Your Content isn’t Going Viral Because it Sucks

by · January 21, 201453 comments

It’s the million dollar question every marketer wants to know. How do I get my content to go viral? Who Is Hosting This put out a helpful infographic that helps marketers check their content against their defined formula for success. The infographic does a good job of providing some basic guidelines, however it sparked a whole different line of thought in my brain.

Your Content Sucks

Instead of measuring the success of your content based upon its virality, start measuring content based on the quality of what you put out. It’s like a broken record we’ve been hearing scratching in our ears for too long, but it is so true. The majority of content that is put out from brands is so self-serving and boring that there is absolutely no reason anyone would want to share it. Try to start with making your content about serving the needs, wants, and desires of your audience instead of about the brand and you’ll do much better than you are today. It may not go viral, but you’ll be one step closer. Seriously, if you think that boring video talking about all of your products is going viral it’s time for an intervention. Get creative. Your customers don’t care about your products.

You Can’t Design Content to Go Viral, But You Can Design it to Be Great

If you think that following any formula for virality is going to work, you are setting yourself up for failure. This infographic gives you a lot of tips on how to make content much better, but it isn’t going to be a guarantee of virality. Think of going viral as a free upgrade to first class, not the destination. Design your content to be compelling first. It is near impossible to predict which chords you will strike until they’ve actually been struck. You can try, but realize that a very minute percentage of content ever goes viral. There is a lot of amazing content out there that never achieves virality, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t work. On the flipside there is a lot of content that goes viral that is a complete surprise to those who created it. Recognize that sometimes we don’t know if something is going to work until we are looking at it through the rear-view mirror.

Stop Blowing Smoke and Start With Holy Smokes

I believe one of the reasons there is so much sub-par content out there is because we don’t start with the intended emotion in mind. At SME Digital, we use the Holy Smokes test that Jason Falls created as a starting point for any content that is developed. Before the piece is written, we must define the Holy Smokes factor, which is filling in the blank in the statement “Holy Smokes! That’s _____!” We think about what we want the audience to say after they read or see the content and then we create the content to elicit that emotion. At the end, we check and see if it was able to deliver. If it wasn’t we fix it. Perhaps this will help you start to create your content with the emotional response in mind.

Here are some examples of Holy Smokes factors we’ve used:

  • Holy Smokes! That’s Hilarious!
  • Holy Smokes! That’s Incredibly Useful!
  • Holy Smokes! That’s Amazing!
  • Holy Smokes! That’s Shocking!
  • Holy Smokes! That’s Mind Blowing!
  • Holy Smokes! That’s Smart!
  • Holy Smokes! That’s Exactly What I Needed!

At the end of the day if you create a great piece of content that your audience responds to, is it a win? I say yes. If it goes viral that’s even better.

Take a look at the infographic to see the tips. Do you agree? Disagree? How important is virality in the grand scheme of content? How do you make sure your content is stellar? Leave a comment and join the discussion. 



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About Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly is the CEO of Social Media Explorer|SME Digital. She is also the author of How to Measure Social Media. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits and then helps execute the recommended strategy across the “right” mix of social media channels. Do you want to rock the awesome with your digital marketing strategy? Contact Nichole

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Patrick McFadden

    Holy Smokes! This information is incredibly useful! Thanks Nichole.

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Patrick – You’re a rock star. Like I said to Zsuzsa I absolutely love that you commented with your holy smokes response. Yay! I’m so glad the post struck a chord with you. Thanks for commenting!

  • Zsuzsa Szabo

    Holy smokes, such a good title!

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Ha! Thanks Zsuzsa. I love that holy smokes resonated and absolutely love that people are commenting with what their holy smokes response was. Win!

      • Zsuzsa Szabo

        Yes! You let people have fun in the comments section. ;)

  • BlogsRelease

    Thanks:) Distribution & Distribution…..

  • Rebecca Livermore

    I like the list of “holy smokes.” The list is what makes it actionable, so thanks so much for including that!

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Awesome Rebecca! Holy Smokes has become a standard for how we approach content. It has really transformed content quality and it’s ability to deliver on the goal. I’m so glad it was useful for you. Happy creating!

  • GMR Website Maintenance

    Very good listing of the important points that should be kept in mind
    while creating a content in hope of getting it viral. Nice
    summarisation. Thanks.

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Thanks so much. I’m thrilled you enjoyed the post.

  • Alysha Dominico

    I think Jonah Berger deserves a more direct shout-out in this infographic for his development of the “6 STEPPS of Contagious Content”. Shouldn’t we be footnoting this kind of thing in infographics? Am I old school? Do we care about this kind of stuff anymore, and shouldn’t we?

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Alysha – I totally agree. I didn’t make the connection to Jonah’s model when I saw it, but after comparing they are exactly the same. I’m contacting the author of the infographic and I’ll ask them to update it and repost it if they oblige. Thanks so much for the heads up. You aren’t old school. Attribution is important and I appreciate you bringing it to my attention.

      • Alysha Dominico

        It was a meeting of minds then :)

  • Dave Link

    Great to see the reiteration to the theme that designing/writing for viral just doesn’t work. If what you’re creating isn’t useful and engaging then you can scream about going viral until you’re blue in the face – it just won’t happen.

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Totally agree Dave. We just need to focus on creating great content and distributing it in the right channels for our audience. If it is truly great, the rest will take care of itself. Thanks so much for commenting!

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  • Alinn Louv

    This article was incredibly helpful, thank you Nichole! Great tips and advice for creating compelling quality content. It was interesting to read your analogy of going viral as just part of the journey and not the destination. I think that virality is dancing a fine line between emotions and utility.

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Alin – Awesome. I’m thrilled you enjoyed the article. It does put it into context when we think about virality as a journey for me. I hope it helped you as well! Thanks for joining the conversation.

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  • Marisa Cuellar

    I absolutely loved this post and I’m so glad someone decided to write about social media content. I can’t stand when I visit a blog or a websites social media page and yes while they need to promote their services, I think there’s a fine line of how much of your service you can really promote before people get bored. You need to engage your clientele and have them want to go back and visit your sites. Be personable with them and that’ll make all the difference. Don’t just be a social media robot. Again, thank you for an amazing post!

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  • Ricko Dayat

    There is a lot of amazing content out there that never achieves virality, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t work. On the flipside there is a lot of content that goes viral that is a complete surprise to those who created it. Recognize that sometimes we don’t know if something is going to work until we are looking at it through the rear-view mirror.

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  • Stephanie Fulcher

    This is a great post. It’s good to talk about what you know not about what you can sell. Personality in what you share goes a long way. We are not robots. So why share like one? People get board and move on. As far as design is concerned, how you present your content will determine whether that reader comes back.

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