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 the post Brazilians who live abroad aren’t stuck up, it’s you that are clueless, I knew exactly what to do for it to go viral and the engagement I would get when I promoted it. Now, I share my experience and tips for you to write viral blog posts too.
What does viral mean?
Just clarifying before we start: viral content is the one that is viewed, liked, commented upon, and shared by many people in a short time. But how many people? It depends on who created the content.
If a major site like HuffPost posts a new article and reaches 20,000 people in two days, it’s a flop; but if an independent blog that usually gets a couple hundred views reaches that many people in that time, it’s an enormous success. Going “viral” depends on your standards, audience, and what you want to accomplish.
In my case, I resumed blogging after a two-year hiatus that significantly decreased my traffic (read all about it here.) I’m getting the blog back on track and currently reaching an average of 500 views on the first three days of a post. However, the new post about Brazilians who live abroad, which I posted Friday night, has reached 17k page views, 7k likes, 70 comments, 37 shares (that I could track), over 1k likes and 500 comments on Facebook, and hundreds of new social media followers. That’s 28+ TIMES more visits than usual as of now (Tuesday morning, November 10).
The nine things you need to do to create a viral blog post:
1. Know what resonates with your audience
Besides posting on my blog and engaging with readers, I’m active in Facebook groups of Brazilians planning to live in Canada to understand the topics that interest them, the information they seek, and their reactions. I also read comments on other blogs and YouTube channels to come up with new topics and understand what gets more engagement. And of course, I remember that I, too, was once planning to emigrate and had lots of fears and questions about this huge milestone, which helps me empathize with my target audience.
Following social media discussions, 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 goodwill. With so many heated arguments online, I figured a post about that rivalry would make waves.
The more you understand your audience, the easier it’ll be for you to identify the 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 one you’ll want to choose for your viral post. Tutorials, lists, checklists, and how-to posts are usually more popular and engaging because they’re easy to read and skim.
It’s also important to use simple sentences, headings and subheadings that divide the text in blocks, and words that your readers are familiar with.
3. Push people’s buttons
A key factor for a blog post to go viral is to touch powerful emotions in the audience. Studies showed that the most viral pieces of content awake positive feelings like amusement, happiness, surprise, delight, hope, and excitement, while those that trigger negative emotions, like anger, anxiety and fear, are shared less, but still get lots of comments. So, when planning your post, look for ways to touch at least one of those emotions to increase its viral potential.
On my post I listed reasons Brazilians who live abroad don’t help their compatriots to emigrate, a topic that is still a taboo in the immigrant community, and that everyone has a firm opinion about. Matched with a provoking title, I was sure it would trigger surprise, amusement and delight on immigrants, who would feel vindicated; and anxiety and anger on people planning to emigrate, who would feel called out and 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 they’ll feel like they HAVE to read and tell you what they think. Even better if it makes a statement and/or makes readers look good by sharing.
A reader living in Australia, for example, shared my post on Facebook saying that she was “posting this hoping certain people will see.” Yes, please use my blog to send every not-so-subtle indirect message to family and friends you see fit — that’s a way viral content spreads.
5. Use an eye-catching cover image
Striking images make people stop scrolling down their feed and click on your article. That’s why you must avoid using generic images and go for those that relate to your topic in a non-obvious way — and always optimize them for social media shares.
I know, easier said than done. That’s why I’m always photographing random things I see on my walks to use on my blog and avoid stock images. The one on my post is from a funny sculpture I saw at Maria’s Gelato, a character that somehow goes well with people who take advantage of others, as I mentioned in the post.
6. Tell your stories and encourage people to tell theirs
Sharing your own stories and experiences is a great way to get people to understand and agree with you. On my post, I shared stories from my near six years as an immigrant in Canada to prove my point, and since it was about a sensitive topic, lots of immigrants who agreed with me were quick to share their own experiences. People have a need to be heard, so if you give them a safe space to do that, they will.
7. Promote in the right places
Crafting an excellent post is only half of the work: you need people to find it to go viral. Besides sharing your post in the usual places, like your social media profiles, newsletters, email signature, etc., think of creative ways to reach the people who will resonate the most with the content.
I shared my post in over 10 Facebook groups of Brazilians living in Canada and several groups of immigrants in other places, like Portugal, USA, Australia, and England. The experience of Brazilian immigrants is similar all over the world, so it made sense to share in those groups too, and it got lots of engagement. In a few days, I’ll share it in a couple of Reddit communities and on Pinterest, and contact other Brazilian bloggers who live abroad and might want to share my post.
Make a checklist of all the ways to reach your audience and share your post in one or two of those places each day. It isn’t time-consuming and gives people time to share spontaneously — I didn’t need to post it in the “Brazilians in Quebec” group, for example, because someone who saw it somewhere did.
8. Engage with your audience
Always comment, or at least like whenever someone comments on your blog or social media post. Not only because it’s good to build a relationship with your readers, but because it makes the post more visible to other users by bringing it up on group feeds, increasing the viral potential.
9. Be ready to take the heat
The more successful and popular your post is, the more likely you are to get a few hate comments, specially if you’re talking about something controversial. Get ready for that — learn to not take mean comments personally and hold the urge to reply, 99% of the time it’s not worth it to engage in arguments with haters.
One last thing about writing a viral blog post
The tips I listed here significantly increase your chances of writing a viral post, but they’ll only work if you create quality content that benefits your reader. Be it touching emotions, providing helpful information, or even just making them laugh: always plan and write your content with care and with your reader in mind, put yourself in their shoes and you’re set for blogging success.