We’ve heard that creating content has never been easier, but this throws up its own challenge. With so many options for audiences, getting your content seen is still a real challenge.

That’s why I wanted to write the Econsultancy guide to content distribution.

With my tongue in my cheek I prefixed the headline of the guide ‘How to Go Viral’.

We can hardly guarantee our content will ‘go viral’, but with all the success of publishers due to social sharing, I feel it’s an idyllic goal for content marketers.

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.

James Carson

Published 27 July, 2015 by James Carson

James Carson is Director of Content at Made From Media and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

24 more posts from this author

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Jean Chapin, Head of Ecommerce Marketing, EMEA at TrendMicro

Thanks for this, James. My team (and I) sometimes get stuck on #6 and #7 ... thinking we have to have a quality video and thinking we have to have original content. It's a good reminder that it's the story and the emotions that are going to make an impact.

about 2 years ago

Matt Robinson

Matt Robinson, Marketing Communications Manager at Acxiom

Hi James, some valid points but I couldn’t read this and not offer an alternative perspective and comment on a few things I wanted to pick up on. The first being I fundamentally disagree with your statement that content marketers’ “idyllic goal” is to “go viral”. The idyllic goal IMO for content marketers is to not only look at what they are trying to achieve when distributing that content, but before that content is even created, understand and vocalise what is the purpose of that piece of content? What do I want to achieve by creating and then distributing that content? Is it mass brand awareness? Is it additional sales in a particular business area? Content marketers need to scrutinise their target audience and create content that will help them better serve the purpose of that content. Perhaps it’s to engage and then have the customers follow a call to action?

There are plenty of examples of content that has ‘gone viral’ but ultimately hasn’t had a tangible impact on a company’s ultimate goal. It’s lazy thinking to suggest that we as marketers should strive for this without first understand your audience and your goals and strategy of the wider business and marketing teams but also of that particular item of content.

Three of your headline pointers caught my eye in particular that I wanted to discuss:

• Don’t worry so much about ‘quality’
• Publish at volume
• Repurpose other people’s stuff

To me, it’s dangerous to advocate to aspiring and existing marketers that they shouldn’t worry about quality. Surely we as an industry should be striving for quality content that will add value for our audience?

The ‘publish at volume’ debate I would approach with caution. Do we really as content marketers want to be adding to the increasing noise of content in the industry by churning out as much content as we can? Potentially good for SEO and for discoverability but again, this goes back to the question, is it adding value for your target audience?

I’d be extremely hesitant to encourage a call to arms for content marketers to scour the web looking for popular content, repurposing this in the hope that my brand gains the same amount of traction. Again, surely this is just adding to the noise and forgetting why we’re creating content in the first place.

Taking the above three examples surely you don’t believe we should advocate publishing as much content as possible, including other people’s stuff slightly repurposed and not worrying about the quality because f*** it, we want to go viral with this stuff?

Interested to hear your (and other reader’s) opinion’s on these points.

Cheers,

Matthew

about 2 years ago

James Carson

James Carson, Founder at Made From MediaSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Matt,

Thanks for the comment – seems like you’re thinking that I’m taking an extreme point of view, which I’m not. I’m suggesting some tips that may help people make up their mind about their approach to content strategy. I don’t think it’s ‘dangerous’ or a ‘call to arms’.

'Idyllic' doesn't mean 'ultimate' or 'necessary' – it’s a rosy view and it would be nice if content was actually seen by people that matter - I've said my title to the guide was tongue in cheek. I'm not advocating every piece of content we create has to go viral, I'm advocating that it is created with distribution in mind.

In each of the headlines you mention - I think my answers to your comments somewhat lie within the post, but…

I'm not saying 'create as much as you can' or 'repurpose everything'. I think in what you create originally, it should generally strive to be well produced, but that in my observations this is not such a strong factor in better distribution if you don't match criteria mentioned in point 1.

This post: http://andreaspouros.com/2015/06/16/game-of-thrones/ makes some interesting points around repurposing and quality (Rough and Ready Graphics). From what I can see, content marketing is very often caught up in creating stuff that is original and well produced – I don’t think it has to be this way.

Regarding:

“Taking the above three examples surely you don’t believe we should advocate publishing as much content as possible, including other people’s stuff slightly repurposed and not worrying about the quality because f*** it, we want to go viral with this stuff?”

