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.
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.
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