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Viral Content – A Closer Look Into Popular Media

I may have only worked here for 2 years, but in those 2 years the internet and the way we push content forwards has changed dramatically. The online audience as a whole is now larger than ever before, with billions of people around the world owning some sort of internet enabled device.

From mobile phones, to games consoles and tablet PC’s; it’s hard to get away from what the internet has to offer and many of us get sucked into particularly popular content and news stories. The phenomenon behind popular content is what we like to call “viral” content, something that spreads like wildfire but generally disappears after a short amount of time. It’s a running joke that you’re more susceptible to viral content than you are viral diseases, but it’s something that gets marketers like me really buzzing.

You’ll have seen many different pieces of viral content over the last few years, from funny videos on YouTube to interesting written articles on Buzzfeed, but is there a pattern? Could you pinpoint certain trends to help create viral content of your own? I’m here to investigate the popularity of certain content, investigating what has made them popular and hopefully help future marketers with their own content creation. So we begin with a quick search in Buzzsumo for general topics, let’s start with health:

health buzzsumo search

So, the top 4 post titles listed are:

The most shared post here is unsurprisingly “16 Reasons To Have Sex Daily” by themindunleashed.org. Men have sexual thoughts on average 34 times a day, 18 times for women. This is the only post in the list which has reached over 1 million shares and almost all of those shares came from Facebook.

As a marketer, you would think that most of the shares would come from Twitter (the fastest growing social network), which just shows just how powerful Facebook still is when it comes to social media marketing. This post is good in a sense that it is aimed at anyone who has sex, which is most of the planet of a certain age. This is also a trend in these posts as we move onto a post about getting rid of headaches and anxiety.

Everyone has suffered from a headache once in their lives (some of us even suffering from migraines) and the solution to this is a simple lavender lemonade. The simpleness of the supposed cure is what makes this shareable, as they’re ingredients that are easy to get hold of and it’s a natural remedy. Healthy living is a huge topic right now, which is also reflected in the last post listed which lists 24 diagrams to make healthy living “super easy”. There is also one news related post here with popular American TV host Jimmy Kimmel, but this kind of content is instantly shareable as it is news related and mentions a celebrity.

The link with all of these? Mostly to do with being healthier in general, if you look further into the first post you will see that there are health benefits to having intercourse daily (such lowering blood pressure and pain relief). We’re a nation of worriers, we worry so much about our health that anyone who says “this works” can instantly be trusted. In an article by The Mail Online they even reveal that we spend 6.5 years of our lives worrying. If you use urgent words such as “get rid” and “must see” you’ll instantly get an audience because you feel a sense of urgency when reading the title.

So what topic shall we look at next? Well, on a similar topic we’ll begin to look at the subject of beauty:

beauty buzzsumo search

So, the top 4 post titles listed are:

The first post we come across is about singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat (who has 2 mentions in the top 4 posts) which is a video of hers for a single called “Try” talking about beauty ideals. This is a post aimed mainly at the girls, offering up some serious empowerment for women and how we can live fine without make up.

When talking about the subject of beauty, the focus is mainly on women because we’re more focussed on the way we look. Quite like with the results under “health” the trend here is natural beauty. We’ve been brought up to think of natural as a good thing, if it’s natural it’s good for you. So, as women, we strive to be as natural as we can be.

The second post is another empowering piece, this time in the form of a written article. The article is quite like a diary in that it is a personal story from Robin Korth about her body and issues she has had with it. This personal touch makes it a compelling read for both sexes, as she reveals all and helps to show people that it’s okay to love your body (scars and all).

Her account is very emotional and the title of the post is fantastically short and to the point. By putting marks either side of the word “naked” she emphasises the word to pick at your curiosity. You’re sat there thinking “Is she getting naked? Are these naked photo’s?”, before you know it you’re halfway through with no signs of boob but you’re a much better person for it.

The third most popular post is again of Miss Caillat, this time a “transformation” with make up. You wouldn’t think it from the title, but this is another article that is referring to her music video “Try”. Making a post title very different allows you to gain more traffic without looking like you’ve copied someone else. Without reading both of them you would have thought that they were of different instances, perfect marketing.

The last post is an accumulation of 18 pictures from Pinterest to help with hairstyles and beauty inspiration. When you look at the post you think not a lot of it, it’s a fairly standard post. So why was it so popular?

Women is the biggest link here, we are forever changing the way we look and always want to look our best (regardless of what we might say). This post combines our love for changing hairstyles with our obsession to look incredible every now and then. The pictures are mostly helpful guides on how to create that look, that’s why it was so popular.

So overall, the trend we see within the beauty sector is aimed towards women, natural beauty and empowerment. In the UK there is 1 male to every 0.98 females, so actually there are marginally less ladies in the UK than there are men, but more recently we have seen a huge spike in male grooming.

