Social Media Success Series: 7 Tips for Creating Viral Content

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Image by webtreats via Flickr

This post is part of a series.  Catch up on other secrets to social media success here.

It’s ok to admit it–we’ve all been there.  At one time or another almost every organization’s social media strategy  basically boiled down to “we’ll make a video that goes viral and then everyone will know and love us.”

As many of us have learned the hard way, setting out to create a single video that goes viral and solves all of our marketing and fundraising challenges doesn’t count as a social media strategy–it counts as a pipe dream.  That having been said, creating the right content and sharing it in the right way can help you build a support base.  These seven tips will help you get started.

Create content your people will want to share

Your people are the kindling of your potential viral wildfire.  They are the ones who will use your content to introduce your nonprofit to their friends.  This is good news because it means there is no need to figure out what random strangers will find compelling.  Simply create content you know will speak to the people who already love you.  They will take care of the rest.

Of course, in order to create content that your people want to share, you have to know who your people are.  In other words, you have to stop marketing to the general public.

Evoke an Emotional Response

Data does not spur people to action.  Adorable animals, heartfelt thank you notes, and concrete examples of how donors are making a difference, however can move mountains.  If you want your message to move beyond your sphere of influence, be sure to case it in some sort of story.

Share the Spotlight

This goes back to “people are selfish.”  If you create content that conveys your key messages, helps your people, and also promotes the work of others, the chances of that content being spread grows astronomically–because more people are invested in getting the word out.

Case in point:  My most popular post this year was a case study about how Kids are Heroes is raising money online.  The extra twitter support from the organization’s co-founder made a huge difference in getting the post noticed in the nonprofit community.

Make Sharing Easy

Never forget that people are busy and the internet is a virtual fire-hose of information.  Only your most dedicated supporters (like the ones who work for you) will take the time to share your stuff with their friends if doing so is difficult.

Include “sharing” buttons

If you are using Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube to share content, this step is done for you.  For blogs, newsletters and other platforms, make sure your readers can forward your content with the click of a button.  If your readers aren’t so into social media, make sure one of the buttons is “share by e-mail.”  Even readers who have no idea what “retweet” means have probably been forwarding e-mail messages for years.

Not sure what I mean by “share” buttons?  You can see examples at the bottom of this post right next to “Share This.”

Make content “bite-sized”

There are certainly situations where in-depth analysis of difficult problems is appropriate.  That place is not social media.  Save the deep stuff for later in the relationship.  The content you share via social media should be  easy to digest in 5-10 minutes (tops) and provide some sort of instant gratification.


There is no one right way to use social media (there are, unfortunately, wrong ways.) That means there is no way to know for sure what content will resonate with your people and what will fall flat.  There is also no guarantee* that what works today will work again tomorrow.  That having been said, the more content you create and the more attention you pay to what tends to work and what tends to fail, the better your chances are of creating exactly the right material for exactly the right audience at exactly the right time.

Share other people’s stuff

This is where the become an active community member idea comes in.  The more generous you are toward the people around you, the more generous they will be toward you.  So get to know your social media neighbors.  Share their stuff –when it will be of interest to your people.  You’ll be amazed at what a difference that extra effort makes you are the one with content to share.

Ask people to share

This one can be overused, so make sure you’ve incorporated the rest of these ideas into your strategy first.  Once you’ve done that, the extra boost of letting people know you’d like them to share what you’ve written and telling them how to do so, can be the extra boost they need to move from “wow, that was cool” to “wow, that was cool–I should post a link on Facebook”

Your turn

What did I miss?  Share your tips for creating viral content in the comments.

*this is a good way to spot social media charlatans.  If someone says they can guarantee your content goes viral, you should, under no circumstances, give them your money.

6 thoughts on “Social Media Success Series: 7 Tips for Creating Viral Content

  1. Grt tips! I have found it particularly helpful to quote from a leader in whatever I’m blogging about and then let that person know that I’ve done so. That person will often be my best promoter of the blog post.

    • Thanks Joanne for sharing such a great, concrete example of “Sharing the Spotlight”! I’ve not used a lot of quotations myself, but it’s a great idea (that I intend to “steal” for future posts.)

  2. […] Polish to an Existing Grant Proposal by Betsy BakerThe Wisdom of the Old Spice Man by Joanna MilesSocial Media Success Series: 7 Tips for Creating Viral Content by Maureen Carruthersgoogle_ad_client = "pub-0823825684845126"; google_alternate_color = "FFFFFF"; […]

  3. I like what you have mentioned on sharing the spotlight. Many inexperienced publishers make the mistake of linking only to their own content. Using external references also improves quality and improves usability.

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