The Viral Content Formula That Could Double Your Readership

The Viral Content Formula That Will Double Your ReadershipGuest post by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing

Viral. Viral. Viral!

Just saying the word makes you feel powerful.

And for good reason. When something goes viral, all hell breaks loose – Seth Godin becomes an icon, Dell loses millions, and Corbett attracts 7,986 new visitors in 5 days.

It’s what we all aspire to – we want just one of our posts, videos, tweets or ideas to go viral, and then we’ll ride the wave to super-stardom.

And yes, sometimes things just take on a life of their own and go viral, seemingly of their own volition. But often they don’t. The “natural viruses” are few and far between.

Conveniently, some viruses can be engineered.

In this post, I’m going to share what I’ve learned from engineering two separate viruses: the FIRE-PROOF Selling Series content contest that we ran in January, and the Why Guru Strategies for Blog Growth DON’T WORK… and What Does! post that we ran at the end of March. Here’s a quick overview of what we did with each of them, what worked, and what didn’t:

Viral Case Study #1: the FIRE-PROOF Selling Series

We ran this contest to officially “launch” our blog, and jump-start traffic and traction. We got the idea from Peter Shallard – we wrote a seven-post series about selling, following our FIRE-PROOF selling model. We spent a lot of time on the posts, packed them with good content, and created a video to go with them, both to increase the value, and so that we could get traction for the contest on YouTube.

Along with the posts, there was a contest that readers could enter to win over $10,000 worth of combined prizes. To enter the contest, readers had to subscribe to our feed and mailing list, share all seven of the posts, and leave a comment answering a question that was posed in the post.

WHAT WORKED: The content was great, and people found it very useful. They engaged with us on the blog, shared their stories, and shared the post with their friends. I also got my first guest post on Copyblogger right after the first post went up, which did a good job of feeding the contest.

WHAT DIDN’T: We had minimal traffic to start with, so there wasn’t that much to work with. The affiliates who were supposed to help us didn’t really come through, and YouTube was a bust.

Viral Case Study #2: Why Guru Strategies DON’T WORK

This was a mammoth post about the strategy for blog growth that had been coalescing in my mind over the preceding month. Rather than turn the strategy into an e-book or paid product, we gave the whole thing away as a post, and created a snazzy PDF handout that people could get in exchange for a tweet.

WHAT WORKED: We timed the post to go live before my first guest post on Problogger, because it was a particularly good fit with the audience. I had also developed a lot more relationships in the blogging world, and was able to ask about a dozen bloggers to help me spread the word.

WHAT DIDN’T: Not much – we didn’t take the ellipsis (…) in the blog title out of the URL, which made it hard to copy and share, and prevented some social sites, like StumbleUpon, from being able to pick it up. Not too big an impact, but it was a dumb mistake.

The Results of Virality

These two campaigns weren’t the same – not even close. Here are some of the differences between them:

  • The FIRE-PROOF Selling contest lasted an entire month, whereas the Why Guru Strategies DON’T WORK post was just up for a few days.
  • We pretty much launched the contest by ourselves, whereas a lot of friendly bloggers helped us to spread the word about the Guru Strategies post.
  • The sharing mechanisms were very different – with the contest, people had to go, share, and report back in a comment, whereas with the Guru Strategies post they just had to pay with a tweet, which takes a moment and is built into the page.
  • The incentives were different – with the contest, you had to take action in order to have a chance of winning a big prize in the future. With the Guru Strategies post, you had to take an action in order to get a handout right away.
  • The baseline of traffic that we had before the contest was a lot smaller than it was before the Guru Strategies post.

Despite these differences, we got pretty much the same results from both campaigns: once the traffic spike had passed, our baseline of traffic was double what it was before the campaign. Not bad, right?

Okay, okay… let’s talk about how to actually do it!

The Formula for Virality

Near as I can figure, this is the formula for engineering an effective virus:

virality formula

Okay, let’s parse this formula. We know what VIRALITY is, but let’s talk about the elements that come together to create it:

EPIC SHIT: If you’re a regular reader of Think Traffic, then you know exactly what Epic Shit is – in Corbett’s words: “Write things that make people think. Inspire people. Change lives. Create value. Blow people away with your usefulness.”

This is absolutely crucial – it doesn’t matter what else you do, if the content isn’t unbelievably awesome, it won’t go viral. Think about what kind of content you would expect people to pay for, and then give that away for free. Epic shit has exponential impact, hence the small 2 next to it. 😉

CRITICAL MASS: We’ve all heard the standard line about virality – you show something to three people, each of them shows it to three people, each of them shows it to three people, and pretty soon your server crashes from the massive increase in traffic.

