V Is for Viral Content: How You Can Use It to Get More Inbound Links

Viral Content Inbound Marketing Definition

I’m insulting you by defining viral content, aren’t I?

You know what viral content is. Grandmas—the unfortunately accepted baseline for internet ignorance—know what viral content is. Since content is made viral by popular opinion, and sites use prime real estate to highlight their most popular content (from trending topics on Facebook and the Huffington Post, to the “Most Read” stories section on Politico), you can’t escape it.

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During the early spring of this year, the internet completely fell for a video of “Walmart kid” A.K.A 11-year-old Mason Ramsey. Young Mason decided to take his yodeling talents to the checkout line of his local Walmart in Harrisburg, IL, with results that found great cachet on the Internet.

Originally uploaded to the (perhaps aptly named) site ViralHog, the video exploded on the internet, catching the eye of millions. A flurry of shares, PopSugar memes, tweets, and even remixes (yes, you read that right) were posted online in response to Ramsey’s performance, instantly infecting the internet like an outbreak of a pandemic disease (but like, a fun disease that people are happy to get).

More recently, Mason traveled to Indio, CA to perform live at Coachella, one of the most—if not the most—prominent music and arts festivals in the world. Mason took the stage with Whethan, a popular DJ, to perform his hit cover of Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues.” To say that the crowd went crazy would be an understatement. If this isn’t viral content, we don’t know what is.

Why viral content is important to marketers

Of all the tactics you’ll work to improve your site’s SEO—a term you can learn all about on our Inbound Marketing Definitions page—inbound links are one of the best. How do you get inbound links? Produce something everyone wants to link to. Simply put, viral content is the fastest way to get your site to the top of search engine rankings, albeit also the most unpredictable.

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“OK, Raka,” you say. “How do I create viral content?”

A great debate rages in Marketing Land over whether virality is a product or an effect.

Some people say you can’t produce viral content; you produce content and the rest of the world determines whether it’ll go viral or not. Others refuse to leave the fate of their content to chance.

In 2010, Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman of the Wharton Business School published a study entitled “Social Transmission, Emotion, and the Virality of Online Content.” The researchers wanted to know why some online content is more viral than others. They asked, what do viral media pieces have in common? What do the duds lack?

Here are a few of the takeaways:

  • Positive content that inspires surprise, amusement, and awe is shared more.
  • Negative content that inspires anger and anxiety is shared more.
  • Practically useful content gets shared. This is why you see so many blog posts like “How to Slice a Banana Without a Proper Banana Slicer” or “Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Banana Slicers.”
  • People share content to gain social standing, generate reciprocity, and to help others.

In theory, if you apply these findings from Berger and Milkman to the content you create, they should increase your odds of creating content that’s viral.

A note about the aftermath

Striking it gold with viral content can be like producing a hit song. That song hits number one on the charts and you’re instantly showered with attention and wealth. You think you’ve got it made and start buying really expensive and eclectic furniture on eBay. Then you suddenly get texts from weird cousins you’ve never actually spoken to.

You either mail it in on the next few songs you write or try to write something exactly like the original hit. One month later, the money’s gone.

Nobody cares about your music anymore. You’re not just broke, but an embarrassing staple on VH1’s “One Hit Wonders.”

“What happened?!” you cry. “I thought people liked my stuff!”

People are fickle. The fact you struck it rich once doesn’t guarantee you’ll do it again. I don’t want to discourage you from thinking you can produce viral content every single week, I just want you to know how difficult it is. There’s something to be said for royalty checks, or in our case, residual traffic that trickles in from your once-popular post. But it’s more important to create consistently compelling material.

So go ahead and celebrate that huge surge in organic traffic caused by your viral video or blog post. Then stop yodeling in a store and get to work.

If you skimmed this post…

Viral content is any piece of content that suddenly becomes wildly popular on the internet.

Want to learn more awesome inbound marketing terms? Check out our Inbound Marketing Definitions page.

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