How to Make Your Organization’s Content Go Viral - Lessons from 100m Headlines

We know that creating shareable content that generates engagement and links is a vital part of any marketing strategy. So much so that, 63% of B2B and 60% of B2C marketers are committed to content marketing.

However, this dedication and its resulting impact mean there’s a tsunami of content out there. Every day sees 656 million tweets and more than 4 million hours of content uploaded to Youtube, and that’s just two social media channels! We’re in an age of what Mark Schaefer calls ‘content shock’ - where there is more content generated than we have the capacity to consume. That results in more pressure than ever to stand out.

So in this age of sharing in real-time how does an organization ensure its content makes a ripple in the sea of content? In this blog, based on discussions at our recent Industry Advisory Council meeting, we explore 3 key ways to ensure your content has the best opportunity to go viral. 

1) Headlines

It may seem obvious but headlines are key to any content. After all, it’s the first thing people read whether it’s on a blog or advert and in order to make a person click, it needs to catch their attention quickly. As David Ogilvy put it, by the time you have written a headline, you have already spent 80 cents of your marketing dollar.

In our analysis of 100 million articles at BuzzSumo, we found that only 4% (4,500 of 114,000 posts) from the top 100 B2B sites got more than 3,000 shares. When analyzed across one million sites the average was a paltry 8 shares. If you get 8 shares, you probably feel like you have wasted your time.

Developing a clickable headline is no easy feat but there are ways to boost the ‘likeability’ of your headlines in order to get your content shared as far and widely as possible.

Consider the headline first

So you’ve created a great article and are ready to share it. For many of us, the headline is considered the last thing to do after creating content particularly when it comes to longer forms such as blogs or Pulse articles. Unfortunately, that’s the wrong way to approach it.

The best way to create a good headline is to think of it first. Look at your keywords that have resonated in the past and write a few headlines, not just one you think will do. Tools such as HubSpot’s blog ideas generator and Co-Schedule are great to use in headline generation while BuzzSumo helps identify keywords or domains to see what content is most shared and sort by network.

For example here are articles that mention ‘The Future of’ and ‘Marketing’ sorted by their performance on LinkedIn:

Headline performance on LinkedIn

A brand that does this well and gets results is Buzzfeed whose content goes viral regularly. For them, content writers have to generate 25 headlines per article and A/B test it before ones are decided on that will resonate on a variety of channels. 

Change it up for different channels

A mistake that companies often make is using the same content for all channels. Each social network has its own demographic and USP and the key to making your content shareable is to tailor it to the audience.

Take Facebook as an example. In our analysis of 100 million headlines, there were phrases that resonated time and time again. The top 3 were:

  • Will make you
  • This is why
  • Can we guess

Whereas when you look at LinkedIn, the phrases that performed best were:

  • The future of
  • X ways to
  • Need to know

This shows the difference between the platforms. On Facebook, headlines that promised something made an impact whereas on LinkedIn it’s more future looking and practical in terms of the audience wanting to solve a problem or find out how to do something effectively.

Remember that context works well for headlines. ‘On a budget’ as a phrase in a headline doesn’t work on Facebook but resonates on Pinterest. So think about content and how to use it on different platforms. It’s an effort, but worth it.

Conduct A/B testing

A great way to ensure your content is hitting the right notes with your desired audience is to A/B test it. While this can be time-consuming it reaps rewards. When it comes to split testing headlines look beyond clicks as a measurement of success and also take engagement into account such as comments, shares and likes.

You can A/B test headlines by selecting the ones you want to test and sharing them across a platform such as Twitter or LinkedIn. Take Buffer as an example. When developing headlines they brainstorm 5-10 and decide on 2 preferred headlines. Post them (ideally close together timewise to make analysis easier) and then track it in analytics to see which performed best. 

Buffer A/B testing

Integrating A/B testing into your content headlines can not only increase shareability but also help you learn more about your audiences on different platforms.

