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The Cardinal Rules of Viral Content

Many marketers chalk the success of viral videos and posts up to a mixture of timing and magic. Most believe that creating content that spreads like wildfire is simply a matter of good fortune. While a hefty dose of good luck, if there is such a thing, will certainly not hurt your efforts to go viral, the truth is the system is far more scientific.

There are fundamental reasons that some content gets passed around like tissues at a viewing of “Titanic.” Taking the time to understand why people respond to the web’s most popular content gives you the ability to potentially duplicate these successes.

Content is Not One-Size-Fits-All

The first step in defining your content marketing strategy, and thus your future viral gems, is to clearly outline and understand your demographic. Do not make the mistake of crafting videos or articles that attempt to speak to one and all. If your content doesn’t represent your brand, and in turn speak specifically to your customers, even a content masterpiece won’t reinforce the memory of your business.

Knowing your demographic also helps you tailor the delivery method. Know that while articles and other similar content offerings can certainly go viral, video is by far the platform people share the most. And woah-boy is video popular. Cisco recently postulated that by 2017, video traffic will gobble up 69 percent of all web traffic. Clearly, any comprehensive content strategy must include this multimedia powerhouse.

The Power of Emotions

Viral content is rarely intellectual in nature; popular shares manifest some level of deep emotion. Whether you aim to tickle peoples’ funny bones, bring out a good cry, or even incite anger, you’ll have an edge if your content has the ability to stir up emotions.

Think about it this way – emotions turn a passive viewing into an actual experience. You don’t remember the lectures you had in high school, as an example, but you certainly remember your first kiss. That’s because it brought up intense feelings. Content is the same way. Even slick, highly produced videos are not memorable unless they make people feel. Just ensure whatever you’re stirring up reflects a positive association with your brand.

Be Relevant or Be Forgettable

One of the most powerful viral campaigns of all time is the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” series. These folks did an outstanding job of knowing how to reflect their core customers in a way that truly resonated – so much so it’s currently the most-shared campaign of 2013. This goes back to the first critical task of knowing your audience. To take that a step further, you then need to ascertain what’s important to your customers, and speak from their perspective as much as you can.

Relevance encapsulates elements like language, tone, and style. The words you use to convey your message are critical; they have to be words your audience knows and responds to. Make sure not to use your industry-specific jargon; it may not be understood. Likewise, the tone should reflect the viewers you are attracting – this means you don’t have to be polished and professional if your customers are free-spirited and humorous. The more relevant you are to your viewers, the more memorable – and viral – your content will be.

Enforce Your Audience’s Worldview

If you know your customers well, you know what matters to them on a macro level. Is your demographic eco-conscious? Do they cherish civil liberties? Are they parents that want the best for their kids? Content shares happen because people resonate with the message the content conveys. Think about the Facebook feed of your target viewer – what “Likes” have they selected? What content has already engaged them?

Don’t ever set out to try to make people care about something – this typically results in an epic fail. People reject content that doesn’t already enforce their current worldviews.

The Element of Surprise

Likewise, don’t be afraid to go against the norm. Surprises in content takes many forms – you may have a controversial yet resonant message, you might tell your story in a surprising way (singing babies, anyone?), or present the viewer an unexpected outcome.

A recent example of this is Kmart’s Ship My Pants campaign. The continued use of a phrase that clearly mimics a more potty-mouth focused expression is both surprising and hilarious. With over 3.05 million shares to date, this tactic was a slam dunk for the retailer.

When in Doubt, Use Kittens

It’s no secrets that cats rule the interwebs. Because of this, however, they are vastly overused and in most cases, cheesy and non-effective. But let’s face it, people love cuddly critters of all kinds – they are aces at invoking those much-heralded emotions.

For an example of a campaign that uses furry friends wisely, check out GoPro’s “Fireman Saves Kitten” video and try not to cry as you do. With over 18 million views and 1.23 million shares, this is a shining example of how to tug on the world’s heart strings.

Viral content is not just about luck, it’s about careful execution and a fundamental, comprehensive understanding of your demographic. Using these tricks of the trade will not guarantee a million shares, but you’ll sure have a better shot than creating something irrelevant and boring that can possibly even hurt your brand.

What are some of your favorite viral ads? What tactics do you feel are most successful for creating viral content?

Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and true cooking diva. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.

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