The Secrets Behind a Viral Post

Every person and business dreams of having a viral post. It’s the buzzword that keeps a lot of social media managers in a job, but equally one that also terrifies plenty more companies away from having a full-time social media employee. After all, your viral post could well be a negative one - whether it be a scathing customer review seen by millions, a meant-to-be-secret discount code that turned up on every coupon website or an ex-employee horror story. But for now, let’s focus on some of the key ingredients behind a viral post. This isn’t going to guarantee your next post will be the next #TheDress, but it should go some way to helping you understand why some content catches fire like it does, and how you could implement that knowledge into your own social media strategy.

Making it Relatable

When you're brainstorming content ideas, one of the first things you have to think about is: why would people engage with this? And for me, relatability is up there with the most important reasons why your fans would share something. They have to see the post and they have to relate to it in some way, whether that's by recalling old memories, being reminded of someone else or linking it to a recent event in their daily lives.

Take the popular Twitter account Primary School Probs, for instance. They've got almost 400,000 followers, and that's because, like so many other Twitter accounts it must be said, they post semi-amusing relatable images and memes from your childhood. People see what they're posting, make that personal connection with it and feel motivated enough to retweet it.

Of course, this account also works so well because for many of Twitter's millennial audience, these things are still fresh in their mind and tend to relate to people all over the country, from differing creeds and classes. It may just seem like a bit of harmless fun, and of course it is, but there is still a kind of science behind why these sorts of accounts do so well. So if it's relevant to your business, try putting this into practice and thinking about how your users will relate to your content, making sure you're well-aware of the demographics of your audience.

Provoking Debate

Secondly, you should try and think about how your potential content will provoke debate amongst your audience. The most famous example of this was entirely unplanned but ended up causing a Twitter meltdown. I'm talking about #TheDress, which became so widely talked about that pretty much every major news corporation covered it, drawing comment from the likes of Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian along the way. 

But whilst you shouldn't be expecting a viral phenomenon like this anytime soon (sorry!), there's still some things we can learn from it. You see, this tapped into the very essence of social media - which is people's desire to vent their feelings online. It's why so many political posts go viral - people are naturally opinionated and often use social media as a vehicle to express those opinions, even if the content in question is only light-hearted. Just remember to keep it light and try not to provoke a debate that might get nasty, because that isn't going to do much good to you or your brand!

Making an Emotional Connection

So this one sounds a little heavy, but it's really quite simple, and maybe gets to the heart of viral posts more than anything else. Your audience has to feel something to be compelled to like or share your content, and this could come in many forms. It could make them laugh, make them cry, make them smile, make them angry - anything like that. If they're scrolling through a crowded newsfeed then it's these things that need to be triggered in order for them to engage with the content.

Hitting the Right Audience

We've already touched upon this point, but it's worth reiterating. You might have created the perfect piece of content that you think people will relate to, that will provoke debate and that people will emotionally react to, but if it's going out to the wrong audience in the first place then it's never going to go anything like viral. I can think of several occasions where I've come up with something that I thought was going to do really well, was going to be seen by tonnes of people and was really gonna get my brand's name out there. But it never did. Maybe that was because although I found the content funny/inspiring, the audience I was posting it to might not necessarily have felt the same. At the same time, I've previously posted what I thought was pretty average content which went on to have millions of views - something I was absolutely not expecting.

The primary school tweet linked to at the top of this article, which has 16,000 retweets, does so because it hit the exact right audience for the content. If that tweet had come from an account with an older audience for instance, then you can bet your bottom dollar it wouldn't have received anything like the same success.  So make sure you know your audience, and tailor your content around them.

Get Lucky

This wasn't an attempt to shoehorn a Daft Punk reference into this article...honest. My last point is a simple one. There's no exact science behind what makes content go viral, because really it happens for so many different reasons that we would be here all day trying to pin them all down. Posting something at the right time, to the right audience that taps into that certain something can often hinge on a bit of good fortune. I'm sure there's a heck of a lot of potentially viral content that never quite makes it for this reason alone. And I'm officially putting this as the reason why every single one of my posts doesn't go viral. Poor, poor me.


Whilst viral posts are very much a rarity that probably have all five of these elements within them, for your everyday posts you should make sure that it's at least one of the following: relatability, debate-provoking, makes an emotional connection or hits the right audience. Start with one of these, and you'll be well on your way to creating your first viral post.

Do you want your content to go viral? Now I can't guarantee anything, but I'm an experienced social media manager that works with businesses to get their content seen by the right people. Let's have a chat!