Well, in real life, if you show it to three people, one won’t look, one will read it and do nothing and the third might tell three friends, and their three friends might not listen. You need to have a certain amount of attention for there to be a critical mass that can bring your content over that tipping point, and this is shown as a square root because you usually need more help than you think!

ACTION: The third element is action. For something to go viral, it isn’t enough for people to like it and read it, your visitors also have to share it – sharing is action. Sometimes, people will spontaneously share something past that tipping point, but you’ll notice that it usually happens somewhere like Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter, where the reach of that sharing action is huge, and the friction in taking that sharing action is tiny (you just click on a “like” button).

We learned that in comparing our campaigns – if we had embedded a button in every contest post that said “share to enter the contest”, and it was 1-click easy, we would have gotten a lot more shares.

These are the three factors, and together they make up a recipe:

  1. start by creating some truly epic content
  2. plan out all the different sources of traffic that will feed it (guest posts are great for this, and so is reaching out to your network for help)
  3. make sure to include a way for people to share easily and reach a lot of people (you may want a strong call to action to encourage more sharing)

Have you had any content “go viral?” How’d you do it? Have you tried to create viral content that just didn’t work?

Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear your viral content stories.

Danny Iny is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, and proud co-founder of Firepole Marketing, the definitive marketing training program for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-marketers. Visit his site today for a free cheat sheet about Why Guru Strategies for Blog Growth DON’T WORK… and What Does!

41 thoughts on “The Viral Content Formula That Could Double Your Readership”

  1. Once you learn how to write good content and get a little creative with your work..then this is when you see the viral can come out from anywhere..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  2. I think one of my best viral pieces was the 125 women in blogging list. Because I linked to posts from each blogger, most were notified as soon as the post went live by trackbacks, so when I woke up the morning after it went live, I had already gotten a lot of comments and social shares, which continued on steady for the next two weeks. Probably my greatest post my site so far!

  3. Love the formula, Danny! I had a post go viral at my fat loss blog by capitalizing on a current event. . . I wrote about how much sugar was actually in McDonald’s new oatmeal and people jumped all over it. I think the post could have had even more traction if I would have used your formula (I think I could have done a better job with the final part of the equation, by using a strong call to action). Thanks for the info!

  4. Great post Danny. Some great content – and well explained to make it actionable.

    I haven’t had a post go viral as such – but I wrote a post this week that created some interest. It was about ‘Comment Love Ins’ and disagreeing with people – and it’s obviously resonated because lots of people have tweeted it out and it’s gotten double the comments of my previous most popular post – and it’s only been up 36 hours or so.

    I like your idea though – now I have to think of a topic to try it out with.


  5. This is EPIC shit, and I particularly love how it was clearly illustrated.

    Having exceptional content is the foundation of any viral marketing campaign and you’re right about having enough people to spread the word about your content.

    In my experience, my most successful posts are those I wrote from my heart, they’re posts that inspires people. I once wrote a post about my life journey, and over 80% of the comments on the post was I was inspired, believe me, without lifting my finger the post got thousands of views, lots of links and great opportunities. Make your content strong and other things will be easier.

  6. You know what I especially like about this? You’re putting all of into action right now! Like right now you just did this guest post, you wrote a related post on your own blog that offers a lot of value, and you reached out to your network for help with sharing it (I’m here because of an email you sent me).

    In my experience it’s extremely hard to make it so that things go viral. I’ve done what you listed here on several occasions and I would not call the results viral… More along the lines of bacterial. When I think of viral, I think of a spike of thousands of visitors, instead of a few hundred, which is what I’ve gotten far more often. In fact, I’ve created an infographic about this in the past (about going bacterial instead of viral).

    I think the most important thing to your equation is the critical mass. All you need is one uber-connected or uber-respected person to share your stuff for it to become truly viral. That’s what happened with me recently when one Twitter power user RTd a post of mine and I got a traffic spike of a couple thousand. And then it snowballed from there.

    Anyway, again, great post here, Danny. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    1. Thanks, Tristan!

      I’m certainly trying to put it all into action, but it’s not easy, I’ll tell you that… it’s kind of exhausting… 😉

      You’re right, it is very, very hard. But it’s important to remember that virality isn’t a binary thing that is either on or off; things can go more viral or less viral… in other words, bacterial is pretty good, too. :)

      I’d love to see the info graphic, and I’m sure other readers here would, too – what’s the URL?

    2. Okay now I get why you named your site “Firepole” marketing. You are a man on FIYA my friend. I loved this “EPIC SHIT.” Your equation blew my mind and I couldn’t agree with Tristan more! Great job.

  7. I wrote a comment on your website, but wanted to comment here too. This post is golden, probably one of the top posts I’ve read in a while. I will be taking these suggestions and implementing them myself.

