But what are the key steps to getting your content distributed and (hopefully) reaching this goal? I’ve put 10 steps together below.

1. Use a shareable content framework

Is there a secret formula for creating content so it will go viral? No, but there are ways we can frame our content so it increases the likelihood. Popular psychology books Made to Stick and Contagious both provide frameworks for ‘sticky’ ideas that get distributed naturally.

I recommend reading both books (or reading my summary in the report), but if you create content that matches the criteria below, then you’ll be on the right track:

Made to Stick (SUCCESs framework) Contagious (STEPPS framework)
Simple Social currency
Unexpected Triggers
Concrete Emotion
Credible Public
Emotional Practical value
Story Stories

2. Use a topical hook

Jonah Berger talks about the concept of ‘triggers’ and ‘public’ in Contagious. Essentially what he’s talking about is hanging your content around topicality and things that people are talking about at a given time.

A great example of this is Hootsuite’s viral video ‘A Game of Social Thrones’, which replays the legendary opening sequence of Game of Thrones using social media icons rather than the houses of Westeros. Released when interest in the series reached its peak when season 5 premiered in Spring 2015.

While it has great production values, the timing of the video launch was golden – and it racked up close to 1m views. Quite a feat for a social media publishing application!

3. Publish at volume

If you run any kind of editorial operation, publishing slithers of content – say one article per week – is unlikely to gain you the kind of traction you need to gain a regular audience.

With no regular audience, you are not going to acquire your most natural band of sharers. You may stumble to begin with, but by publishing more content you’re likely to find what works for you much more quickly.

4. Ensure you learn from your data

This is intertwined with the last point – always review your content’s data performance and determine the topics and tones that work best for you.

BuzzFeed’s content strategy may often look random, but it’s ultimately the attention to social data which keeps its viral fire burning.

5. Think carefully about your headlines

If your content is shared regularly, it will often appear on social networks and search engines without surrounding context.

This means your headline is often the persuading factor in getting people to click on your content, share it, and thus distribute it. It’s worth remembering this statement by Jakob Neilsen: ‘The headline text must stand on its own and must make sense when the rest of the content is not available.’

6. Don’t worry so much about ‘quality’

Spending £30,000 on a video that looks like more polished than a TV ad means little online. It simply won’t count for much if you don’t meet the other points in this list.

Making people care because your content tells a story, has an emotional hook and is topical is far more important that heavy production values.

Great ideas cost nothing – think about what you could do if you had no budget.

This video simply films from the dashboard of a motorbike going ‘flat out’ – it’s not the prettiest, but has racked up over 2.5m views.

7. Repurpose other people’s stuff

The good thing about the explosion of content on the web is that there’s a lot to go around – and this includes embeddable content like videos and graphics that other people will encourage you to reuse so it can be distributed.

You may be able to make partnerships with people you distribute for. Some major publishers like BuzzFeed and Upworthy have built huge audiences essentially through repurposing other people’s stuff.

8. Build in a ‘pass it on’ mechanism

The classic growth hacking story is that of Hotmail, whose usage ballooned when they appended email sent by users with the link ‘PS: I love you. Get your free e-mail at Hotmail.’ Every recipient of a Hotmail email would receive the marketing message, and more people would consequently sign up.

A similar effect can be seen with viral campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge, where people on Facebook would pour a bucket of iced water over their head and nominate at least three people to follow suit.

This diagram shows how virals can be passed on from a source - with blue circles for people who receive and pass on a message

This diagram shows how virals can be passed on from a source – with blue circles for people who receive and pass on a message.

9. Find relevant influencers

One of the key principles of Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point is the ‘law of the few’ – the idea that critical mass for things to tip are often controlled by a few influencers, rather than first considering the mass of the population.

Due to social networks, it’s now easier than ever to find influential people. Win them over, and they could be critical in getting your message shared.

10. Deconstruct and recycle your content

If you’ve made a video, consider how many elements could be used elsewhere. You’ll likely have a script, a story board, graphics, narration – all of which could be shared on somewhere other than YouTube.

Put the script on your website, the storyboard on Slideshare and the sound file on Soundcloud. If you think of doing this from the start, it’ll be far easier to distribute it later.