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The Psychology of Social Sharing: 5 Things to Know about Viral Content

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Content marketing is a competition for the chance to educate, amaze, amuse your readers. And the competition is tough; this means your content must not merely be good; it must be outstanding in order to be consumed and shared.

Content marketing Google Search

Making content go viral is any content producer’s top goal and in this post, I will share my experience and the things I’ve learned about what makes people share content on the Internet.

For those who are still not sure why content marketing and social shares are important, here are a few facts:

  • Social shares improve your rankings in search
  • Content marketing improves your brand recognition and strength
  • Together, they positively affect conversion rates and customer loyalty

Okay, here’s what you need to know in order to create powerful content that your readers will love.

1. Evoke the Right Emotions

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Emotions play an important part in making content go viral because humans often make emotional (and not logical) decisions.

Some of you (including me) might be not comfortable in acknowledging this, but it is a fact. Katherine L. Milkman and Jonah Berger conducted research that revealed three common emotional patterns:

  • Content that delivers positive emotions is shared more than that which delivers negative emotions such as sadness and anger
  • Within negative emotions, content that delivers sadness is shared more than that which delivers anger
  • Negative emotions are still better than no emotions at all. People love to feel involved and knowing that they have an impact

Knowing this, let me forewarn you about the possible temptation to create ‘killer’ titles and not to deliver upon the promise. It might give short-term results while pushing your readers away in the longer run.

2. Write Longer Posts

People often ask me about the length of the ideal blog post. While the answer to that is highly subjective and depends on your specific situation, as a rule of thumb, it is better to err on the side of writing longer posts, here’s why:

  • Longer articles are better at building trust and authority because people notice how much work has gone in
  • Longer articles are more likely to get shared (including via email, according to the research previously cited in this article)
  • Longer posts are better for SEO. The longest article won’t necessarily take you to the first spot of the SERPs but there is a proven correlation between content length and rankings.

Let’s take this blog post as an example. It is 1400 words long, which should be enough to describe all the points I want to cover and to educate people on the attitude towards content creation and how it is shared.

I made lots of notes, did keyword research and studied what other people think on the topic before I actually started to write. I type about 250 characters per minute but it doesn’t mean this post grew that fast.

I write, read what I have just written and re-write, then read again and re-write if needed. All in all, it may probably take 20-25 hours to produce such a post, including image research, creation, text proofreading, and short coffee breaks.

3. Infographics, Data Stories, Quizzes

Here’s something you may be missing in your content strategy. According to Hubspot, 65% of marketing executives believe visual assets (including infographics) play a core role in communicating their brand story.

But just knowing that visual- and data-led stories works isn’t enough, make sure you avoid generic titles, like:

  • How to create a good infographic
  • Tips for writing a viral blog post

Instead, I would recommend titles such as

  • 5 Ideas to create a kick-ass infographic
  • How I wrote a blog post that earned 100k views

Also consider creating interactive content, such as quizzes. A Top College Quiz created by Forbes generated more than 1,000 social shares and over 75k views in a single week. They used this tool later to promote Forbes College Adviser, a tool that helps students to make their college choice.

Quizzes not only increase engagement and conversions but they also help you to understand your audience.

4. Be Smart About SEO

A basic understanding of SEO and keyword research process will help you to find out what your readers look for.

Google has become really good at understanding user intent and you should use their data to your advantage.

If you use Google Keyword Planner to search for keyword ideas related to ‘content marketing’, you will see related things that people are searching for.

Keyword Planner – Google AdWords - Content Marketing

For instance, the key term “b2b content marketing” shows there is a cluster dedicated to a very specific niche — business to business content marketing.

This is just a snippet of data but if you look into related keywords, you will see even more valuable information which gives you an idea of what to write about.

Using keywords in your blog post doesn’t mean you should stuff it with those terms. This data hints on how to hit two birds with one stone – namely how to meet your readers’ expectations and stay SEO-focused at the same time.

Broad terms are great in terms of potential traffic, but the competition is high too — long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are easier to dominate, but you have to do your research to stumble upon the right one.

Tip: It is important to create a buyer persona (a fictional character with generalized traits of a customer). Conversion is all about personalization, this is why it is important. As a rule, your buyer persona description should reflect the following: job role, skills, company size, personal and professional goals and challenges. You can add necessary data depending on your business needs.

Regalix report State of B2B Marketing 2015 claims that search engine marketing is used by 96% of the marketers to provide valuable content to their prospects. However this refers not only to text content such as blog posts, white papers, case studies and such. Webcasts and video marketing is reported to grow in importance as well.

As you can see, today it is very important to integrate your content marketing strategies with SEO.

5. Always Use Images

The last thing I want to write about is the importance of images. Visual content is processed 60,000 times faster by your brain than text content; and content that includes images enjoys much higher engagement on social media.

To cut a long story short, including images into blog articles is not a recommendation, it is a rule. If you need reasons, here they are:

  • People spend 10% more time if there is an image of a person on a page with biographical content
  • If you want to decrease bounce rate and increase session duration, then you images should take no longer than 2 seconds to load
  • Images are perceived faster, unlike language that takes more time to process because it is decoded linearly

Usually, you don’t even need a designer to create custom graphics for your blog posts. There is a choice of websites that offer free public domain images. Very basic Photoshop knowledge will help you to make them unique by adding extra text or other graphic elements.

Actually, you don’t even need Photoshop because there are tools like Canva with which you can easily create custom images. You can also use your smartphone camera and use a mobile photo editing app – there are many ways to create images to complement your text content.

The Bottom Line

I have come across many instances of successful content marketing capaigns being run by people who only had a basic knowledge of marketing, SEO, and such. Their secret component is being extremely passionate about what they do and being extremely demanding toward what they create.

Understanding human psychology, marketing strategies, and social channels is also very important but you need to start by becoming a more dedicated person, one who really cares about the things he or she creates.


This is a guest contribution by Alex Omelchenko, CEO and co-founder of ProfContent.com, copywriting service providing firm. He’s also an SEO expert, copywriters’ coach, and a big fan of his furry Scottish Fold cat.