What Makes a Story Go Viral: 8-Step Formula

Posted by Prospero Team | October 15, 2021 | marketing,

You probably would have felt a moment of anticipation when putting content on the internet. Momentarily you question yourself, will people like it? What makes a story go viral? Could it be improved? Will people share it, and what exactly pushes someone not only to read a story but to pass it on?

Aristotle, in 350 B.C., was also wondering the same questions, what could make content – in his case, a speech – persuasive and memorable so that the ideas would pass from person to person. The answer he gave was three principles: ethos, pathos, and logos. A content to reach people’s hearts and make it go viral should have an ethical appeal, an emotional appeal, or a logical appeal.

A rhetorician with command on all three was likely to leave behind a persuaded audience. Substitute rhetorician with the online content creator, and you’ll see that Aristotle’s principles seem entirely modern. Content that’s credible, worthy, and appeals to its audience do make sense. For example, look at the last few articles you recommended to a friend, shared on your Twitter stream or Facebook page, likely would fit into those categories.

What is viral content?

The term “viral” content refers to a piece of content, either an article, video, meme, or infographic that has been liked and shared hundreds, thousands, or even millions of times in a short period. The primary factor is “suddenness”, or the swift virality of the content. If it took a lot of time to be consumed, it’s not viral.

Around 93% of marketers use social media as a surefire way to grow referral traffic and augment social signals. That adds power to your links for better search rankings. But the question remains, what makes content go viral?

Answering any such question is like predicting the result of a UFC fight. You might think you’ve made a calculated guess, but there’s always a chance you’ve got it wrong.

Google, in the post-Hummingbird era, is more interested in the social activity of your brand. The first obvious prerequisite to making content more shareable is writing compelling content, and no shoddy clickbait can go viral.

What are the types of viral content?

Anything from articles, videos, images, audio, or any other digital content that can spread like wildfire can come under the category of viral content. Content with a high acceptance rate on the internet with hundreds and millions of shares. Significant types of viral content on the internet are: 

  1. List type articles
  2. Action defining content 
  3. Best and Popular sources of content 
  4. Research-based content 
  5. Controversial content 
  6. Preaching content 
  7. Promising content 
  8. Attention seeking content 
  9. Directory content 
  10. Trend alert content 

Benefits of viral content

Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania with Katherine Milkman, analyzed in their study highlighted two features that determine an article’s success – how positive its message was and how much it excited its reader. Likes, shares, and instant growth for your brand can benefit in several ways, such as:  

  • Low advertising costs 
  • Fast growth 
  • Mainstream media exposure
  • Increased credibility 
  • Swift lead generation 

Viral content creation formula

1. Focus on trending topics

Whenever you’re producing content, it should always revolve around what people are searching for at the time. There is no other infallible approach to see your content gaining popularity. However, one might think trends are always and frequently changing. So, instead of basing entirely on current events, you can utilize Google Trends to research your next booming content piece.

Similarly, it’s not only about getting content in front of people but also more about getting it in front of the right people. Getting to know your audience can be the real deal in getting your content to resonate with the readers or viewers. By knowing who you want to reach, you can produce a viral campaign that spreads like wildfire.

2. Write Catchy and Viral Headlines

David Ogilvy said, “On average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

It’s true that in a world full of noise, what makes a person read what you write? The answer is, it takes more than a design flair or even good content. All that comes later, the first and most important part of writing, is the headline.

A study found five common elements to all viral posts – format, emotion, content type, promise, and topic. These types of headlines do wonders because they are unambiguous and clearly convey what the piece will deliver and the potential benefits.

You can also try out some of the most catchy flyer designs online and get some good design ideas or either make your won with super easy-to-use online designing tools nowadays!!

3. Captivating Intros

Then comes the part which is often overlooked – the introduction. Delivering a concise and enticing pitch to your reader to keep scrolling down. Start off with a startling statistic or a quote that connects back to the story you’re presenting. People connect with people; everyone loves to hear personal experiences. So, the readers can put themselves in your shoes, making it easier to hook readers onto reading more.

Then tempt your readers by asking if they want to achieve their desires. It will filter out the readers who really want it. Finally, show your user what success would look like as an attention-grabbing hook.

4. Relevant Images

Visuals give people something tangible to connect with. Compelling and relevant images make readers remember 65% of the information they read. Images assist the writer in conveying the true meaning in a short and precise manner. While helping the reader learn by explaining tough concepts and inspire.

Humans’ love of images lies in our cognition and the ability that they grab our attention easily. As we usually see on social media that a post including images is 10 times more likely to receive engagement.

5. Enable Easy Sharing

Content creation is a crucial element in marketing strategies, and more than 90% of companies engage in content marketing at some level. But it’s not just about producing good content. Making it easy and motivating the users to share the content is similarly essential.

Users are not going to share your content if it’s not convenient for them. Therefore, you need to ensure every piece of content that you put online has share buttons. The buttons will enable your audience to click and share in one easy motion.

6. Emotionally Charged Content

Your content has a job to communicate what you’re unable to do in person effectively. The content needs to make an emotional appeal with a storytelling aspect. It is finding ways that resonate with users in real life and presenting them to make an impact online as well.

Produce the content, keeping in sight the user persona of the brand to keep their attention. Use the language that delivers the story your users would want to hear in person. Remain sincere and truthful by believing in what you’re saying, or no one else will. The audience will take the lead from the tone you set in your writing, the body language of your writing.

7. Promote to Influencers

Working with creators to expand your content’s reach is generally known as influencer marketing. It’s a surefire way to promote your content to the intended target audience. An influencer is someone that wields a persuasive power over their niche audiences that can offer more value to your content.

More than 67% of U.S. marketers are going to use some form of influencer marketing this year. Still not convinced that influencers can help you promote your content. Civic Science results show that 11% of millennials and 14% of 18 to 24 year old bought something because a blogger or influencer recommended it. When any influencer in your niche recommends something, it’s more likely to receive a massive influx of readers.

8. Curiosity

Mainstream media has long lured audiences with tawdry gossip and salacious rumors to sell ad inventory and papers. By creating curiosity in your content, you’re teasing the reader with a hint of what’s coming next without giving all the answers. It compels users to click on the blog post they see on social media, website, or email inbox. Generally, there are three elements in a curiosity gap content: 

  • Headlines – entice, but not specific
  • Publishing frequency – cover a range of topics
  • Virality – leverage the endgame


Today everyone wants more traffic, more followers, views, and subscribers. Getting your content to go viral can be the very thing you need to boom and put yourself in front of your competitors. Though there isn’t a magic recipe for creating viral content, you’ll dramatically increase the chances of creating something that can go viral by following the eight tips outlined above.  

Author’s Bio:

As a Senior Editor at Talk Home, David leads a team of brilliant writers and editors. He also loves to travel and listen to frequent music in his free time.


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