I’ve spent the last year or so doing research into the history, sociology, statistics, psychology and mathematics of information sharing (many of the posts I’ve done about this stuff are over in my sidebar under “Protoviral”). I’ve found a number of reccuring elements across areas of study, so here are some of the bits I’ve learned that you can apply to almost any blog post to make it more viral.
1. Ask for the Share
This can kind of sound cheesy, but believe me it works. Respondents to my Sharing Survey reported a bunch of triggers you can pull to convince people to spread your content including utility (share this with your friends who might find it useful) and “they-might-miss-it” (show this to you friends who may not see it otherwise).
2. Fill an Information Vaccum
In my research on rumors, I found that scientists working on weaponizing rumors during WW2 noticed:
… that good rumors are “provoked by” and provide interpretation or elaboration on a current event, filling a “knowledge gap.” If the locals heard a big boom earlier in the day, a rumor could easily be constructed to explain it if the authorities did not.
3. Allow Remixing
Give your readers something to play with, remix or customize. The study of urban legends uncovers a concept called “communal recreation:
Historically urban legends were passed on from person to person in what amounted to a giant game of telephone with each person changing the story a little bit as they passed it on. Each person in this recreative chain attempts to fit the story into their existing mental frameworks and in doing so they apply a bit of themselves, of their own values and perspectives, altering the story and retelling their version. Often the first person in a new society to effect this change to an urban legend makes the legend more intuitive for the rest of the group because he or she has imposed their shared values on to it already.
4. Optimize for Social Media
Make sure that you have all the requisite buttons and widgets prominently available on your post. This is important for leveraging streams of traffic from one site into popularity on other sites. Lots of users of one social voting site are users of other sites, so if you start getting traffic from one, put a voting button under their mouse.
5. Provoke Discussion
You can be controversial, contrarian, outrageous, slightly disagreeable, or just a tad-too-opinionated. The point is to make people want to respond to you and to see how their friend’s respond. Respondents to my sharing survey said that they often shared content in both one-to-one and one-to-many ways because they wanted to start conversations and get feedback.
Utility was another common motivator I found in my survey. Make your content valuable so that when your readers share it, they’re engaging in a social exchange with their friends as happens with proverbs. A little while back I said this about the concept:
Its all about useful information, words you can use to do stuff. Like the old saying goes, everyone has an opinion, but not everyone can teach you to do something. Content is dead and resource is king.
7. Combine Relevances
Every individual has seemingly distinct interests. I’m into zombies and marketing, so if you wrote a blog post about marketing to zombies my friends would most likely send it to me. This tactic is a way to satiate the most common individual sharing motivation I found in my survey, “personal relevance”.
On the individual sharing side, the most common (40% of responses) motivation I identified was “personal relevance.” These answers typically said something like “I saw something and it made me think of one of my friends,” or “It seemed right up my friend’s alley.”
8. Seed it
Some of the people you know, or the communities you’re involved with will be more interested than others in your post for topical reasons. And a subset of these people are more prolific sharers than the rest (usually the most savvy early adopters). So make sure your content gets into a place where these people will see it as soon as you launch it. Twitter is a great place to do this.
9. Assist Organic Spread
Use a real-time analytics system (like Clicky’s Spy -aff link) to watch where traffic is coming to your post from. If you notice that a new social media site is driving traffic to your post, add that button to the top of it and maybe send the link out on Twitter.