Here are 10 Tips from BuzzFeed to Make Your Content Go Viral

Posted on Apr 11, 2011 | 43 comments


I recently had the pleasure of spending an hour with Jon Steinberg, president of Buzzfeed, a company who focuses on helping media companies make their content go viral.

His words, “we find things on Sunday morning that will be on the Today show on Tuesday morning.” That’s why people turn up to Buzzfeed.

We talked about a lot of great stuff in the video including how to do sales calls and a how a new “culture of writing” is emerging as a critical skill set in business today. We also talked about why Jon decided to leave Google to become an EIR at a VC firm (Polaris) – minute 33.

But of course we also focused on making content go viral. In working with brands, Jon says:

Vary creative, try lots of things, the costs are so low, why would we put up one piece of branded content? It is absolutely MVP of advertising. Can we do 10 variants? Can we take this video and put it in 10 different contests? One in a list, one with a quiz, one with a cut-out tool – let’s see what takes off. There’s no cost!”

There’s tons of more great advice from real-world experience from Jon so please watch when you have time. You can also get the video or audio on iTunes and save it for a commute. Right now we have about 25,000 people who listen to it every week this way. Here’s a link for iTunes.

But if you’re short on time to watch it, I wanted to at least provide you with some of Jon’s insights on what makes content go viral. [we started this convo at minute 47]

1. Keep it Short – “It’s gotta be short. 30 seconds is good, 60 seconds is worse, 90 seconds is worse, people just do not want to watch long stuff.” Doh. I guess this video won’t go viral, then! ;-) Again, Jon, “I’m not just talking about video. If you want something to be shared virally on the web it has to be short.”

2. It needs to have an interpersonal, human angle – Examples he gives, “mothers & daughters, traits in your boss you don’t like or the perfect drinks on your anniversary. Everybody will send this to people and say, ‘isn’t this just like us?’ or ‘this is totally different than us’ – you need to start the conversation” I have to admit I get this all the time. I’ll write a post on how to give feedback to employees and then I’ll get emails from people telling me they forwarded it to their whole team. When it’s personal, it gets shared a lot.

3. People want rough content that feels genuine to them / authenticity – People don’t want highly produced stuff, they want stuff that feels genuine to them. “How-to” guides work well. Behind the scenes videos do great.

4. Create something people can engage with – Examples include videos you can put your image into. Or creating quizzes or games with your content. People want to engage with content, not just consume it. The more engaging, the more it gets shared.

5. Offer the ability to react / comment - In the blogging world it’s clear that having a good comment system like Disqus is critical. And you need to work your comments section if you want people to share your content and turn up again. Good comment community = viral blog. It’s called showing good service to your most loyal customers.

6. People like lists / images – Everybody likes lists. Try making your blog posts as lists and have it in your headline to drive clicks. How very meta of me, hey? ;-) If you want a great tool to create lists check out Ranker (I’m not an investor). Also, images are way more viral than video. Many people aren’t able to listen to videos in their office.

7. Give up page views – Many websites give you presentations or lists and make you scroll through 10 pages to see the entire list. Jon says don’t do this. You get a few extra page views but less people will consume the content and certainly less will share it and make it go viral.

8. Make sure you headline is compelling, a call-to-action or a list - We talked a bit about the need to make your title catchy. In an era of RSS, Twitter, Facebook & new consumption tools like FlipBoard – titles matter.

9. Make sure the content of your Tweet / FB Share isn’t something that is something people would feel stupid sending around to their friends & colleagues – we didn’t actually get to this in our interview, but I had seen Jonah Peretti (the founder of BuzzFeed & also of The Huffington Post) talk about this in a previous interview.  If the title of your post (or the content itself) is something that is likely to make the sharer feel embarrassed for sharing it then it certainly won’t go viral. Keep in mind that when somebody hits “share” they are putting their reputation on the line by sharing it with friends.

10. Tweet appropriately – OK, I’m adding this one to the list (also not in interview) but it’s a technique I have data on. First, make sure to leave 10-12 spaces in your Tweet rather than using all 140 characters. Sure, people can use new-style Retweets but many people prefer old-school ones. If you don’t leave enough space then it’s harder to share and many people won’t bother.

