your main goal

The most important thing to remember when aiming for virality is that most viral moments happen by accident. Sure, you can use all of the tips above to set yourself up for success, but even then it's not guaranteed. Going viral takes a magic combination of content, optimization, and timing — a perfect storm that's not very common.

As referenced above, social media algorithms change regularly, so don't waste time dwelling on something that didn't perform well. Instead, tweak your approach with each new post and measure the results to find out what works best for your specific audience. The best approach is focusing on connecting with your target audience in meaningful ways, sticking to a consistent publishing schedule, and letting the traction follow organically.

Read next: Top Digital Marketing Tools for Small Businesses


This article was originally published on April 19, 2021
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