This has all gotten a bit girly, hasn’t it? So let’s get a bit more manly with a search in Buzzsumo for “gadgets”. This is what I found…


So, the top 4 post titles listed are:

It’s quite a way off the social shares for our previous 2 searches, with the top post under this topic only receiving 241,213 shares in total. However, it’s still a lot of people and means a lot of traffic for those websites. The first post we can see is a listical post of kitchen gadgets for foodies, this is also the case for the third most popular in this search.

Having a number in your title can seriously increase the amount of social shares, we like posts that tell you exactly what is inside and many of us love food which makes kitchen gadgets a very popular topic. The 5th most popular post (not listed) is funnily enough another listical post of kitchen gadgets by Buzzfeed.

The second post listed is on how you can charge various gadgets just by walking. Many of us walk a lot, so the thought of being able to actually do something as we walk is quite incredible. Renewable energy is a hot topic, trying to save the world one battery at a time. Batteries have horrible acids and metals in them that make them almost impossible to recycle, so it’s better to use rechargeable ones. This is something that we can all do, so those who buy into the idea can feel as if they’re contributing to saving the planet.

The final post is also on the subject of renewable energy with a solar powered tent. We hate it when we go on holiday and there are no plugs to charge any of our gadgets, so this offers a solution to that problem. With Glastonbury being the UK’s biggest music festival, this kind of tent could come in very useful.

120,000 tickets went on sale with 1 million people registering to actually buy a ticket, that’s a lot of people who will inevitably own tents. Hitting this kind of target audience is great and could mean an awful lot of sales for the final product.

So what has made these posts viral? Well there are 2 reasons, 1 reason links both in that they are generally popular topics at the moment. Both kitchen gadgets and renewable energy are good topics to talk about as we all have a kitchen and all want to save the planet.

The second reason for their success is their “easiness”. The kitchen gadget posts make it easy to find awesome gadgets in one place, you don’t have to trawl the internet for them. There is also easiness in renewable energy as we have to do very little for it to work, you only have to walk or own a tent with a solar panel and the sun does the rest.

On a similar subject to gadgets, let’s look at the very broad term “technology” in Buzzsumo shall we?

technology buzzsumo search

So, the top 4 post titles listed are:

A link you can instantly see with 2 of these posts is that they give absolutely nothing away, they get you to read the article just by provoking your curiosity. Let’s, however, start with an analysis of the very first post listed. The only thing that has been given away in this title is that it will be a video and it’s something to do with phones.

Almost everyone owns a phone, so its target audience is already rather big. It also seems to make out that this will be a negative, with recent years debating the effect of mobile phones on our health it’s no surprise that many people were curious enough to click and shocked enough to share.

The second post is about the worlds smallest 3D printing pen which lets you”draw in the air”. 3D printing itself is a hot topic as it becomes a commercialised piece of equipment, Maplin are selling the UK’s first commercial 3D printer at £699.99 and it made the headlines.

Again this is another curiosity, something that wouldn’t usually concern the general public but has become popular through news stories. The thought of being able to write in the air is so whimsical that we can’t help but hope it to be true.

The third post is a rather loud one, they’ve used capital letter to emphasize their frustration over whatever it is that isn’t being funded. When you go into the post you will find that what they wish to be funded is in fact the idea of solar roadways. This is simply a video that makes you think, rather than something that can actually be funded.

The way they’ve grabbed peoples attention is through capitalisation of the letters and the the supposed shock the writer has over it not being funded. We love shocking stories, we like feeling that emotion so this story could satisfy that weird need.

The last post in the list is a listical post with pictures that prove how 2014 is the “damn” future. This is if course now a dated post, but it managed to gain enough shares in a short space of time to become one of the most shared technology posts on the internet. The post is unsurprisingly from Buzzfeed, known very well for list style blog posts. It’s a compilation of GIF’s and still images showing us the things we can (or could) do in 2014. One thing that links all of these posts is the surprise/shock factor in all of them.


If you’ve managed to make it through this whole post then well done! It was a long one. The conclusion I can draw from what we’ve seen is that viral content isn’t always about the content. What makes content viral is firstly with the title. As we have seen the title alone can make a post seem more interesting or more powerful than it perhaps is.

If the content, however, is powerful on its own then the title does not matter. Saying it exactly how it is is enough sometimes. Let’s use an example… I have a post I’ve written about how David Cameron was attacked by a swarm of bees. I have 2 choices, tell it how it is or conceal what I’ve found until someone clicks.

I have 2 post titles:

  • David Cameron Is Attacked By Vicious Swarm Of Bees
  • You’ll Never Guess Who Got Attacked By A Massive Swarm Of Bees!

Both could get you viral, David Cameron is a well known figure but only in the UK mainly. On the flip side the second title is so vague that it could be a Hollywood superstar in the firing line, so your target audience becomes much larger. Going viral totally depends on the aim of the post and the target audience. Do you want to go viral in your country or viral over the world?

I can also conclude that a viral post will always be something that provokes an emotional response. This response can be surprise, shock, upset, anger, happiness or confusion. Is there a magic formula to viral content? No. But you can make educated guesses and assumptions through research and analysis.

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