I’ll answer:

“Taking the above three examples surely you don’t believe we should advocate publishing as much content as possible

[I didn’t say that, nor do I believe it – I’m suggesting publishing more that an odd blog article a week so you can gain an audience and base more of your future decisions on data]

including other people’s stuff slightly repurposed and not worrying about the quality

[If you don’t meet anything I lay out in the other points, particularly 1, then it’s not worth it anyway – I didn’t say, ‘just do anything’ – obviously there are caveats here and I’ve written a lot for Econsultancy on how to shape content strategy: https://econsultancy.com/blog/64757-the-24-ingredients-for-a-delicious-content-strategy/ is a start]

because f*** it, we want to go viral with this stuff?”

[Woah! If I was advocating ‘publish as much as possible’ with no set plan or consideration of quality or any other criteria, then I wouldn’t be saying ‘f*** it, we want to go viral with this stuff’. I’d quickly realise:

What we’re doing is sh*t]

about 2 years ago

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David Pawsey, Copywriter at Freelance

Great discussion. I think one of the major things that characterises viral content is that a lot of the time it is unexpected and unplanned, captures the zeitgeist and goes outside of the intended audience.

Obviously a large part of viral marketing is raising brand awareness rather than generating hard leads but how many people signed up for Hootsuite as a result of the Games of Thrones video having never used it before or switching from another platform? (Obviously a rhetorical question)

Defining exactly what constitutes "viral" is another issue. Is it something that gets double, treble, 100 times your normal views?

Obviously a major part of the marketers tool kit is constant analysis of previous campaigns in whatever format and hoping to repeat or exceed the success of what went before.

To achieve that you want to be creating engaging, quality content. However I think aiming for something to go "viral" is generally going to end in disappointment.

If there was a formula, then we could all stop reading Econsultancy and cash in our chips!

about 2 years ago

Matt Robinson

Matt Robinson, Marketing Communications Manager at Acxiom

Hi James,

Good to hear your take. Like I mentioned, some valid arguments and pointers in your blog most of which I agree with. I just think having the inclusion of the three aforementioned headlines in your Ten Commandments of successful content distribution goes against everything we as marketers should be advocating.
I think you hit the nail on the head when you say “it would be nice if content was actually seen by people that matter” – perhaps if this was highlighted in the original post it wouldn’t have provoked such a spirited response from myself. My point was to challenge your statement that ‘the idyllic goal for content marketers’ is to ‘go viral’. Does a niche B2B health-tech firm really care about reaching a mass audience through a piece of content that catches like wildfire and gains massive traction? Yes, that may have a positive impact on the brand if seen by the people that they actually want to target, but should ‘their idyllic goal’ therefore be to go viral or to reach the audience that they care about even if this means reaching just ten of their most important prospects? In your reply you hit the nail on the head, it’s got to be audience-first.

Of course I appreciate you’re not saying 'create as much as you can' or 'repurpose everything' and this may go back to your brand’s values and strategy but we have the opinion before a piece of content is created that it must uphold two values: Is it useful? Is it interesting? Great to produce plenty of content but not for content’s sake, our industry is suffering from this enough at the moment and the headline leads to encouraging this trend rather than placing an onus on quality content that matters.
Regarding your response to the below:

“Taking the above three examples surely you don’t believe we should advocate publishing as much content as possible

[I didn’t say that, nor do I believe it – I’m suggesting publishing more that an odd blog article a week so you can gain an audience and base more of your future decisions on data]

I would again disagree, a powerful piece of content, seeded and distributed in the right way in my experience is far more powerful than multiple items of less powerful content that has less resonance. Many of your points on content distribution I agree with, but far better to do this with items of great content than try to blitzkrieg approach with multiple items of content that’s got less chance to resonate with your audience?
In response to below:

because f*** it, we want to go viral with this stuff?”

[Woah! If I was advocating ‘publish as much as possible’ with no set plan or consideration of quality or any other criteria, then I wouldn’t be saying ‘f*** it, we want to go viral with this stuff’. I’d quickly realise: What we’re doing is sh*t]

Fair enough, appreciate you’re not advocating this and clear from the other work you’ve published you have a great handle on some of the key steps to create a content strategy so on the same page here.

