A Benign Virus: Your Company's Content Shared Across Social Media

Brand Management Director at Fruition
5 min read
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Many companies dream of the day when their marketing content goes viral on social media -- resulting in thousands of shares, Facebook "likes," retweets, comments and even TV news coverage. This brings a certain amount of glory and can result in much more exposure for the brand.

Marketers should create any content for a company with the intent of somehow sharing it via social media, though social media posts are currently weighed as part of Google’s search algorithm, according to Google engineer Matt Cutts. But amid the cacophony of the internet, how can one company's content rise above the rest?

Here are some pointers:

Related: The Science Behind Crafting Contagious Content

1. Show social currency. Creating content that will go viral can be practically a science, according to Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In his 2013 book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he outlined six qualities that predispose a piece of content to go viral on social media, the first and foremost being “social currency.”

Internet users put a lot of stock in how they appear online, so any piece of content they share should elevate their status or show their social currency. The content could be funny, which would show that the user has a great sense of humor. It could contain an important piece of political news, showing that the person posting the tidbit knows a lot about current events. 

2. Evoke strong emotions. Berger also collaborated on a 2011 piece in the Journal of Marketing Research, “What Makes Online Content Viral?,” after studying articles published by The New York Times for three months to see what kind of emotions played into a piece of content going viral. Berger and his co-author, Katherine Milkman, found that content displaying positive emotions had the potential to go viral more than that showing negative emotions. Some pieces displaying negative emotions also went viral, if they were “high-arousal” emotions, like anger or anxiety. Sadness, on the other hand, a “low-arousal” negative emotion had less viral potential. 

Related: How These 10 Marketing Campaigns Became Viral Hits

3. Provide a way for users to engage. Recently quizzes are cropping up on Facebook news feeds, often shared from BuzzFeed. Quizzes posing questions like “What Kind of [Fill in the Blank] Are You?” are highly shareable: They often connote social currency.

Engaging users with this type of content plays directly into people’s inherent egocentricity. Quizzes may ask users to submit their own content (at the end) and can help people feel more connected and thus more likely to share the poster's content.

4. Know your audience. There is no such thing as targeting “everyone,” especially it comes creating contact that others will want to share via social media, according to a 2011 study by The New York Times Co., “The Psychology of Sharing.” Different demographic groups behave differently, the study indicated, breaking social media consumers into six different types of personas (altruists, careerists, hipsters, boomerangs, connectors and selectives), who all were prompted to share for different reasons and via different platforms.

Beyond this, figure out whether your company's target audience is male, female and the general age group.  

Related: The 7 Secrets to Shareable Content

5. Be timely and act fast. Instead  posting generic articles, be more news-focused. Look around at recent news, try to dig up something that would be relevant to one's  business. Is the birthday of a celebrity or leader in a business related to your company's focus? Is there a big sporting event coming up that you mention that dovetails with company news?

Don’t wait until the last minute. Other bloggers might have the same idea and post it faster.

6. Keep posts short and simple. Even though Google has recently touted its “in-depth articles” feature (scholarly articles with deep insights), shareable content does isn't long form. Most articles that go viral are fairly short; viral video content is often 30 seconds or less.

Internet readers love content that's quickly digestible and easy to read. Infographics works work well, since images can make reading the content more fun. Breaking up text content with large, appealing images results in content that's more likely to be shared.

7. Optimize posts for mobile. Nielsen's “U.S. Digital Consumer Report” released in February showed that people are spending more time on mobile devices than PCs to access the internet. When comes to accessing the web more than 34 hours a month are spent by the average consumer on smartphones as opposed to 27 hours on a computer. Over the past year, use of personal computers for web access dropped almost two hours, while smartphone usage for internet access climbed almost 10 hours. 

Any content created, whether it’s an infographic, article or video, must pass the mobile test. Otherwise, users might just skip it.

8. Maintain a social presence. With the plethora of social media platforms available, it can be exhausting to post on all of them. But this can boost a company brand’s credibility and, with more followers or likes, the firm will gain exposure and consumer trust. And a user that trusts a brand is more likely to share its content. BRANDfog’s "2014 Global/Social CEO Survey" noted that 71 percent of its U.S. respondents said that a company whose senior-level executives use social media are more trustworthy.  

Related: Put the Right Foot Forward When You Step Online

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