6 practical things to help your content (and product) go viral

Last week, on Friday, I wrote a post called 9 Seed Funding Gotchas.  I tweeted it out, as usual, and got a bunch of people to re-tweet. No big deal – 10 retweets.


I also emailed the post to David Cohen and Brad Feld, and asked them for feedback. I do that from time to time, with certain content, because I trust their opinion and want the feedback on my posts, so that I get better.

David Cohen pointed out a few typos and re-tweeted on Friday. This caused a bunch more re-tweets and more traffic to the post itself. Because of David, more people paid attention – he is a lot more influential than I am, and has a lot more followers.

Over the weekend, the activity slowed down and I felt like the post played out. I thought it made a pretty good impact over all, and I created a piece of content thats referenceable and reusable.

Then on Tuesday, I got email from Brad Feld, saying that he liked the post and he re-tweeted it. Immediately, I saw a spike in the Twitter activity and more people retweeting it, because Brad is a super influencer, and a lot of people follow him.

But what is most interesting is what happened next morning.

Dozens and dozens people didn’t retweet Brad, but instead tweeted the link to the post separately. Including some people who follow me, but saw Brad’s re-tweet as an endorsement. Some of these people are pretty significant influencers themselves. And then a bunch of re-tweets of those tweets happened. Thats when I saw this on my blog dashboard:

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 1.49.52 PM

This is not the first time this happened. It is actually a pretty typical dynamic that happens when things spread virally. Here is the dynamic:

  • The wave builds up from a few separate smaller parts of the network.
  • Then wave hits one or more super big and connected hubs.
  • Hubs amplify the wave, and accelerate it into distant parts of the network.
  • The distant parts of the network start echoing it back creating what is known as snowball effect.

The takeaways here are that, while there is no way to engineer for something to go viral, there is a method to how it happens, and things that need to be in place for it to happen.

1. Content: you need great content that people might actually want to share. This maybe obvious, but good content is authentic and comes from the heart.

2. Headlines: Although being part of content, that piece is critical. Making a headline that is catchy is particularly important. I don’t do sensational headlines, but I try to do headlines with numbers in them and that seems to work pretty well. Most of my posts are some kind of startup tips and do them as lists, which makes headlines easy (note I did this with this post too). Also don’t make it 10. Every one has top 10 lists and people glance over them. Make the number less expected, like 9 in my previous post or 6 like in this one. Think 4-hour work week by Tim Ferriss.

3. Influencers: You need to hit the influencers. Influencers are the hubs, they are the amplifiers. If the piece of content does not reach the hubs, it has a lot lower chance of going viral.

4. Shortcut via Relationship: This is a play on words, because this shortcut isn’t short at all. To get influencers to pay attention to you, build the relationship with them. Because I know David and Brad, I can get on their radar quickly, and get the benefit of them pushing out the content. This is a pretty big deal, because without direct relationship with the influencer, it will take for your content that much longer to reach them and to get amplified.

5. Timing: Time when the content hits the hubs. Not all times made equal. Hit the hubs at the times when people are most likely to pay attention to them.

6. Keep at it: While there is no guarantee that things will definitely go viral, you gotta keep hitting. If you understand how things might go viral, and keep engineering it, sooner rather than later you will have a hit.  In my case, the hit happened without an intention, but there is an explanation for how it happened and why, and that’s powerful.

Beyond just content, any product goes viral via a network. While each product is different, and each network has different structure, the mechanism for virality is similar. To figure out how to make your product go viral, first make an awesome product, then figure out the structure of your target networks and who the influencers are. And then just keep at it, keep pushing.

Have you had content go viral? How did it work for you? What was the method behind it?

Product and Marketing Startup Advice