Just read the blog you mentioned [on the link below] – I think this is a fantastic piece of content, a clear and practical guide for shaping your content strategy, a great read and great to see some practical tools shared.

https://econsultancy.com/blog/64757-the-24-ingredients-for-a-delicious-content-strategy/

Overall I think our main disagreement is probably the terminology used in the headings and also this ‘going viral’ – but largely I’m sure we’re on the same terms.

Great points from David also, and important to note the organic nature of viral content in that you can never plan a piece of content to go viral. A great distribution plan with incredible seeded content does not equate to a piece of content catching alight and ‘going viral’ (however we choose to define this).

Matthew

about 2 years ago

James Carson

James Carson, Founder at Made From MediaSmall Business Multi-user

To be honest - the guide was written for B2C and this doesn't come across in this post. I can't do much to change that now...

Regarding:

I would again disagree, a powerful piece of content, seeded and distributed in the right way in my experience is far more powerful than multiple items of less powerful content that has less resonance. Many of your points on content distribution I agree with, but far better to do this with items of great content than try to blitzkrieg approach with multiple items of content that’s got less chance to resonate with your audience?

Depends on the context.

I agree publishing lots of smaller pieces isn't for everyone, but many B2C brands are trying to replicate publishing approaches but producing very limited amounts of content. I don't think one is above the other - good content strategies should try and do both.

This is an interesting case study: http://contently.com/strategist/2014/10/13/how-this-brand-blog-grew-to-50-million-monthly-readers-in-just-10-months/

about 2 years ago

Danny Ashton

Danny Ashton, Founder at Neo Mam Studios

James, great post and good to finally read something about content distribution.

I whilst i am a big fan of STEEPs and SUCCESS framework (we have it on our office wall and the entire team have read both) - I have to be honest in saying that we have found it hard to implement completely into our ideas process.

As a framework for evaluation it's great once you have the idea but we found it hard to target many of the elements apart from one or two.

We have come to the conclusion that whilst those frameworks are great at showing why some ideas are shared more, many are not a requirement for most content marketing purposes.

I personally find the STEEPs framework from contagious the most easily applicable to the world of content marketing.

With Practical Value and Trigger being the elements that if included can pretty much guarantee success for creating something that your audience wants to share.

This aligns pretty well with most of the advice from the CM community - make something that your audience cares about (trigger) or makes their life/problem a bit easier (practical value.)

This simple concept then allows us to be really creative with the concepts whilst still having the thought "does our audience care and does this make their life easier?" to stop us going to the path of non-relevant yet potentially viral ideas that Matt touched on.

It would be interesting to hear about you and others have implemented the STEEPs and SUCCESS frameworks as I'm sure there are multiple ways to approach it.

about 2 years ago

James Carson

James Carson, Founder at Made From MediaSmall Business Multi-user

I prefer STEPPS too... I think remarkability isn't mentioned as a key criteria in either framework, which perhaps it should be (although it's wrapped into social currency and unexpected).

The criteria interwine really closely, and I think 'story' is just pretty obvious and applies to most content. 'Public' is perhaps a bit of a weak point, 'Triggers' is basically the same thing.

A piece of content released with a topical hook, (therefore public), stated with emotion, tells a story isn't all that hard to create. I guess this piece: http://madefrom.com/history/vietnam-war/visual-history-vietnam-war/ is something that met those criteria (share counters got reset on site relaunch - it got to the top of reddit.com/r/history for several days).

about 2 years ago

Danny Ashton

Danny Ashton, Founder at Neo Mam Studios

Love the multimedia content piece - totally going to put in my steal folder on slack ;)

I think one of the things we found with STEEPs is that it is better to go full on one element than try and include lots of them.

So for example if the concept during brainstorm has elements of social currency - then we look at how we can push that further.

Is the research general - then lets make it just for the ultimate fan.
Can we include design elements that a small number of the elite will recognize and feel good for noticing?
Can we use some sort of test/quiz mechanism to push the social currency angle even higher.

This was a piece we did a long time ago that pushed social currency more than any other element and it paid off big time when it came to shares: http://gizmodo.com/50-things-a-geek-should-know-1205516959

about 2 years ago

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