The truth about viral content

Have you noticed how many people there are at the minute offering to make your content viral? You might have thought it seemed too good to be true. We at HN did too.

The buzzword

Unless you’re a healthcare professional, the term ‘viral’ probably brings to mind images of dancing babies, well-timed tweets from Oreo , or children biting each other. You’re picturing millions of views on YouTube, and your brand name becoming synonymous with your market. With the rise of social media channels, smartphones, and a growing global community of internet users, it sometimes feels like we’re only one step away from that great campaign that goes viral.

The catch

Here’s the thing, though: going viral on the same scale as those headline-grabbing campaigns takes luck. As this excellent presentation from Upworthy will tell you, you can follow the best ‘how to go viral’ advice and create the most shareable piece of content ever, with a great story, pitched at the right audience and at the most optimal time that your research has indicated, and it may never get past 1,000 views. This isn’t a shortcoming of your content; it just didn’t get lucky. Upworthy goes through the gruelling process of writing 25 headlines for each and every piece of content it posts, to ensure maximum shareability, and still only 12 of their posts have garnered more than 1 million views – just 0.41% of their content. Though many marketers would hate to admit it, you just cannot engineer virality on this scale – and to try will only end in disappointment.

Don’t try to go viral. Aim for shareable

The people telling you ‘how to go viral’ know this, though they don’t always make it clear. What they’re really offering you – and what you should be aiming for – is highly shareable content. Create a piece with a great story that forges an emotional connection, give it an attention-grabbing headline, strategically place buttons to enable easy sharing. Take care when and where you share the content for maximum impact. All of these things will boost the chances of your audience seeing your content and passing it on. Analyse your results and continually refine your process, and you should see positive results.

It’s also important to bear your audience in mind. Human though they may be, B2B buyers are not in the same mindset as consumers, and to get those valuable shares your content will have to work harder. Case in point: B2C campaigns can sometimes be racy or provocative (Dove’s recent beauty patch campaign, for instance, attracted the ire of social commentators around the world ). Employing similar tactics could put your audience off sharing your content for fear of associating their company with controversial opinions (‘I don’t want people who disagree to think that this is what our company believes, so I won’t share it’).

The size of your audience also plays a part; if you’re speaking to a niche market, for example, then it shouldn’t surprise you that your well-crafted video campaign doesn’t get 10,000 hits – and, more importantly, it shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. The bottom line? Don’t aim to go viral; aim to reach your audience, be they 1,000 or 10,000 people.

Don’t believe the hype

We should stress here: following all the moves outlined in a ‘how to go viral’ article isn’t a bad thing; it’ll help your content stand out and get shared. And viral content can successfully be created in the B2B space: we love this Verisign campaign from 2008. But don’t be drawn into thinking that there’s a formula for breaking the million views barrier, because there isn’t. No doubt there will be a lucky few who get into the right place at the right time to be noticed by the world and go viral. But for the rest of us, let’s just focus on what we set out to do: make great content that our audiences love and share with one another.

B2B content reuse: maximising the return on investment

Do you sometimes feel like your B2B content just isn’t giving you enough? We’ve written before , back in 2011, about how to squeeze more life out of your content. We came up with four ways for B2B content reuse and wrapped them up in a handy mnemonic – the ABCD of making more of your content assets. Since that was a long time ago now, we’ve taken that mnemonic, given it a polish, and reused it (see what we did there?) to help our 2016 audience.

The ABCD of content reuse

Alternative formats

This is about presenting the same story or messaging in a different way: could you turn copy into a video, for example, or split a paper into a series of blogs? You could even take a blog and break it into a series of tweets. This way, you can exploit different media, content vehicles or channels — print and digital; words and pictures; in person and online. You could even provide for different languages through translation.

We recently wrote and published a blog that we’ve also made available as a cartoon , if you want to see what we’re on about. Remember to consider whether your audience will be reading on different devices (mobile, tablet, desktop, etc), or whether you can add to the user experience through interactivity, for instance.

Building on content

If you’ve addressed a topic for a certain purpose, why not add to what you’ve said for a different purpose? You could give further explanation and detail for those who need it. For example, you could turn the subject matter of a thought-leadership piece into a primer for a sales team.

You might find that one aspect could be expanded into a new piece in its own right. Or you might choose to create materials for customers at different stages of the B2B sales cycle by cutting up and adding to a piece of content.


We can create material or tools that provide further substantiation or support for our messaging, such as customer testimony or an ROI calculator. This could also include a specific social media campaign that supports the release of your content or opinion pieces that create conversation and interest around the topic of your content.

Distributing wider

When we wrote about this in 2011, we talked about backing up your content with tweets, blogs and emails that point to your content. While that’s still true, there’s another way to extend the reach of your content – reposting it.

When you tweet about a piece of content, it probably stays on your audience’s stream for about 10 minutes before being replaced by newer tweets about world news and pictures of cats. In the worst case, your audience may miss it entirely when you post it.

Why not tweet about your content again at a later time? That way, you stand a better chance of your audience seeing your content, and indeed you may access an audience who would otherwise have missed your content entirely. The same goes for LinkedIn posts or emails.

