Case study in social media going viral: Statistics, best practices and ideas

Posted on May 31, 2013

Case study in social media going viral: Statistics, best practices and ideas

Tips for How to Go Viral on Facebook and Social Networking Communities

The goal of every small business social media plan seems to be “going viral.” Of course, it’s much easier said than done, and the trickiest element is that there’s really no perfect formula or exact equation you can follow to see success.

What you can do, however, is do your best to stack the deck in your favor, by producing the type of content and material which is most likely to strike the perfect chord with your audience, and take you on the rollercoaster ride of a viral social media explosion.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at this phenomenon with a case study in going viral on Facebook and social media, utilizing the example of a sports news website which we work hand-in-hand with, producing content, distributing it via social media, and managing their overall SEO and marketing efforts.

  • Website:
  • Industry: Sports news
  • Outcomes: Doubling Facebook presence in less than one week, with 3,000+ new likes;  single post with over 50,000 likes and reach of 1.5 million people; highest month of traffic in site history occurs within 36 hours

How to Go Viral Tip #1: Know the Hot Button Topics of Your Audience

Knowing the hot button topics of your audience is the first and perhaps most important lesson in boosting your odds at getting content to go viral. In the world of boxing, a few names garner a massive majority of the public’s interest — Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

Knowing what your audience cares most about, and is most likely to engage them, allows you to focus your content and your game plan on those targets. In this case, it was a story on Manny Pacquiao, which produced an unexpected tidal wave of attention.

Of course, there are many other important ways to know your audience:

  • What are their priorities, and what do they care about the most?
  • What are their demographics? Who are they?
  • Which types of content do they like the most — stories, photos, videos… ?

How to Go Viral Tip #2: Be Timely when Possible

Perhaps you already have your hot button topic of interest in mind. Whatever that is, it may ebb and flow in popularity or relevancy depending on timing. In the case of boxing, once again, there are several instances when talk of one fighter will be more relevant that at other times — right before an upcoming fight, right after a fight, or when there has been a major announcement.

However, the world around us gives us our timeliness as well. Any public holiday or upcoming major event is a key indicator of what the public at large, and your target audience, may already be thinking about or tuned into. So, your viral content could be tied to July 4th as that approaches, for example, or the Super Bowl in the media-fueled lead up to that event.

In this instance, it was April Fool’s Day which was the catalyst for the site’s viral run. Combining a hot button topic, with the timeliness of everyone’s favorite chance to play a prank, offered a unique opportunity.

How to Go Viral Tip #3: What’s the Catch — The “Wow” Factor

You have a hot button topic, and you have done your best to make it timely. But what’s the catch? Viral content ultimately needs to have some kind of “wow” factor that your audience wasn’t expecting, or couldn’t find elsewhere.

Viral content could potentially wow you in any number of different ways — making you laugh with humor, shocking you, providing you with brand new information or breaking news, showing you something beautiful that you haven’t seen, engaging your creativity with art or music, and so much more.

In this example, the website played an April Fool’s Day prank that the boxer Manny Pacquiao announced his retirement. Presented initially as a regular story, the piece built on legitimate previous conjecture and rumors to “break” this news, shocking and informing people.

Of course, at the bottom of the content there was a large statement that it was an April Fool’s Day prank. That allowed users who read the complete article to also enjoy the humor, and get in on the fun — trying to trick their own friends in turn — while other users who simply reacted and shared continued with the shock of the news until they were otherwise informed.

Before long, a simple post which took less than an hour to create snowballed into a viral maelstrom, the likes of which the site had never experienced, reaching 1.5 million people in a matter of days, and doubling the site’s Facebook presence with more than 3,000 new likes. The single post produced more traffic in the first 36 hours of a new month, than any other complete month had ever produced for the website.

The swarm of social signals also led to greatly increased search engine visitors, an added bonus. The viral run continued providing a boost in traffic via referrals and search for several weeks in total.

How to Go Viral Tip #4: Capitalize

After, and if, you have successfully managed to get a piece of content to go viral, what’s next? You need to capitalize on your increased presence and newly enlarged audience. This is a great time to engage your users, make them special offers, get them to sign up for your newsletter or follow you across other social media platforms, and more.

  • For example, creating a simple promotion where all of your new fans of Facebook enjoy a special, limited-time discount on one of your products or services is a wonderful way to capitalize.
  • Asking your new audience members what they’d like to see more from you lets you know how to continue engaging them in the future.
  • Giving a simple “thank you” message to new fans or followers is a great way to recognize them and encourage them to stick around.

There’s no magic pill or secret formula for learning how to go viral on social media. However, with the above four tips and strategies, you’ll give yourself a fighting chance.

Know your audience, their priorities and their hot button topics; make your post timely; and wow your audience with content that is so unique, funny, shocking, beautiful or engaging, that it just must simply be shared.

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