How do you create a viral post?

‘I want a viral post’ is a common request from clients and directors. So exactly how do you do create a viral post?

A blogpost I saw claimed to reveal the science behind creating posts that go viral. It referred to Jonah Berger’s book Contagious, which gives six key characteristics of a post that marketers can use to create viral content. In summary, they are:

Social Value

People share things that they think will make them look better in some way – they may wish to be seen as funny, well-read, or politically aware.


Related things – it is said that Mars chocolate bars got an uplift in interest when stories about the Mars Rover vehicle were popular.


People share when they care, whether the emotion manifests as anger, excitement, sympathy, etc.

Practical Value

This is related to Social Value – if you share something useful, helpful, informative, etc, you will be seen in the same way.


On a practical note, if you want a post to be shared you must have ‘Who Should See This?’ set to ‘Public’.


There’s a reason that great stories are retold for generations! Think of popular TV adverts (especially at Christmas), they often have a narrative that wraps around the company’s product, service or brand identity.

The blogpost ended by advising that ‘you don’t necessarily need all of those elements in order to create viral content. The more of these you can include, the better.’

Hurrah – we have the magic formula!

Wait, hang on…

OK, so the blogpost does contain some practical information that will help you create a good social media post. But it pretty much says ‘do these things and your post will go viral’ – and I really don’t agree with that.

Even if you do include all six characteristics (in 140 characters?!), there’s no guarantee your post will go viral – it takes more than just ticking every item on a list to do that. Don’t you think that most social media marketers include as many of those characteristics in as many of their posts as possible, every day?

Think about how often you see or hear about a post that’s gone viral. How often does the same thing keep coming up in your Twitter feed? When was the last viral post you saw or talked about? Do you see them every day, every week?

Every second, on average, around 6,000 tweets are posted on Twitter. That’s over 350,000 tweets per minute, or 500 million tweets per day. You’ve got better odds of winning the lottery!

One thing not mentioned in Jonah Berger’s list of characteristics is Timing. At it’s most fundamental, social media marketing is just the same as any other kind of marketing – getting the right message in front of the right people at the right time. If you tweet something particularly appropriate/funny/cheeky say, when the Oscars are on, it might just get picked up and go huge.

OK, yes – it does help if you’re famous and have a huge following already…


Don’t get hung up on creating ‘viral content’ – just create good posts that your audience want to read and engage with, and see what happens…

Final thought

OK, so say one of your posts does go viral and you gets LOADS of traffic – what are you going to do with that new audience now? If you’re really working to get things to go big, make sure you have a good follow-up plan. It’s hard to hold people’s interest and maintain that new level of reach once the viral moment has gone.

Twitter data from Internet Live Stats