You can also experiment with posting at different times to catch different audiences. You can research the best times online and some social scheduling sites provide reports for the best posting times for your audience.

Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s lazy to repurpose your content; getting it right can take some work, as we’ve said before. Once that’s been done, though, you’ll find that you’ve given your old content new legs, increasing its ROI and stretching your budget further than you might have believed possible.

This doesn’t just apply to written content; have a look at this blog for our tips on how to make your B2B video content go further too.

Is your content driving business away?

We’ve spoken before about how you should keep your content relevant , but we’ve not addressed the dangers of not doing so. Irrelevant content won’t get read by customers or targets, of course, but it could be holding your business back in more damaging ways than that.

IDG recently released a report in which 79% of business buyers said that content relevance affected their opinion of a brand, and 55% felt that irrelevant content delayed their ability to make a decision. Perhaps most importantly, the report stated that irrelevant content made vendors 25% less likely to be shortlisted by buyers on average. So irrelevant content doesn’t simply get ignored – it actually can make your customers less likely to buy from you.

When the stakes are that high, relevant content isn’t something that’s just ‘nice to have’ – it’s a competitive necessity. It’s not enough to assume that you know what your audience thinks is relevant, either; you need to be sure. If you haven’t checked on what your audience is interested in for a while, it might be time to gather some customer insight and see if anything’s changed. If the idea of gathering insight from your customers is a daunting one, our ebook on customer insight has some great advice on how to go about it . Whatever you choose to do, it’s clear that your business cannot afford to get it wrong.

Before we get too depressed though, the good news to come out of all this is that, because buyers are frustrated with the lack of relevant content out there, by providing content that is relevant you can gain a real competitive advantage over your competitors.

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The defence of long content

These days, content seems to be getting shorter and shorter; we see more and more customers interested in Twitter (140 characters per post), LinkedIn (700 characters per status update), and ebooks typified by low word counts and lots of visuals. It’s easy to believe that with all these shorter content forms around, there’s no place in the world for longer content such as white papers or lengthy blog posts. This, however, would be a mistake.

For one thing, Google likes longer content. At one level, the reason for this is obvious: the more words you have, the more there is for Google to pick up and rank. But it goes deeper than that. We’ve written in a previous post about how search engine algorithms such as Hummingbird are ranking results based on an understanding of the information the searcher wants; additionally, a number of studies have shown both that people like and share longer content, and that search results are favouring well researched over keyword-optimised content, and directly giving preference to longer content. Therefore, if you had to choose between writing a 200 or 1,000 word article on the same subject, your best bet could be the longer article.

Google rankings aside, longer content can give your audience a fuller understanding of a subject than shorter content. Instead of leaving out some points of the argument or nice bits of detail for the sake of brevity, in a longer piece you have the time to make your point fully, illustrate it with examples, and dig deeper into issues that matter to your audience. You’ll give your audience a better understanding of both your message and your expertise in the subject, and the better they understand this, the more likely they are to pick up the phone and give you a call.

It’s important to remember that whatever the length of your content, quality and relevance must come first. Bad or repetitive long copy will be penalised, both in the search rankings and by readers, so padding your content to bump up the word count is definitely not recommended. But the good news for detail-lovers is that where you have enough to say on a subject to write a good piece of long content, there’s no need to be discouraged or feel pressure to cut or summarise – it may well perform better than a shorter equivalent would.

Using customers’ language to grow your brand

Should organisations use their customers’ language? Get it right and you will reap the rewards — increased coverage, followers and retweets — get it wrong though, and your legal team could be calling.

One of the UK’s largest retailers, Argos, is a company that understands the importance of solidifying customer relationships through online engagements. Recently, its customer service team replied to a tweet from a potential customer who was complaining about the availability of the PS4 in his local store:


To which @ArgosHelpers replied (presumably after consulting their teenage children):


The result? issue dealt with, an extra 1,500 followers (in one day) and a happy customer:


Apart from the baffling language that sent even us running for the Urban Dictionary, Argos showed how the combination of humour, content and medium can be combined to solve customers’ problems, communicate clearly and promote their business to new audiences. By matching the tone of the original tweet, the company generated a positive response from a complaint, without being offensive — a perfect example of peer language adoption.

Even if Argos’s use of slang is too ‘left field’ for your organisation right now, there are still lessons to be learnt here. The importance of knowing and applying your customers’ preferred language, whether they spend their day thinking about cloud architecture or PS4 availability, is something every organisation needs to acknowledge — y’get me?

Social media in real time:Oreo leads by example

In my recent post about how to create an effective social media content strategy, I touched on how to determine posting frequency. What I didn’t talk about was what you can do once you’ve hit a good rhythm.

Real-time posting

Don’t miss chances to post in the moment to really grab your readers’ attention.

The social media team at Oreo did this oh so well during the power cut that halted the Super Bowl XLVII. By the time the lights came back on in New Orleans, Oreo had racked up over 10,000 RTs, thousands of Favourites and overwhelmingly positive replies — all with a single tweeted image.

