January 24th, 2018

What Kinds of Social Media Go Viral?

In last month's post, I shared social media strategies that support your brand and let you have a life. I don't know about you, but I like having social media be something I fit into MY life, rather than the other way around. The big question everyone wants to know is: "How do I get my post to go viral?"

First, we need to understand what kinds of posts get shared extensively and why.

There are many many schools of thought on what gets others to share your content, but I decided to go with science because we want results that can be duplicated. Scientific American published a fascinating article that concluded the following:

"..content that elicits an emotional reaction tends to be more widely shared. In addition, stories stimulating positive emotions are more widely shared than those eliciting negative feelings, and content that produces greater emotional arousal (making your heart race) is more likely to go viral. This means that content that makes readers or viewers feel a positive emotion like awe or wonder is more likely to take off online than content that makes people feel sad or angry, though causing some emotion is far better than inspiring none at all."


For max impact, I'd recommend focusing on the following types of content:

1. Lots of photos and branded graphics.

Whether it's photo platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, or more chat-based media like Twitter and Facebook, photos are more likely to grab attention and get shared. In fact, Facebook algorithms always show a photo before a link. That means, even if you're going to include a link, be sure to put your photo in first. Better yet, add the link in the comments so the Facebook status update is all about your gorgeous photo.

Make your photos awesome! I recommend Laura Drake's Canva post for help with this. Also, here's a good social media rule set to live by from Sendible.

2. Short videos provide traction.

This can be achieved by a Facebook Live, a quick Snapchat video, or just some vid you shoot on your phone. The key word here is short. NO more than five minutes. Preferably, no more than three minutes. Get in, say what you want to say, and get out.

Don't be afraid to edit your video! You don't have to learn a program like Camtasia to do this. YouTube has tons of editing tools that are free with your YouTube account. Plus, it's owned by Google, which means your videos here will show up higher in the search rankings. Score!

Mary Castillo, an author and marketing specialist, offers this sage input about videos:

If you're using a scheduling tool like HootSuite, that's great. It is a huge time saver. But Facebook is choosy. I schedule my Facebook uploads directly in Facebook. Those posts are more likely to show up in your followers' news feeds.

Live Facebook videos with live Instagram videos are very popular and again, make Facebook like you. When you go live, your followers on both platforms receive a push notification to their device.

3. GIFs can be cool.

But...GIFs can get old quickly if that's all you do. The key to "giving good GIF" is eye-catching graphics or snippets paired with easy language. You are graphically trying to enhance the mood of a concept and get across a message.

Here are GIF tips from actual designers who say, "Don't be afraid of Photoshop." But if that is way too high tech for you, GIPHY has a GIF Maker you can use to share your own GIFs. (Here's how you share them to Instagram.)

4. Other resources for creating shareable social updates.

Creating "quote graphics" is a great way to get your content shared. This can be a quote from a recognizable historical figure or a quote from one of your characters. You decide!

As I said in my last post, you want your time online to be fun and productive. How much MORE fun will it be if all your hard work pays off with content that gets shared widely?

It won't happen overnight. It might not even happen the first several months. Social media is a tool requiring perseverance and a steady drip-drip-drip of content. If you build that content, share it and interact with the people who share it further, at some point you will have your content take off, which builds name recognition and sells books.

Now it's your turn! What are your thoughts on great online content? Do you mix things up with video, photos and GIFs? What do you do to maintain your work/life balance?

About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm.

28 responses to “What Kinds of Social Media Go Viral?”

  1. Great content, as always Jenny, especially the Scientific American conclusions. I've got to lighten up in my posts!

  2. Terry Odell says:

    Haven't tried the videos yet, but this old lady has the attention span of a gnat. If (and I confess it's the first thing I look at) the time says more than 1 minute, I don't even open it.
    Likewise, any Facebook post that says "Answer with a GIF" is another automatic scroll past.

    I love the quote memes, and with Canva, it's easy to make my own. Also places like eecards which has great writing quotes. Those are probably 80% of my tweets, and Analytics say they get the most engagement.

    But viral? Not in my lifetime, I fear. I'm thrilled with 3 digit engagement numbers.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I love a good three minute video, but you're right...the shorter the better! And three digit engagement numbers are fine! But why not enjoy four digits or more once in a while? Great content will do it for you. 🙂

  3. Julie Glover says:

    I always read posts like these from you, Jenny, and think, "How does she know all this stuff?" It's a gold mine of info!