And I tell people all the time, it’s OK to Tweet more than once (full advice in this link). In particular I do an East Coast morning Tweet (5.40am PST) and a West Coast Tweet (8.40am). Each converts the same (e.g. if I hand’t sent the second tweet I’d get a lot less clicks / shares). I use a tool to set it up in advance so I don’t actually have to be ready to Tweet in real time.

If you keep a blog make sure you have ReTweet buttons prominently placed near your article. This will also drive a lot of shares.

And finally, don’t be afraid to ask for a ReTweet. So if you liked this article, please find that nice little Tweet button near the top and share the love ;-) or share your own viral tips in the comments section below. I’ll see you there.

  • http://www.migrationbox.com EduardoF

    This is great. I would also love to learn successful examples of virality applied to B2B products. In our case, we offer free stuff to consumers to increase awareness and drive SMB sales, but sometimes there’s a disconnect and it’s difficult to measure effectiveness.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Hey, Eduardo! Offer an economic incentive to anybody who converts an SMB account and have the SMB enter a referral code. At least that way you can track it.

  • http://blog.ideatransplant.com Jan Schultink

    Great post with great advice for marketers.

    BUT

    It is just a shame that this type of content distribution (short, personal) is geared towards creating a storm of “company water cooler chat”-type content of “have you seen this guy do this/that” snippets, distracting bored people from the Real Work (with capitals).

  • http://www.migrationbox.com EduardoF

    Sounds like a good idea and easy to implement. Thanks!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. True. Well, it’s not the kind of content that I write. Obviously. I’m the opposite of short. But the truth is that much of what Jon was talking about was for brands to engage audiences. And here’s something I like to remind people all the time,

    “I know that on the Internet much SEO content is now like McDonalds content, but the reality is that a lot of people eat McDonalds just because we don’t!”

    Was great to meet you IRL in NY. Hope to connect again soon. Thank you for the emails.

    Mark

  • http://blog.ideatransplant.com Jan Schultink

    Oh yes, I did not mean to put you in the water cooler box :-)

  • http://byJess.net Jess Bachman

    As someone who has tons of viral success, topping digg over 50 times, i’ll add a few more.

    11. People like being pissed off. Scams, schemes, and going after things that people hate works quite well. Take down false idols, tap into peoples untold hatred for things like…. over priced HDMI cables. Tell the stories that are on peoples minds but not yet out there on the web and you go viral for sure.

    12. Unforetunately, if you want a high chance of going viral, you need a network to spark the fire. Make friends first with top bloggers in your sector. Sometimes all it takes is a tweet from the right person to start a chain reaction that makes your stuff go from 5 retweets to 2,000. But don’t spam, be humble, make connections first.

    I have to disagree with point 1 in many cases. Keep it short may be the matra for video, but in many areas, people are bombarded with cheap, short, content of low value. Sometimes, espeically with images, putting in the extra effort, making it over-blown, will cause it to spread, as people recognize and reward extra effort. But only if you

    13. BE GENUINE. Disingenuous content is dead in the water as peoples bullshit radar’s are well honed.

  • http://www.jonsteinberg.com jonsteinberg

    Thx so much for writing this up. Short and a list!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ammar-Yousuf/716172707 Ammar Yousuf

    great advice, we’re already doing some of this with Snack&Munch and it works! We got onto NBC, Mashable, Fox Business and many more all in one week by following some of these same tips. Good stuff.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Jess, as I’ve told you many times, you have a very unique gift that many others don’t have. Your ability to think & communicate visually is simply the best I have seen anywhere. I suspect that’s part of why you go viral often.

    That said, I agree with point 12. I left it out because I’ve written about it before but it was a bad omission because it is so relevant. People make things go viral and tapping into the right people matters.

    Thank you. And let’s talk this week re: our two open threads.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    See, I listen! My shortest post ever perhaps ;-)

  • http://www.Spidvid.com Jeremy Campbell

    I love BuzzFeed and these tips are solid! Keep it short and simple, and capture people’s hearts so they share your content. Breaking through the noise is challenging, but not impossible.

