Viral content is the holy grail for all online publishers. Sounds great, but what are the essential ingredients that make for a veritable contagion?

When it comes to shareable content, Buzzfeed knows what it’s doing. The juggernaut claims 200 million user visits and upwards of one billion video views every month. In a recent article for Search Engine Journal, Kelsey Jones recaps a talk by Buzzfeed Publisher Dao Nguyen at South by Southwest entitled, “The Art and Science of Shareability.”

Let’s take a closer look at some of her key takeaways.

Your Viral Checklist

Buzzfeed has succeeded as a preeminent source of viral content because the site doesn’t pretend to be interested in anything other than mass shareability. In truth, their core strategy resembles basic epidemiology, as it heavily relies on the following five characteristics of viral content: identity, emotion, conversation, aspiration, and universality.

Let’s unpack that. Buzzfeed publishes pieces that cater to niche demographics. By creating content that certain readers identify with, the company encourages sharing as a form of genuine connection. If a piece evokes raw emotion, that makes it all the more likely to be shared.

When a piece generates conversation, as Buzzfeed‘s #TheDress did, for example, it practically shares itself. Readers also disseminate content when it reflects well on them. In this case, unlike a real connection or raw emotion, the piece expresses self-improvement.

Finally, content that underscores commonalities and creates a sense of unity also finds its way more often than not into people’s news feeds.

Is That It?

A wall painting of a sharing logo.

Toban B./flickr


Perhaps going viral is less of a science and more of a checklist. Various sources agree with Nguyen’s basic structure while adding some crucial contributions. Perhaps it goes without saying, but the best content is well-written, according to Deborah Jian Lee at Forbes.

An irresistible headline followed by an eloquently narrated and engrossing story keeps people from clicking off the window. However, keep it brief: 500 to 1,000 words marks the sweet spot for digital content.

Aside from solid writing, Lee encourages visuals. The content marketer Skyword conducted a study that established a correlation between engagement and images. For one client, the total views of their content grew by 94% when the pieces were accompanied by a pertinent image.

Interestingly, viral content tends to give credit where credit is due. Whenever a piece cites a source, it’s polite to link to the original site. The habit creates a friendly flow of traffic, allows curious readers to find out more, and boosts visibility and popularity among competing websites and bloggers.

Psychologically Speaking

A neon light representing the brain.

dierk schaefer/flickr


Associate Professor of Marketing John Berger emphasizes the psychology of viral content, on the University of Pennsylvania. For three months, Berger and his colleagues analyzed the email traffic at the New York Times and came away with definitive results: viral content must be surprising, interesting, intense, positive, and actionable (i.e., practically useful).

The findings, as explained by Carter Bowles on Kissmetrics, can be fairly intuitive. It’s not a shocker that surprise and intrigue go a long way. However, the intensity and positivity further amplify the emotional crux of content. For content to really make the rounds, it must transmit powerful emotions.

The more powerful the emotion, the more likely the piece is to garner shares. If that emotion is positive, then the piece will thrive like gangbusters. A practical use can help direct the emotional roller coaster and boost popularity.

Curated Contagion

Whether you like to think of it as a science or a checklist, the ins and outs of viral marketing can be a lot to handle. Enter L&T Co. As your company or organization’s dedicated brand newsroom, L&T produces stellar content every day on your company’s behalf.

Their well-written, meticulously referenced articles are replete with eye-grabbing headlines and never breach the word count sweet spot. Instead, in under 750 words, the content packs both intrigue and practical use. For killer content, look no further than L&T.

Longneck and Thunderfoot offer content marketing services and strategies to transform your company blog into an authoritative trade publication. Click to learn more about how to produce great content and prove ROI on your marketing efforts.

(Main image credit: Tom Thai/flickr)