Behavioral Science

12 Tips to Make Something Viral

by . September 10th, 2014


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know what it means for something to be viral, or at least have seen the effects of it. Something gets posted on the internet and magically spreads like wild fire across social media. Latest of note would be the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which became so huge, California seemed to forget it had a drought.

But what makes a post viral? Surely, it’s not just luck. Here are twelve tips that increase the chances of something you make get viral.

Positive inspirational content


People like being happy a whole lot more than being sad. People that seem like they want to be sad are just looking for either a break or attention. So it’s nice to post something that makes people happy. Inspirational stuff works best, so much so that it’s a tag in TED Talks.

Emotional diversity

What’s better than showing something that makes you smile? Something that makes you smile, laugh, and cry at the same time. Try and remember all the big award winning movies and wrap your mind around all the emotions they gave you. Just like those movies, viral videos tend to have a wide spectrum of emotions that guide you through it.



I think this has to do with people loving knowing about things first and sharing it to friends. Having that surprise factor lets people want to share it because they want to know their friends’ reactions towards it. It also adds a new facet to whatever you post because it goes beyond what people expect.

Practicality or the sense of it

If it feels useful, it’ll get more traction. A huge part of why the ALS Ice Bucket challenge got viral was because of the ALS part. By attaching it with a cause which is easy to contact, it hit a lot of people’s philanthropic sides and had them believe they were helping the world.

Millennials are harder to engage

We weren’t born to the internet like generation Z is, but we’ve had it for a huge enough portion in our lives that we’re kind of used to seeing everything. A lot of us tend to see the world in tropes, so we don’t get amused easily. We’re believe we’ve seen everything, and skip posts a lot, looking for that one piece of gold. However, the rules of young adult fiction still work, and we’re not impossible.

Obsess over it


Mastering virality and social media isn’t a hobby. It’s a lifestyle. The ones that made it through luck alone are very few, and there’s more viral content around that has been under the effect of social media gurus and taste makers than you think. Some people scan hundreds to thousands of links per day just to hit oil.

Post only what you trust

Post only what you believe will gain traction. This does two things: increase your accuracy and make people trust you. Just as Gizmodo has become an authority on tech and Kickstarter has become one of great new projects, you can become an authority of viral content, maybe enough to fight the likes of 9Gag and Break. Who knows?

Study the data

Check out other things that have become viral and try to read why they became viral. Study what the content is about, and what the whys are about as well. Check if they were tied to a certain event. Count the hits compared to the age. It’s like how you almost can’t be a good writer if you’re not an avid reader as well.

Think about timing


If you post something at a time when people won’t see it, then it won’t spread. The first thing you need to do with this is to ask yourself who you need to show this to, and study their schedules. Like if your content had to do with a certain nationality, you wouldn’t post when all of them are awake or busy. A golden time for posts is 9AM to 12NN. This is when people are trying to do their daily tasks but are still too half asleep to, and it’s still too early to cram the work of the day.

Great headlines and compelling angles

Upworthy does this. “#4 Made Me Cry” and stuff like that. However, there are many other ways to phrase a compelling title. Even if you’re not going with their style, Upworthy does have pretty great rules on titles, which boils down to giving just a hint of information to build up suspense.

Social networks

Being the core of virality, knowing how to use social networks is quite important. Study the ones where your market is active. Facebook and Twitter are almost always givens, and Instagram is a close third. Other than studying the culture within these networks, it’s also important to be active in the community and let people know you exist.

Be patient


You have to be patient. A lot of posts don’t get popular for years then just skyrocket. It probably has to do with a mix of bad marketing mistakes and luck. And in any case, you shouldn’t put too much hope in all your posts. That’s unrealistic. A very small percentage of the internet gets viral, yet there’s so much more good content that’s hidden.

If you’ve got more tips on becoming viral, let us know in the comments below.