  • http://dougvs.tumblr.com/ Doug VS

    Mark, you mention you have some data regarding Tweet length and sharing. Would you ever be open to sharing this in a future post?

  • http://twitter.com/JayAClarke Jay Clarke

    Loved the interview with Jon Steinberg and you’ve given some great information as well. And look in list format!

    I’ll agree that often shorter is better, but from an article standpoint, some of the best I’ve read have been longer writings that have gotten momentum. In a professional sense I’m a lot more inclined to share more in depth articles than I am to share tiny bits. Though I get the draw on a personal level, I guess it all depends on the sphere you want to influence right?

  • http://twitter.com/JayAClarke Jay Clarke

    Loved the interview with Jon Steinberg and you’ve given some great information as well. And look in list format!

    I’ll agree that often shorter is better, but from an article standpoint, some of the best I’ve read have been longer writings that have gotten momentum. In a professional sense I’m a lot more inclined to share more in depth articles than I am to share tiny bits. Though I get the draw on a personal level, I guess it all depends on the sphere you want to influence right?

  • http://twitter.com/JayAClarke Jay Clarke

    Loved the interview with Jon Steinberg and you’ve given some great information as well. And look in list format!

    I’ll agree that often shorter is better, but from an article standpoint, some of the best I’ve read have been longer writings that have gotten momentum. In a professional sense I’m a lot more inclined to share more in depth articles than I am to share tiny bits. Though I get the draw on a personal level, I guess it all depends on the sphere you want to influence right?

  • http://twitter.com/JayAClarke Jay Clarke

    Loved the interview with Jon Steinberg and you’ve given some great information as well. And look in list format!

    I’ll agree that often shorter is better, but from an article standpoint, some of the best I’ve read have been longer writings that have gotten momentum. In a professional sense I’m a lot more inclined to share more in depth articles than I am to share tiny bits. Though I get the draw on a personal level, I guess it all depends on the sphere you want to influence right?

  • http://www.jonsteinberg.com jonsteinberg

    We’d love to work with you – please shoot me your contact info

  • http://dougvs.tumblr.com/ Doug VS

    Would love to connect – send me an email to dougvs at gmail com

  • http://twitter.com/julianhearn Julian Hearn

    Mark, great post but you did forget one important factor, which is outreach/promotion. Unless you already have thousands of readers, you will need to make people aware the content exists. This involved…contacting relevant bloggers, promoting it on twitter, facebook, contacting relevant contacts, and maybe other social sites like, hacker news, reddit, etc. In the words of Gary V “hustle your arse off”.

  • http://twitter.com/KIDDERUPDATES Jonathan Kidder

    Short and sweet! Thanks for the useful tips!

  • http://www.DavideDiCillo.com Davide Di Cillo

    I absolutely agree, especially with points 3 and 4. We recently released a video (http://vimeo.com/21855915) that a client made testing our product and it went viral, getting us tons of press and enterprise leads.

  • http://justjen.squarespace.com/ Jennifer M.

    Question for you RE: Disqus. You seem to know a bit more about it than I do, so hopefully you can help me out. I just started using it on my blog and some of my readers have noticed that it never emails them to notify them when they receive a reply to something they’ve commented about. It always seems to work for me – notifies me whenever they post on my blog and even when I comment on other people’s blogs who use Disqus – so I wasn’t sure what to tell them.

    I thought at first that it was a setting in my account that I didn’t have turned on, but I couldn’t find one. Now I’m worried that maybe it doesn’t notify anyone who doesn’t have a Disqus account?? That wouldn’t make sense to me though since the whole point of Disqus is to facilitate a discussion. Any insight to how to get this to work?

  • yo

    7. Give up page views – Business Insider needs to heed this advice. “Many websites give you presentations or lists and make you scroll through 10 pages to see the entire list. Jon says don’t do this.” It is very annoying and makes BI look like they are tricking/manipulating its viewers into giving page clicks.

  • http://profiles.google.com/mvg210 Mike Gnanakone

    Hey Mark I have an idea for a site that incorporates all of these aspects, I will prepare a deck and a demo and send it to you on Twitter Facebook and Youtube. Your going to see it one way or another!

