In today’s 24/7 news and information culture, having quality content may not be enough to cut through the noise.
If you understand how to make content go viral, it’s the closest thing to having a superpower, said Emerson Spartz, CEO of digital media publisher Spartz Media, at a Nov. 2, 2012, technology series seminar hosted by the MacArthur Foundation.
Spartz, who is best known for founding MuggleNet, the No. 1 Harry Potter website at the age of 12, shared strategies for attracting and engaging large audiences online to about 40 non-profit marketing leaders and foundation officials in Chicago.
Viral growth, says Spartz, means that for every one person who hears about a piece of information, he or she tells more than one person about it.
Now at the age of 25, Spartz’s media network reaches more than 10 million visitors each month. His more popular sites include OMG Facts and GivesMeHope. All in all, his sites have Facebook, You Tube and Twitter followings of more than 12 million. He built his sites on the following tenets:
- Crowdsourcing content from passionate contributors
- Studying other online communities and disciplines
- Adapting the best practices to his community
The bottom line is that successful viral campaigns don’t just create themselves overnight. Content that sticks and is shared is the product of strategic thinking, research and testing.
In a sense, it’s a numbers game to find the content that results in the highest level of emotional resonance. “I can’t say yes to a request to create a viral video,” says Spartz. But he can create 100 videos, of which one could possibly go viral. “Instead of starting from scratch and guessing, I start with a big pool of content and see which ones yield the best results.”
“Don’t just depend on content being so good you want to share,” explains Spartz, who emphasizes the importance of creating the right environment and framework for producing viral content.
“We don’t just have a guy sitting there saying we create this thing and people will like it,” Spartz says. “We test what works. We don’t need a big sample size. Even have just five people voting will still yield a lot of usable data.”
Here are a few tried-and-true ideas from Spartz to give your content more buzz:
- People share content that makes them happy or mad. People rarely ever shares content that makes them sad.
- Give people reasons to share. Give them free stuff, discounts, coupons, donations, etc.
- Leave a trail that builds virality. If people use your product, make sure their friends, family and the whole world knows about it. Examples are Hotmail’s email signature, Apple’s “Sent from iPhone” signature, etc. make people advertise the fact that they are using your product.
- Ask for referrals. Be really blunt about asking people to share. Don’t be scared to ask for behaviors from your audience. The most viral videos on YouTube often end with a request to share the video.
- Content hiding. Before you give away content, make people do something, such as entering an email address. Focus on getting the ability to market to them indefinitely. “If you get them to re-tweet something one time, then that’s some impact, but if you can get them to follow you, you can market to them permanently,” Spartz says.
Content Marketing Tip: Crowdsource for Content. Viral content doesn’t make itself. You make it.
“Put out a call for stories. Solicit one paragraph stories about the issue or topic you’re covering. Instead of guessing at which one will resonate, get 30 votes. Yes or no? Like or dislike? Test 100 stories. One story will score the best. Take that story. Tell that story. And take that to use as your messaging. That’s the story you will tell to get people to open their check books, change policy, and do something.”
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