It’s almost impossible to force your content to go viral – but you can at least make it contagious, says Adam Reader, a senior strategist at Lida, a London-based digital marketing agency.

“You can’t ‘make’ something go viral – only your audience will decide whether it goes viral,” he told listeners during Facebook Best Practices for Business, a webinar hosted by Vancouver-based Hootsuite Media Inc. on Feb. 23. “But what we can do is… stack the odds in our favour.”

Along with Facebook seminar instructor Mari Smith, Reader shared a number of ways that marketers can increase their chances of creating shareable content, with both experts presenting their insights in a series of easy-to-digest lists and graphs.

Six STEPPS that make content contagious

Deferring to Smith’s expertise regarding Facebook itself, Reader shared the insights of another expert: University of Pennsylvania professor Jonah Berger’s six STEPPS to contagious content, a set of factors that, when present, increase your message’s chances of going viral:

  • Social Currency: People will often share great content – something that is particularly funny, outrageous, or unique – with their friends to give the impression they’re plugged into what’s new and interesting, Reader said. “In doing so, you transfer a perception of yourself to your friend that you are in the know.”
  • Triggers: Another possible result of watching something extreme is that it will remain lodged in the viewer’s mind, and they will talk about the moment they’re given a chance. “We want to talk about things that resonate with us,” Reader said.
  • Emotion: “When we care, we share,” Reader said. The more emotional we feel after watching something, the more likely we are to pass it on – and while anger and anxiety can get faster short-term results, in the long run positive emotions outweigh the negative, Reader said.
  • Public: When we see other people doing something, we’re more likely to follow suit, Reader said. Content with organic incentives to participate attached is more likely to engage the audience, he said.
  • Practical value: There’s a reason recipes are among the Internet’s most widely distributed content, Reader said – information that benefits others is seen as far more valuable, and therefore, worth sharing.
  • Stories: We’re more likely to be engaged by messages if they’re delivered with a compelling narrative, Reader said, with more than a few agencies having mastered the art of the animated short.

Reader noted that there isn’t an exact science when it comes to incorporating these factors into your content, and while he suggested aiming for at least two or three in every message, including too many at once results in confusion at best.

Send mixed messages

Another tip that Reader shared was the value in creating a mix of content. Too many creators focus on planned content – that is, messages determined well in advance – he said.

However, anticipated content – messages designed to respond to certain scenarios – or even reactive content, produced in response to random inquiries, complaints, or crises, can have far more impact when deployed well, he said.

Hootsuite Webinar - Three types of content

Do more with less

The average Facebook user checks their feed 14 times per day, Smith said, and can identify whether content is personal or paid for in just 13 milliseconds – and they don’t want to see a wall of advertising every time they log in.

Consequently, you’re better off posting longer, more organic content fewer times per weak than short, forgettable content several times per day, Smith said.

“I actually post about five times a week,” she said.

Another mistake that companies often make is posting during business hours: “You definitely want to post more on evenings and weekends… because that’s when people are on Facebook,” Smith said.

Sunday is actually the best day to reach and engage followers, she said, because that’s when they’re most likely to be logged in. The second-best time? Saturdays, followed by weeknights between 9 and 11 PM.

However, like Reader, Smith emphasized that certain types of content spread more quickly on Facebook than others: Questions, for example, receive the most interaction, followed closely by images, which receive 179 per cent more interactions than the average Facebook post, and videos, which receive the most shares.

Hootsuite Webinar - Number of interactions by post type

“On mobile, it’s a visual language. It’s about photographs, it’s about videos, it’s about emoticons, it’s about beautiful imagery to communicate globally where you would have to use words before,” Smith said, quoting Erin Sills, Facebook’s director of consumer insights.

For companies that rely on written messages, Smith urged keeping Twitter-like parameters in mind – posts with 150 – 200 characters work best, she said, though they should also include links to longer-form content.

…And don’t buy followers

During the webcast’s Q&A portion, Reader and Smith were asked how they feel about purchasing followers, a question moderator Cameron Uganec, Hootsuite’s senior director of growth, answered himself.

“Don’t do it,” Uganec said. “You’re trying to build relationships with real people that have an affinity towards your brand or product, and to chase after vanity metrics like followers are going to get you in trouble down the road.”

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+
More Articles