‘This whole idea of an attention span is, I think, a misnomer. People have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them.’
Those are not my words – much as I wish they were – but those of American comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld. Though uttered almost 20 years ago, prior to the internet boom and the era of social media influence, his point still rings true; people are more than willing to give you their attention, as long as you can offer them something worth digesting.
We live in an age where smartphones and tablets give us immediate access to all the news, reviews and information we could possibly desire. In the last week, we have seen what is perhaps the new epitome of successful viral marketing. Pokémon Go, the mobile application taking the world by storm, is a viral success story in the truest sense and a lesson in the innovative use of interactive content. The game, which requires users to wander around in the real world, using their smartphone to collect a plethora of elusive digital pocket monsters, has already been downloaded 15 million times, a significant portion of which can be attributed to the widespread social media mania that followed its release.
While it may not be possible to recreate the mind boggling marketing achievements of Pokémon Go, it is certainly worth noting that though making a piece of content go viral is often down to luck, there are a number of tricks you can exploit that will give your work the best chance of spreading like wildfire.
Social media, now many people’s first port of call when it comes to finding the hot topics of the hour, bombards us with articles and images, links and research; it’s impossible for anyone to take all of that information in, so it is essential, from a content creator’s perspective, that whatever you produce has an edge.
So how do you make your work stand out from the crowd? How can you produce something superior to that which has been fabricated by your competition? And what is the magic formula that enables you to achieve that holy grail of content production – making your work go viral?
It is essential, from a content creator’s perspective, that whatever you produce has an edge
If there’s one thing that Buzzfeed has taught us, it’s that people love a list. Lists can surprise, inform, inspire, shock, amuse, upset, anger or worry; putting things in an order incites emotion, and encourages people to interact. If someone doesn’t agree, they will say so. If someone does agree, they will say so. I cannot count the number of times I’ve found myself on YouTube, scrolling through ‘Top 10 guitar riffs from 2015’ or ’The 15 best England goals of all time’, just to see if I agree with the creator’s opinion.
Creating a list is a reliable way of getting someone to invest their time in your content, but it is vitally important you produce work that adds value while also provoking a response. Ensure it has some link with your brand, or with a product you wish to promote; ultimately, there is no point churning out viral content unless it can be of benefit to you and your business.
Dispel a myth
This one is not necessarily something that can be done on a regular basis. Dispelling myths, or providing facts/statistics that render an assessment void, generally requires research, strong data or the opinion of a reputable expert, and those are not always readily available. However, if you are willing to carry out a study, conduct a survey or launch a poll, you may end up with figures that can form the basis of a compelling piece of content.
Nothing gets tongues wagging like a provocative opinion. It’s the reason user generated content like user reviews works so well. Social media, which offers keyboard warriors the twin benefits of relative anonymity and a platform with which to air grievances, is a breeding ground for discontent, faux rage and outright contempt. Many internet users take a perverse pleasure in being offended, or causing issues where none need exist, and though this is something most content creators would look to avoid, it is certainly something that can be taken advantage of.
By penning an article that flies in the face of a popular opinion, or offers a side to an argument that is novel, you automatically make your content stand out. By playing devil’s advocate you can enrage and inspire, infuriate and inform; as long as that which you have written is sharp, has some basis in fact or offers a new perspective that stops short of being preposterous, you will get people talking about your brand.
Nothing gets tongues wagging like a provocative opinion
Make it relevant
Making content relevant does not always mean writing about something that is in the news that day (of course, it can mean that). Being relevant has more to do with appealing to an audience that is already absorbed in a topic, and gives them a different angle to consider, or a more comprehensive piece of content to absorb.
Even if your content was written weeks, or perhaps months, ago, it does not mean it cannot be repurposed to accompany the stories of the future. The beauty of evergreen content is that is can be used again and again to fit a multitude of scenarios. By presenting your content in a way that ensures the reader will garner a fresh outlook on a topic, you can prolong the relevance of that which you have created, and continue to use it as and when you see fit.
Tie-ins and trends
Where once we would get on a bandwagon, we now latch onto a hashtag. One of social media’s most powerful and influential features is displaying trending topics. If timed correctly, and utilised effectively, a trending hashtag or keyword can become a valuable means of distributing your content to a wide, and already engaged, audience.
Of course, it is essential that if you do decide to exploit a hashtag to promote your content, you do it an an appropriate manner. Ensure your content actually has some pertinent association with the hashtag you apply, and can bring added value to those looking to enhance their knowledge of a topic that has already piqued their interest.
Research from HubSpot suggests that tweets containing hashtags are 33% more likely to be retweeted than those without, so even if your content does not tie-in with a specific event, craze or novelty, it’s probably worth harnessing the power of a suitable # that reflects the nature of that which you have produced.
One of social media’s most powerful and influential features is displaying trending topics
Tweets with images are 34% more likely to get retweeted than those without, which is hardly surprising when research claims that 90% of all information transmitted to the brain is visual. Studies suggest that our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text, and in a world filled with a desire for instant gratification and a distinct lack of patience, capturing someone’s attention must always be your primary objective: after all, it is impossible to retain interest unless you’ve seized it to begin with.
People are more likely to click on and share articles if numbers are used within the headline. You did venture onto this one, after all. And, according to research, odd numbers are particularly effective. People are fond of numbers because they offer something concrete; if a piece of content promises to give you the seven most popular baby names, for example, you know exactly what you’re going to get before clicking through. Were the number to be removed, the article’s headline would be altogether more vague, and consequently more off-putting.
Aside from the fact that numbers are compelling because they are definitive, they also work in headlines because they draw the eye. Written content, as the term implies, primarily features letters and words, which makes numbers stand out the same way a flashing beacon does when bobbing in the sea; though there is far more ocean to look at, your mind will automatically find itself attracted to the anomaly.
Making content go viral is by no means an exact science. Sometimes random comments or stupid pictures are shared by thousands upon thousands (whoever took the photo of that dress – it’s blue and black, by the way – could hardly have envisaged the response it would garner), while far more interesting pieces of content may find they are consigned eternally to the social media void. However, by employing a few simple tips, and with a smidgen of good fortune, your content could quite easily become the next big internet sensation.