The fact that the cost of an ad during Super Bowl XLVII is around $3.7 million makes this social media win all the sweeter.


The four-step social media content strategy

It’s often said that ‘content is the currency of social’ and I don’t think a truer word has been spoken. Successful social media marketing involves creating content that engages customers, stimulates dialogue and evokes a response.

Here are my four simple steps to create an effective social media content marketing strategy:

1. Determine content themes

Your content needs to have a focus in terms of the topics you plan to cover and the tone it will take. Here are some pointers for determining that focus:

    • Know your audience. Who do you anticipate will be reading your content? What challenges do they face, which you could address?
    • Stimulate engagement. It could be educational, entertaining, inspirational or promotional. Ideally, it should contain elements of all four.
    • Demonstrate knowledge. One way to gain trust is by establishing yourself or your company as an expert. Try imparting advice that’s practical and based on your real-life experiences.
    • Be consistent with your business’s proposition. You don’t want content that is out of step with your company’s messaging or personality — it wouldn’t seem authentic.

2. Determine content type

Depending on the channel, social media content can take many forms: blog posts, tweets, status updates, contests, quizzes, poll questions, infographics, videos and photos. So decide which tools are going to make up your kit bag and test each one to see which works best.

3. Determine posting frequency

How often you can post updates? Here are a couple of tips:

    • Post at the optimal time. By this I mean post on the days and times when you are most likely to receive responses in the form of Likes, comments and shares. Google Analytics can help to determine optimum posting times.
    • Be consistent. Whether you post daily, weekly or monthly, if you’re not consistent, your customers will lose interest. Let’s be realistic, if your favourite TV series was shown randomly each week, would you really keep watching?

4. Create a content calendar

The next step is to develop a calendar to schedule your posts. Calendars can be created on a weekly or monthly basis.

Content calendars can be developed using a spreadsheet; or if you prefer, there are many social media management applications out there like HootSuite, Sprout Social and Buffer to name a few.

To plan even more effectively you might like to try tools like TweetDeck, which allow you to schedule your tweets and keep an eye on your Twitter stream, making it a lot easier to retweet and share.

So let’s get started!

INFOGRAPHIC: If IKEA did content strategy…

Last year, IKEA celebrated its 25 years in the UK. It’s changed the face of furniture buying on a global scale and we think its phenomenal success is down to its customer-centric approach. It even opened in-store restaurants because its shoppers were hungry! While we pondered some awesome IKEA stats we also wondered what it’d be like if IKEA did content strategy…

And so to celebrate this great iconic brand here’s our take on content strategy IKEA-style in that familiar infographic format.

INFOGRAPHIC: If IKEA did content strategy...

Here’s the code if you want to put this infographic on your website:

Take aim, fire!

Perhaps another way of expressing this would be, “Who are you targeting?” Are you going after the department head, division head or the C-suite? Are they a business—or technology—focused audience? What do these individuals care about? What are their motivations? What are their pain points, and how can you elevate these?

You can’t please all the people, all the time

Chances are, you’re not going to hit every nail on the head, and that’s perfectly OK, provided that you hit the right nails. If you’re diluting your content down to try to encompass the widest possible audience, ultimately, you’ll end up dumbing it down to such an extent that it will no longer be interesting or valuable to the intended target audience—the decision makers.

Getting your content strategy right

On the other hand, if you’re worried that your content is too targeted, the answer is simple: you’re not producing enough content. Again, you can’t be all things to all people, but you can be different things to different people through different content approaches.

Content marketing: the Jedi Master approach

It’s time you told a Star Wars story. And by that, I mean you need to take your prospects along a content marketing version of the mythic hero’s journey:

  • The prospect starts off in the ordinary world
  • The call to adventure is an unsolved problem or unfulfilled desire
  • There’s resistance to solving that problem, until…
  • A mentor (your content) appears to help them proceed with the journey

Your prospect is Luke. You are Obi Wan

When you put your prospect in the position of the main hero (Luke Skywalker), and your content as the mentor who guides or assists the hero on their journey of transformation (Obi Wan), it’s extremely powerful. You allow people to identify themselves within the context of an enduring mythical structure that also makes a hero out of your brand.

Some of the most effective advertising campaigns have tapped into the power of the monomyth that Star Wars adopted, thanks to Joseph Campbell.

While content marketing doesn’t require multi-millions in production costs, it’s helpful to see examples of how the hero’s journey has been used in the past to grow revenue. My favourite is….

Apple’s “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”

Apple has done a phenomenal job of storytelling throughout the years. Their Think Different television ad (the “Crazy Ones” commercial) is one of their best. It says nothing about selling computers, or even computers themselves. But what is does do is connect with a potential Apple user, by comparing them to the great geniuses of modern history.

The call to adventure to change the world is front and center, amplified by a powerful sense of identification with cultural icons such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., plus business leaders like Richard Branson and Ted Turner. It highlights the feelings that many people feel; the same feelings that these widely successful figures felt.

It leaves you feeling inspired, understood, and more connected to Apple computers.