3 essentials for making your idea go viral

Want your concepts to spread far and wide? Take a look at these key elements and how you should employ them.

The concept that products, messages and behaviors spread in the same way as viruses is not a new one. The theory of memetics has been around for decades, and it recently spread through its own word-of-mouth epidemic started by Malcolm Gladwell‘s book, The Tipping Point.

As social media marketers, the question we struggle to answer is not whether ideas spread like viruses, but how we get them to do so.

In his latest webinar on the science of social media, Dan Zarrella explored this question. Through his research, Zarrella found that ideas don’t spread because they’re “good,” they spread because of a series of other factors, which his “hierarchy of contagiousness” explains.

In order for an idea to go viral, it must have three things:

1. Exposure: You must expose your audience to the idea.

2. Attention: The idea must grab your audience’s attention.

3. Motivation: The idea must motivate your audience to act, i.e., share the idea.

Here are three tips from Zarrella’s research for optimizing exposure, attention and motivation in your social media marketing efforts.


Though we believe engagement is crucial to a successful social media marketing campaign, Zarrella’s research shows that publishing interesting content may play a more important role in increasing exposure.

  • Twitter: There is a correlation between tweeting many links and having a high number of followers. However, when measuring engagement through tweets starting with @replies, Zarrella found that handles with more than 1,000 followers actually engage in conversation less often than their counterparts with fewer followers.
  • Blogging: Zarrella found that there is no correlation between comments and links back to a blog post, or to the number of views a post receives.


In order to gain an audience’s attention, it is important that marketers do not crowd out their own content and that they use contra-competitive timing.

  • Twitter: When looking at the click-through rates of links tweeted per hour, Zarrella found that as users crowd out their own content with multiple links, they garner less attention per piece of content.
  • Facebook: In regards to timing, Zarrella found that there is actually an uptick in Facebook shares on Saturdays and Sundays because people share less content on these days, and because many workplaces block their employees from using Facebook.


When trying to motivate people to share your content, remember that scarcity, simplicity and calls to action make a difference.

  • Twitter: When looking at “word novelty” in retweets, Zarrella found that retweets tend to contain rare words. At the same time, tweets that say “Please retweet” are retweeted four times more often than posts without a direct call to action.
  • Facebook: People share posts that have nouns or verbs in their titles more frequently than those with adverbs or adjectives. Similarly, as the posts’ reading level increases, the frequency of shares decreases. Simple content is more likely to motivate your viewers.

What other factors do you think influence when content reaches its tipping point?

Aven James is an account supervisor at BlissPR. She contributes to the BlissPR blog, where a version of this article originally ran.


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