    1. Thank you, my friend, I appreciate it. I checked out your site, and it looks really cool – definitely going to head back there in a couple of years when I have kids. :)

      Do me a favor, when you’ve implemented, shoot me an email to let me know how it went! 😀

  8. Thank you for an inspiring post.

    I’ve recently changed my blogging model to quality over quantity. The idea of compelling content that Copyblogger always mentioned is spot on. Since I relaunched a week ago, I’ve doubled my – very modest – RSS subscriber numbers and am now getting comments. Yippee!

    Next, I’m going to try and go viral.

    1. Congratulations, Adam, that’s great to hear!

      You might want to focus on guest blogging first – that’s a good way to get a base audience (remember, one of the components to virality is critical mass)…

      I wrote about this in our Why Guru Strategies for Blog Growth DON’T WORK… and What Does! post – you can find it at the top of the popular posts on Firepole Marketing. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

  9. Absolutely an Epic Shit post!!
    Loved it. Fun to read, yet very educating. Nice example to your own content :) Thanks.

  10. Danny,

    Great post! I liked the graphic for your easy-to-digest formula.

    I haven’t had any viral sensations yet, but I am working on one right now and I’m definitely taking away that I should plan out each of my traffic sources and really think about how I can engage the users on those ends.

    Rock it!

  11. I love the formula that you mapped out. Also @Onibalusi, excellent point. That is what “epic shit” is… “If you build it they will come” only in the case that the building is the most epic, useful, inspiring content possible.

    I had some semi-virality with my “28 Entrepreneurs…” post. Including you Corbett, having everyone involve tweet/share it with their own networks, it was like 29 (including me) published the post and promoted it.

    Great idea on the guest posting strategy… I am on a “guest post” binge right now, I will utilize that more…

    Surfs up,

  12. are everywhere today.

    Speaking of epic shit, nice post :-)

    I managed to help one video go semi-viral. Definitely viral within a niche, but no David After Dentist numbers. Few hundred thousand views for a dog video is not bad tho.

    The way I did it was hard and unsustainable. I basically called in every favor for every dog blogger I had a personal relationship with. It was a total win-win-win, but hard work none the less.

    Which begs a question. When it comes to these formulas, how sustainable and replicatable are they really?

    True viral by definition is like nothing else, imo. However, niche viral I think can be achieved and achieved relatively easy.

    Ayways….I didnt mean to stalk you today, thats just the way things turned out :-)

    1. Hey Dino, it’s great to see you again! 😉

      A few hundred thousand views is pretty awesome, but you raise a very important question about sustainability. You can’t go back to the well every couple of weeks to ask for more favors – the only way you can do that, even every so often, is if you’re constantly giving back – and yes, that can become a full-time job.

      I don’t think you need something new to go viral every day – viral creates a huge traffic spike, which is great, but the real key is the ramp – the increase of baseline traffic that stays with you after the spike has passed. The viral strategy is just meant to create that kind of sustainable growth.

      Does that make sense?

  13. Hi Guys! I truly believe, that writing epic shit is the most effective way to get your readers to spread the word. It’s working on my 3 most-visited sites, but there is another thing to consider. You cannot repeat what others are saying. Simply, if anyone in your niche says, that sky is blue, you have to prove that it is not!
    Regards from Poland!

    1. I absolutely agree with you, Kuba – epic shit is absolutely critical, and nothing will go viral that isn’t. But some things that are epic don’t go viral, and it’s because they’re missing another part of the formula.

  14. Excellent post! Especially love the formula and the clear definition of concepts. I’m new to all this and have been struggling for some time to find the right voice for my blog so that I can actually get to the business of writing “Epic Shit”, but until now I didn’t know that was my goal!

    Thanks for the direction and the inspiration!

    1. Sunil, I agree with you that relevance is a very important factor – I would consider that to be under the “epic content” umbrella (it can’t be epic if it isn’t relevant, right?). What do you think?

  15. Danny,

    I’m late to comment this, but now I finally made it :)

    So … how do you see the critical mass – do you refer it as your email list? I guess it would make sense, because when people have already opted-in, they are much likely to watch your every move and do what you tell them to
    (well, at least in the ideal world :)

    Anyway … great post, I love it :)


    1. Hey Timo, I think it’s a combination of your email list, the people you can count on for a favor, the regular traffic that you get to your blog… it all adds up to the audience that you can initially expose the content to, and the audience has to be large enough for them to start spreading the content effectively. :)

  16. Hi Danny,

    I love reading and learning from posts like this, with key-points to a concept, actionable steps, formulas, etc. You are a great teacher, and I will read the rest of your post at FirePoleMarketing.

    For me, the most difficult part is coming up with the epic shit. But I guess if you really want something badly, nothing is too difficult.

    Thanks for sharing this great post!

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