The 3 Keys To Creating Viral Content

Ever since the word “viral” (in relation to content) entered the general lexicon of the internet, achieving it has been the ultimate goal of every person publishing content online. As coveted as this goal has become however, actually “going viral” in any kind of consistent way has eluded most, even skilled marketers. As a result, its pursuit has been a source of frustration, squandered resources, and poorly conceived (and executed) content marketing strategies.

The 3 Keys To Creating Viral Content

I remember sitting in strategy meetings in 2006 and 2007, when YouTube was really picking up steam. Videos on that platform were racking up an insane amount of views (for the time) and figuring out the winning formula that sent these videos viral was the ultimate puzzle to be solved.

At the time, I was a writer and producer at a new media production company. Most of what we did was produce media for private distribution–such as fundraising dvd’s for non-profits or short videos for live events–but with the rise of internet video we felt that we were perfectly positioned to capitalize on it and grow our studio into something more: A self-sustaining production company (no clients) that created its own original content for a massive online audience. An audience who would, of course, pay the bills with advertising dollars. And, to be fair, that’s a dream that many popular YouTubers have actually achieved. But our approach was all backwards, even if our reasoning seemed to make a lot of sense to us at the time.

The biggest reason we all felt our success was imminent was because we had much better gear and technical skills than the people racking up massive view counts on YouTube. In our minds, all we had to do was upload something with high production quality (and in doing so wow the general public with our technical and creative prowess) and the magic of the internet would simply take over, propelling our videos to new viral heights.

We were wrong, of course, just like so many others. As production professionals we were caught up in understanding the technology, mastering our craft, and presenting the world with something of quality. Which is why it was maddening to put out high quality video after video, only to see that the most watched and shared content that week would be a shaky, grainy, two minute montage of guys getting hit in the balls. Or boobs. Boobs are always popular.


image via blambca and

But not being in the porn or “funniest home video” categories of online content, we didn’t learn much from these observations. We should have though. Instead of scoffing at that contents’ low quality or lack of inherent value (as we saw it) what we should have been paying attention to was what these new trends were trying to tell us about human beings in general. What we watch, share, and create without professional training and for reasons that tend to operate on the subconscious level. Because understanding that is the secret to creating viral content, regardless of production quality.

This, and much more, is precisely what author Jonah Sachs reveals and then discusses in detail in his book Winning the Story Wars, where I am drawing my three keys to creating viral content from. In the section below, I will walk you through them, paraphrasing the definitions (since his explanation takes the form of a long analogy we don’t have the space for in this post) and providing examples for each in turn.

It should be noted that crafting viral content is not the primary aim of Winning the Story Wars. Instead, Sachs attempted to discover and then map the reasons why human beings respond so strongly to some content and not to others; recognizing that sharing a piece of content was actually a symptom of a deeper reaction they already had during their experience of it.

What he discovered was that he, like all of us, are a bit late to the party. It turns out that over fifty years ago scholar and professor Joseph Campbell had already made some serious headway on this problem through his academic specialty, comparative mythology. Particularly in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces which, among other things, outlines the now famous Hero’s Journey. A story pattern that has proven throughout thousands of years to consistently resonate with audiences across cultures.

Read the full article at Elegant Themes Blog.

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