    What I've found that people also like is when you share this stuff and then ask a question so they can engage with the post. It would make sense that once we've interacted with the visuals, we're more likely to feel invested and thus share the post with others.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL. Number one, it's my job to know and, number two, I love technology! It means it's fun for me to search this stuff out, even for the parts I don't use as much (like Photoshop). I agree with you about the question part - engagement always boosts everything - but there's tons of content that goes far with only a quick phrase.

  4. Do you have any ideas for FB live videos for authors? I've thought of reading an excerpt or sharing the idea for a story, but keep chickening out. The idea fascinates and terrifies me all at once. Thank, Jenny!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Great idea, Debbie! The first thing I'd do is practice! Also, make sure you have the kind of cameras on you that don't make covers and printing and stuff backwards. If you can't get the cover to show right side, then take a photo and reverse it, so it will show properly when you hold it up.

      If you decide to read, that's great, but you want to get the emotional investment going, so it's better to do things about you, or that benefit readers - recipes, giveaways, a quick hello or update on a reader event. Research trip footage is awesome too, or a gimmick like "where is the ___" that you've tied into a reader promotion. But ALWAYS be sure to have the latest book visible in any FB live session.

  5. colleen says:

    Great tips, Jenny, thanks! I learned something here today. :O)

  6. Great info. I love Canva too. 🙂

  7. Hey, Jenny. I bookmark your posts but don't comment a whole lot. 🙂 I've got an Instagram question for you. Besides my young readers, who aren't on social media, the target audience for my sweet romances is probably 30-65 (and up!). Is the 40-60 group on Instagram much? Or mostly Facebook and Pinterest?

    I'll be releasing my first three romances pretty close together late this fall, and I still need to pick a pen name and set up a new website. To be honest, I'm a horrible WANA graduate b/c my blogging has fallen by the wayside, but I'd like to have a coherent plan to get started with social media in this new persona. In your opinion, is Instagram worth it for this group?

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Jennifer, this is a great question, since Instagram is most popular with young adults. In that 40-60 year bracket, approximately 60-80% of the adults in your target group are on Facebook, while only 8-30% in that bracket use Instagram.

      Here's what Pew Research says:

      To a greater extent than the other social platforms measured in this survey, Instagram use is especially high among younger adults. Roughly six-in-ten online adults ages 18-29 (59%) use Instagram, nearly double the share among 30- to 49-year-olds (33%) and more than seven times the share among those 65 and older (8%). And as was the case in previous Pew Research Center surveys of social media use, female internet users are more likely to use Instagram than men (38% vs. 26%).

      And here is a link to the article. I don't have the 2017 numbers yet, so it might be higher now, but it's still not as high as FB: http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016/.

  8. Merissa Racine says:

    Jenny, another timely post. I almost have a new website up and decided I want to blog. Your tips are so helpful. I'm also interested your response to Jennifer's question about Instagram which I haven't done yet. Thank you!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Merissa, blogging is a great way to build and audience that is personally invested in you and your platform. My advice is always, do the things YOU love, and the benefit will come. Blog about the topics that excite you, even if they have nothing to do with your book, and people will come bond with you over that. Do only as many social media platforms as you can do well, and not have it all overwhelm you. That's the key to making sure that you keep doing it.

      (And this discussion is making me feel like I need to get over to More Cowbell! Things have been languishing over there during the cold and flu season.)

  9. Laura Drake says:

    Hey Jen, you know I'm the FB and Pinterest queen. I seriously rock them. I get tons of engagement, shares and likes.

    Sometimes, I'll post about an upcoming book, or I have posted myself reading an excerpt (Debbie, you should try it-it's fun!), but has it sold books?

    Hmmmm. I wish I had some way to know....

  10. Fae Rowen says:

    I love me some stats, Jen. But as to social media tips, HA! I continue to try to do more, but still, my comfort level is a fraction above zero. There are just so many more things I enjoy doing than being tied to my computer...

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL. But Fae, I saw you rocking some hashtags on Facebook yesterday. That's light years ahead of where you were! All the practice is starting to pay off in the more natural tone I'm seeing in your updates. You are settling into it, girlfriend, and I'm proud of you. 🙂

  11. Thank you Jenny. Very helpful.

  12. dholcomb1 says:

    I find the readers like engaging in gifs

    denise

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