4 Common Traits of Viral Content

Language and the Machine


Content on Facebook could very well be entirely video in five years.


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Going viral. In the past, the word “viral” would have evoked widespread panic—images of quarantined hospital wings and the fear of imminent death. Today, anyone who knows anything about the digital world knows that “going viral” is the ultimate reward for strategically planned social content.

Businesses love content that goes viral and results in more customers. Publications want content to go viral for more readers and subscribers. For nonprofits wanting to increase their reach and engage more donors, “going viral” is the pinnacle to gaining a widespread audience for your cause, without it costing you valuable nonprofit dollars. The question is, what’s the secret to captivating your audience’s attention and inspiring them with your content and the mission of your nonprofit?

Four key components to propel your content into the viral world:

1. Video that transcends barriers

A recent article published on professed that the content on Facebook could very well be entirely video in five years. Whether or not this is true, the reality is that video is a powerful way to convey the heart and soul of your nonprofit through the impact of storytelling. By telling real stories about real people, video transcends barriers and visually compels people to enter a world outside of their own.

Executive Director of Social Media Week, Toby Daniels, told me in an interview I had with him recently for the Leading Good podcast that video and visual communication “represents the greatest opportunity for how we can communicate across many of the boundaries that often prevent us from being able to connect with other human beings: language, cultural barriers, geographic barriers, et cetera.” The result is passionate advocates joining their voice with yours as they share your stories on their timelines and profiles.

Native Hope is a nonprofit organization that exists to empower a young generation of Native Americans through programs that provide education, protect at-risk youth, and honor cultural heritage.

2. Relevant, newsworthy buzz

Watch your analytics grow with timely and relevant content. By staying alert to breaking headlines that are applicable to your nonprofit, you can ride the wave of the social media buzz with your own unique viewpoint on the trending topic.

Use Tagboard or Hashtagify to find the hashtags that people are using to talk about the issue, and include them in your content. By keeping your ear to the ground, you will reap the benefits of an organically growing click-through rate that gets people talking about and sharing your content.

Leading Good is a platform with one simple purpose: To inspire and equip leaders of nonprofits, social enterprises, and social impact brands with insights and expert advice – for greater Good.

3. A picture is worth a thousand words…

Memes. They carry the power to evoke empathy through intriguing images and carefully crafted phrases. They are a dynamic combination that can convey both the successes and hope your nonprofit is bringing to real people facing difficult issues.

Animated GIFs can communicate emotions in a much more powerful and concise way than a phrase. Similarly, emojis and emoticons express emotion in a way that anyone can understand, interpret, and access regardless of the different languages that the creator and the viewer might speak. Nonprofits that harness the power and opportunity in visual communication will see an amplified social footprint that’s associated with their cause.

Native Hope works with organizations and young Native Americans throughout the United States. They are playing a vital role in efforts to bring hope and change, funding vital programs that are making a real difference.

4. Strong, devoted community

Scott Harrison of charity: water is emphatic about this one principle: “Love your donors!” By building a relationship with the people that have come alongside your mission for good, you are creating a loyal community of partners who will commit to you for the long haul. Ensure that your content is authentic and builds on the trust they’ve already shown in you.

It’s easy to get caught up in the impersonal aspects of social media and the digital world, but it’s imperative to remember the human aspect. Do this, and you will have a multitude lending their voices to your cause.

charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries.

Of course, not every piece of content created is going to catch the viral bug. However, as long as you focus on creating campaigns that are poignant, purposeful, and inspirational, your reach will continue to grow.

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