  • Anonymous

    tweet button should be at the bottom of your article as well – I only know if I like it once I have read it. By then, I am at the end…

  • Dave W Baldwin

    Will listen to vid when I get chance. Surprised no one has suggested making a point with link to snippet from interview dealing with that point. Do that and if your point moves into something else you can do the (watch this snippet and see where…..).

  • http://dissertationtoday.com/ dissertation service

    thanks from me too) really good idea, why didnt i think about it!

  • http://twitter.com/thejoyofsoxorg Tom Costello Jr

    Mark, great information here! I was looking for something like this just recently. Our nonprofit, The Joy Of Sox (providing socks for the homeless) is in the process of doing a series of videos to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless and the importance that new socks play in the overall health of the homeless. We even have a mascot, Joy, the Sock Puppet, who will be doing the videos. She’s our Official Spokes-Puppet, but she’s a little shy. But after she read this post she said she’s energized and is going to work on her script. Thanks! FYI, here’s her first picture http://tinyurl.com/3zy9gbo (She doesn’t like this picture because she’s says her hair is messed up)

  • http://buyresearchpaper.org/ research paper

    Useful info. Thanks very mush.

  • http://twitter.com/rogercorn Roger Corn

    Love this interview, Mark! The power of communication in business is hugely underrated.

    Who reads a 500 word e-mail? a 45 page power point?

    No one.

    Yet (in my experience) a majority of communications are of a wordy chain-of-consciousness brain dump.

    When I receive focused, brief communication, it stands out. In a good way.

    How to get better?

    Read a book on copy writing.

    Copy writing is not just useful for Internet Marketers. It’s useful in Biz Dev/Sales.

    Our E-mails and PPT’s are really ads. Ads in the sense that we want to elicit a desired response from the reader.

    If we don’t get the response, change the writing. There are proven (scientific) techniques for doing this. Several are listed above.

    Thanks for bringing us some best-practices tactics in your interview, Mark.

  • http://dewita.biz/blog Dewita Soeharjono

    Hey Mark,
    This is good stuff. Short. Sweet. And to the point. I scan hundreds of titles everyday to get good content, yeah.. title does matter. Somehow, though I pick articles on titles to dig-deeper, find it challenging to write good title. Any input how-to?

  • Anonymous

    Sweet! Short and lists. Thank you for a great article discussion. This opens great opportunities. We have been sharing 8 minute videos on coaching, and has worked well so far. We will give the 30 sec. videos a try.
    Regards.

  • http://www.ideastowork.eu Ricardo Pérez

    Great, great post. Short and quick. like a bullet. A post worth making viral; definitely.

  • http://twitter.com/skypulsemedia Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    Viral is not a strategy. If your strategy is to have content go viral then you need a new strategy. I am not saying the bullet points do not have value. But if your goal is to get free buzz via viral your competition will put you out of business tomorrow. End of story.

  • http://craigormiston.com Craig Ormiston

    Roger – I absolutely agree on the copywriting approach.

    Regarding long power point, SlideShow found that the most popular presentations online were actually longer – an average 63 slides. That said, they had much fewer words per slide – an average 24 words. Interesting stuff. Check it out here:

    http://www.slideshare.net/rashmi/slideshare-zeitgeist-2010?from=ss_embed

  • http://twitter.com/ReelSurfer ReelSurfer

    Couldn’t agree more with number 1. Keeping content short and easy to share is a great lead generation tool to drive traffic back to your longer videos or blog posts. Everyone is fighting for a person’s 30 seconds of down time so make sure your videos fit in the time it takes someone to wait in line at Starbucks. We have seen that allowing users to cut clips from long videos and share on their own is a great way to do that.

    It might even make hour long interviews viral :).

  • http://twitter.com/iStartups Reza Sarmadi

    Great list, looking forward to more…

  • http://paznokcie-forum.pl/ Paznokcie Zelowe

    What’s people like, good question!

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    nice quietion by people…

  • http://www.m2mdaily.com/m2m-news/marathon-telecom/ Marathon Telecom

    Hi mark good information  step my step !! Thanks for sharing .

  • http://twitter.com/varsha181 Varsha Adusumilli

    Brilliant stuff, really!

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