Writing on my Brazilian lifestyle and immigration blog Viajadora since 2013, I got to understand and identify what topics have the potential to go viral and the best ways to reach a lot of visits and engagement. So, when I wrote Brazilians living abroad aren’t uppity, you are clueless, I knew what I needed to do to make it a viral blog post and how much engagement I’d get if I promoted it. Now I’m sharing my experience and tips so you too can write viral blog posts.
What does “viral blog post” mean anyway?
Just to clarify before we get started: Viral content is viewed, liked, commented on, and shared by many people in a short period of time. But how many people? That depends on who created the content.
If a big website like HuffPost publishes a new article and reaches 20,000 people in two days, that’s a flop; but if an independent blog that usually only gets a few hundred views reaches that many people in that time, that’s a huge success. What’s a “viral success” depends on your standards, your audience, and your goals.
In my case, I’ve started blogging again after a two-year hiatus that resulted in a significant drop in traffic (read about it here). I’m getting the blog back on track and currently averaging 500 views in the first three days after a post. However, the new post about Brazilians living abroad that I posted on Friday night has been viewed more than 17k times, liked 7k times, commented 70 times, shared 37 times (as far as I could track), liked over 1k times, commented 500 times on Facebook, and gained hundreds of new followers on social media. That’s 28+ TIMES more visits than usual (as of Tuesday morning, November 10).
The nine things you need to do to create a viral blog post:
1. Know what resonates with your audience
Not only do I post on my blog and interact with readers, but I’m also active in Facebook groups of Brazilians planning to move to Canada to understand what topics interest them, what information they’re looking for, and how they respond. I also read the comments on other blogs and YouTube channels to find new topics and understand what generates more interest. And of course, I remember that I too was once planning to emigrate and had many fears and questions about this huge milestone, which helps me empathize with my target audience.
As I followed the discussions on social media, I noticed that Brazilians who want to emigrate accuse those who already live abroad of being stuck-up and selfish, while the latter say that they help, but their compatriots who want to emigrate are lazy and abuse their good will. With so many heated arguments online, I figured a post about this rivalry would make waves.
The better you understand your audience, the easier it’ll be for you to identify topics with viral potential and the reactions you can expect.
2. Make it easy and quick
Do you know what kind of content your readers like best? Because that’s the type you should choose for your viral post. Tutorials, lists, checklists, and how-to posts tend to be more popular and engaging because they’re easy to read and skim.
Also, it’s important that you use simple sentences, headings and subheadings that divide the text into blocks, and words that are familiar to your readers.
3. Push people’s buttons
A key factor for a viral blog post is to evoke strong emotions in your target audience. Studies have shown that most viral content evokes positive emotions such as amusement, happiness, surprise, delight, hope, and excitement, while posts that trigger negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, and fear are shared less but get lots of comments. So when planning your post, look for ways to appeal to at least one of these emotions to increase the post’s viral potential.
In my post, I listed the reasons why Brazilians living abroad don’t help their compatriots emigrate – a topic that’s still taboo in the immigrant community and on which everyone has a strong opinion. I was sure that the provocative title would cause surprise, amusement and delight on immigrants, as they’d feel vindicated, and anxiety and anger among people planning to emigrate, as they’d feel challenged to say something. Bingo! That’s exactly what happened.
4. Make a statement and don’t be afraid of controversy
Make your title engaging and irresistible – one your audience will be so curious that they’ll feel like they HAVE to read and tell you what they think. It’s even better if it makes a statement and/or makes the reader feel good about sharing.
A reader who lives in Australia shared my post on Facebook and said that she was “posting this in hopes that certain people will see it.” Yes, please use my blog to send any not-so-subtle indirect message to your family and friends – that’s how viral content spreads.
5. Use an eye-catching cover image
Striking images make people stop scrolling in their feed and click on your article. That’s why you shouldn’t use generic images, but ones that have a non-obvious connection to your topic – and always optimize them for social media shares.
I know this is easier said than done. That’s why I always take pictures of random things I see on my walks to use on my blog, and avoid stock images. The picture in my post is from a funny sculpture I saw at Maria’s Gelato, a character that somehow fits people who take advantage of others, as I mentioned in my post.
6. Tell your stories and encourage people to tell theirs
Sharing your own stories and experiences is a great way to inspire understanding and agreement. In my post, I shared stories from my six years as an immigrant in Canada to support my point, and because it was a sensitive topic, many immigrants who agreed with me were quick to share their own experiences. People have a need to be heard, and if you give them a safe space to do so, they’ll open up.
7. Promote in the right places
Writing a good post is only half the battle: It needs to be found to go viral. In addition to sharing your post in the usual places like your social media profiles, newsletters, email signatures, etc., you also need to find creative ways to reach the people who’ll resonate the most with the content.
I shared my post in over 10 Facebook groups of Brazilians living in Canada and in several groups of immigrants in other countries such as Portugal, the US, Australia and England. The experiences of Brazilian immigrants are similar all over the world, so it made sense to share the post in these groups as well, and it got lots of engagement. In the next few days, I’ll share it in some Reddit groups and on Pinterest, and contact other Brazilian bloggers who live abroad and might want to share my post.
Make yourself a checklist of all the ways to reach your audience and share your post in one or two of those places each day. This isn’t time consuming and gives people time to share spontaneously – for example, I didn’t have to post in the “Brazilians in Quebec” group because someone who saw it somewhere did.
8. Engage with your audience
Always reply or at least give a like when someone comments on a post on your blog or social media. This is important to build a relationship with your readers and makes the post more visible to other users by showing up in group feeds, increasing its viral potential.
9. Be ready to take the pressure
The more successful and popular your post is, the more likely you are to get hate comments, especially if you’re talking about something controversial. Be prepared for this – learn not to take mean comments personally and suppress the urge to respond. In 99% of cases, it’s not worth discussing with haters.
One last thing about writing a viral blog post
The tips I’ve listed here will greatly increase your chances of writing a viral post, but they only work if you create quality content that benefits your readers. Whether it’s appealing to emotions, providing helpful information, or just making them laugh, always plan and write your content with your readers in mind, put yourself in their shoes and you’ll be ready for blogging success.