Virality is the tendency of an image, video, or piece of information to be circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another; the quality or fact of being viral.
If you are familiar with medieval literature, you’ve probably heard about the Holy Grail – a plate or cup that, according to the legend, has special powers, and is designed to provide its owner with happiness, eternal youth and food in infinite abundance.
So life-changing were the powers of this mystical cup that countless notable characters spent their lives chasing after it: Sir Percival from Camelot, Merlin the Magician, Professor Robert Langdon from the Da Vinci Code, and even Indiana Jones!
But finding the Holy Grail wasn’t child’s play. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the famous archaeologist/adventurer follows his father’s clues to Venice in a death-defying adventure, where he has to defeat the entire Nazi army who wants to use the power of the holy cup for world-domination.
But what’s the connection between a 1989 movie starring a ridiculously young version of Harrison Ford, with infographics?
Finding the Holy Grail
The answer is pretty straightforward: Virality is the holy grail of marketing. Every marketer out there is chasing its tail after it, but it’s ridiculously hard to achieve.
There are countless media stories of startups that have gone viral overnight – Groupon, Facebook, Dropbox, Snapchat and Meerkat, among many others. And even more articles explaining you how to take your own startup viral.
However, the reality is quite different: in almost all cases, overnight successes are the results of sleepless nights of hard work, and smart social engineering.
Dropbox went from 150,000 users in 2008, to 4,000,000 within 15 months. But that wasn’t luck. It was a carefully planned experiment to increase word of mouth by offering you and a friend 1 GB of free space if he joined using your unique referral link.
The main issue is not everyone sees that, and people are still look to go viral. Virality solely depends on word of mouth and peer sharing, but the reality is not every piece of content or marketing stunt is share-worthy.
Lucky for us, there are certain steps you can take to maximize your odds of creating a viral infographic.
It all starts with the content
As I mentioned above, for something to be viral, it needs to be share-worthy – you should be excited to share it with your friends and connections for one reason or another.
Professor Jonah Berger, a marketing researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that a viral piece needs to follow one of these 5 traits:
- Actionable (useful)
In other words, Mr. Berger suggests that for a piece to go viral, it needs to generate some kind of active emotion in you that will give you the urge to go out and tell your friends about it. This can be something exciting, infuriating or controversial. Almost every type of emotion counts, but it’s important to note that a positive emotion strongly outperforms a bad one.
Pro Tip: If you want practical ideas of content that has gone viral in the past, go to BuzzSumo and search for keyword related to your topic.
The right headline
ViralNova, a one-man website, was sold for 100 million dollars. Upworthy is one of the fastest-growing media outlets in history. BuzzFeed raised 50 million dollars from the same guys that invested in Airbnb, Box and Facebook.
They all followed the same formula: emotion-inducing content, combined with a catchy, viral headline.
A headline is the most important part of your infographic: it’s what makes a reader click and read your content, and at the same time, is the easiest component to test.
The team at Buffer analyzed 3,016 headlines from 24 top content sites and discovered that some of the top words found in viral headlines are things like: people, dog, this, your, but also numbers, interesting adjectives, outrageous promises or asking a question.
Pro Tip: the Upworthy team comes up with 25 potential headlines for every article. Doing that for your infographic will force you to think outside the box. Then, pick the top 3 headlines, and split test against each other them using a tool like KingSumo.
A great, easy-to-read design
If you ever studied business, or psychology, you are probably familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This concept sustains that humans have different level of needs – once we have our physiological needs taken care of, we search for safety. Once we feel safe, we look for a sense of belonging. Then comes self-esteem. Finally, when all else is covered, we search for the “higher” concepts like morality, equality, and other idealistic “alities.”
It’s the top two tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy that drive us to share. According to the New York Times Insight Group, the majority of online users share, not for the sake of sharing, but to:
- Define themselves in a community (68 percent),
- To form relationships (78 percent),
- And for self fulfilment purposes (69 percent).
In short, people share to belong. To form an identity. In that sense, tweeting becomes social currency. What people share is emotionally attached to their identity.
Take this image from I Freaking Love Science:
It makes the user look intelligent, so, according to BrandWatch, it was shared 25,000 times. That’s the same reason people tweet jaw-dropping news, or support to charities. They want to be seen as news-breakers, or philanthropists.
Essentially, what this means is that people won’t share boring, hard-to-read and ugly content. They want to associate themselves with high-quality, news-breaking, emotion-inducing, beautiful content.
So you have to give them that.
Pro Tip: use one of Piktochart’s hundreds of pre-designed, templates to create a stunning infographic, even if your design skills looks like this.
Provide a clear call-to-action
After people consume your infographic, they will be left wondering what to do. If your content is good, people will be thankful for that, and would want to share it with their friends. But if there is no clear call-to-action, they’ll leave.
This is a missed opportunity.
According to Social Media Explorer, undervaluing share buttons will hurt the virality of your content. In fact, sharing buttons make your content seven times more likely to spread. You should have social media sharing buttons that look like these…
… before and after each post. ViralNova, the site where I took this screenshot from, is the perfect example.
Yes. Headlines, call-to-actions, and a beautiful design are all important elements to prepare your infographic for virality. However, I want to circle back to the single most important component: content.
A few paragraphs above we briefly mentioned Upworthy’s process to come up with headlines. To sum it up, they are the King of Headline Writing. But even they, who built a million-dollar business on top of catchy, curiosity-inducing headlines, believe that’s not the reason for their success.
They reached 87 million visitors because every single one of those articles important, compelling, and worth-sharing. In their own words:
So, yes, headlines matter. But content doesn’t go viral unless people love it so much they want to share it.