Consider length

The length of a headline can have an impact on your content, and it may be longer than you think! Our analysis showed that on Facebook engagements peaked at 15 words and petered off at 25 for B2B content. However, on LinkedIn, the optimum number of words to drive engagement through sharing is considerably lower at 7 to 12 words. 

Number of words in headlines and average shares

From this, we can see that the impact of headline length on shares appears less significant on LinkedIn than on Facebook. Therefore if you are sharing content on Facebook bear in mind that users are more sensitive to the length of headline while shorter headlines work better in a B2B context.

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2) Tribalism

“What tribes are, is a very simple concept that goes back 50,000 years. It's about leading and connecting people and ideas. And it's something that people have wanted forever. ...Now, thanks to the internet, thanks to the explosion of mass media, thanks to a lot of other things that are bubbling through our society around the world, tribes are everywhere. - Seth Godin

Social media has irrevocably changed the way we communicate and as a result, the amount of content we have access to has grown and just keeps growing. This shift in communication has created communities online or ‘tribes’ that are invested in a cause or goal.

A prime example is in the political arena where people go to social media to air their views - positive or negative. When the Greenfell disaster happened in the UK people went in droves online to comment and post content resulting in phenomenal shares across networks. 

Political Tribalism

Tribalism feeds into an innate human behavior, the need to tell stories and learn from others. It goes beyond politics into people wanting to share personal experiences and social media is the perfect place to do that in terms of building connections and reach.

As a way to get content shared or even viral tribalism presents brands with a way to connect with their customers in a personal way and offer value through a community that can enhance their life. A great example and my personal favorite is ‘The Holderness Family presents…’ which is a video series that pairs wine with family situations using Facebook as its platform racking up 8.9 million views.  

Brands that tap into tribes can see the benefits by promoting loyalty amongst customers and creating brand evangelists. It can also earn the brand respect and help awareness while helping an organization stay relevant in the eyes of its customers. 

3) Video

By 2019 video is projected to claim more than 80% of internet traffic while adding a video to marketing emails can boost click-through rates by 200-300%. Without considering video, no content marketing strategy is complete.

On Facebook, video does particularly well with its audience. In fact, the average post reaches 12.05% of the total page audience and received the highest levels of engagement (comments, likes and shares). This compared to other content formats such as links (7.8%) and status updates (4.5%).

When it comes to topics, food, fashion and pets rule the pack. Just like headlines, length is important for videos, the ideal being 60-90 seconds. However, this changes on Facebook Live where longer is better with engagement increasing in the first 15 minutes and then tapering off. As expected, the most common reactions to Facebook videos are laughter and love although on Facebook Live the ones that resonate are either happy or sad. You probably don’t want people laughing at your Facebook live video...

Other videos that are effective on Facebook are how-to’s and tips. A lot of brands have tapped into this by creating series that inform viewers about something they are interested in. Take Benefit as brand that uses Facebook live video effectively offering weekly tricks that show users how to use their products. The result? Over 30,000 view on each video. 

Benefit Tipsy Tricks

The same type of impact is expected on LinkedIn, but with video only being added in the past few weeks, it’s too early to have data on it. We’ll review how LinkedIn video performs over time.

Content is an effective way to communicate with customers but there’s an art to doing it successfully. You should be inspired, but also look at the data and see what works for your sector, and your competitors. With so many elements coming to play to create great content, it’s important to create a strategy that is informed by both past behavior (of your content and similar) and future trends.

If you’re a company looking to optimize content, do some research. Find out what works in your industry and boil it down to what content performs well in specific sector to a specific audience. Try and be helpful, don’t try and sell. Think education first and then build out a content map to support the rest. 

Stephen Walsh

Stephen has co-founded three businesses, formed and led global sales & marketing teams, exceeding $20M+ targets. He’s co-founder of global elearning provider Kineo (sold to City & Guilds), BuzzSumo, a content marketing tool (sold to Brandwatch), Anders Pink, a social selling and content curation tool and an advisor on sales, marketing and learning strategy to multiple companies.

He’s passionate about helping learning, sales and marketing teams achieve their goals with technology, content and great service.

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Stephen Walsh