How to Create Viral Content

The answer is cats of course. Funny cat pictures are the secret to viral content.    Just kidding (sort of…).

If there was a simple, surefire way to make your content go viral everyone would be doing it.  Having something go viral to the same degree as the YouTube video ‘Gangnam Style’ is rare and impossible to plan, but there are some things you can do to create virus worthy content and trigger the infection.

Viral content always has one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Evokes an emotion
  • Shock value/Controversial
  • Universal appeal
  • Novelty
  • Extremely cute, funny, or beautiful
  • Useful
  • Famous
  • Actionable
  • Creates bonds when shared

Cats fit three of the above: humor, cuteness, and universal appeal (people all over the world keep cats as pets).


The YouTube hit ‘Gangnam Style‘  features the Korean pop singer, Psy, dancing in various locations in the Gangnam district of Seoul, South Korea- an area known for being high-class and luxurious.  Therefore, dancing around Gangnam like a horse was surprising, humorous, and novel. Psy was already famous in South Korea, which helped trigger the viral wave that sent the music video all around the world. The most powerful characteristic of the music video is the dance, which resembles riding a horse.  The dance has universal appeal that transcends language barriers, is very actionable, and allows people to bond over it.  The video  has had over 1.5 billion views.  Of course Psy and the producers of the video were not expecting or planning the level of international success that ‘Gangnam Style’ has attained, but it does have many of the attributes of viral content mentioned.  Psy has acknowledged that it is unlikely that he will ever be able to repeat that level of success with other videos- which points to the elements of luck, randomness, and spontaneity that contribute to virality.

The French have a saying for this intangible quality:  ‘Je ne sais quoi’ (which translates to ‘I don’t know what’).  We can’t help you find out what your magic ingredient is, but we can offer some advice on crafting contagious content:

  • Be Positive:  In general, optimistic content gets shared more than negative content.  People want to be inspired and uplifted- if you can do that you will be rewarded.
  • Be Useful:  Help people solve a problem or grasp a concept.  The people sharing your content will feel as though they have been useful by doing so.
  • Be Original:  Coming across something novel gives people a sense of discovery.  Be the not-so hidden gem.  After something has become popularized we often see a series of copy cat attempts at leveraging it’s success.  It’s better to be the trendsetter than the copy cat.  See 7 Strategies for Creating Original Content>>
  • Be Emotional: Arousing people’s emotions is very powerful.  Incite anger, instill a sense of awe, play off of fear, or catch your readers by surprise.

Once you have checked your content to see that it has one or more of the attributes of viral content, it is time to edit. It is easy for simple flaws to decrease content virality, such as an obvious spelling mitsake, broken link, or missing picture.  Pay some attention to the packaging before you ship it.

Last but not least you must pull the trigger and share the content.  Remember to share your content through more than one channel, such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Reddit.  This increases the probability that your content will find the right audience who will circulate it for you.  If you find that no one is sharing your content after all your efforts it may be time to acknowledge that this particular piece of content just didn’t have the ‘it’ factor or was poorly timed (Did someone else beat you to the topic? Is someone delivering the same idea in a more clever manner than you?).  After some reflection it is time to get up and try again.