Creating content with mass appeal that people actually want to share is hard. In fact, it's nearly impossible if you don't know what you're doing. Sure, we've all heard stories of videos going viral without the publisher trying, but we've also heard of people striking it rich by winning the lottery. They're no more likely to recreate their successes and producing shareable content is no different.
What if I told you that creating good, shareable content is more like playing poker than winning the lottery? The concept is simple; a seasoned poker-pro who studies his craft and analyzes hands will have a higher chance of winning than a recreational player who plays on gut feelings and a beginner's understanding of game theory. In the long run, the poker pro will win more often by holding more ‘winning tickets.'
This can be compared to a publisher who puts in hard work and has a plan for the content they produce, over someone who simply crosses their fingers after hitting publish. Just like the poker pro, the hard-working publisher will hold more ‘winning tickets' to enable their content to be in a position to be shared.
It's easy to get caught up on the one video or article a year that gets tens of millions of views, but underneath are thousands of little wins that occur by putting the content in the proper position to spike. They are enablers, and if you carefully consider sites that consistently see success in social environments, they are chalk full of articles that fit this criterion and represent each site's ‘winning ticket.'
To hold these winning tickets, you must be diligent, prepare, analyze, execute and retrospect with each piece of content.
Let's go through these steps:
Diligence: Make sure the content matches your site voice and fits within the overall strategy you set at the beginning of the year. If your site does well in Google News, make sure content is created that caters towards that audience, if it's another medium, make sure it is crafted for that platform.
Key Takeaway: Understand why you are going to produce specific pieces of content before you start.
Analysis: Great articles are often the victim of bad timing or improper planning. Make sure that the topics you are writing about are timely and are being sought after. Most of all, use data to guide your decision, not to be the sole decision factor.
Key Takeaway: If no one finds the story to begin with, it can't be shared.
Preparation: Be ready to give stories a jump-start by mapping a strategy soon after pushing live. Plan a proper reach out list to seed the story within relevant audiences in multiple mediums.
Key Takeaway: You can only have a good plan if there is a plan.
Execution: Call in favors, email friends, cross-promote articles. Do anything you can to get even a single site to pick up your article or video. It often snowballs. As soon as one picks it up, others will follow. And you only get one by reaching out to one hundred.
Key Takeaway: The job doesn't stop after you publish; there are no short cuts.
Retrospection: Take time to figure out what worked well and what didn't. Cut out the 90 percent that was ineffective and double down on the efforts that paid off. If you reached your goal, ask yourself if the bar was set too low. Create a plan for refinement on future projects.
Key Takeaway: Be overly critical. You'll only get better if you know where you failed.
Having content ‘go viral' isn't something that happens arbitrarily. It happens to those who work hard and understand not only what to produce, but how to produce it. Whether it's a single story with millions of views, or an article series that builds upon itself, getting something to be shared is dependent on a plan customized for your site's architecture and strategy.
If you are an external brand and want to align with editorial on a site, utilize the team who knows the audience best. Each site interaction is different, so a blanket editorial strategy won't do well everywhere. Understand that earned media has a higher chance of being generated when the publisher drives content ideas.
More than anything, never stop learning. When you find pops in traffic, do more diligence. Prepare for the next opportunity by implementing strategies from those with similar characteristics that were successful in the past. Then, when all is said and done, do your retro and find out what you'll do better next time.
Solving the ‘viral' formula is a never-ending jigsaw puzzle that grows in complexity as your traffic does. And, ultimately that's why we love it.
This article was contributed by Paul Hanges, Head of Operations for CraveOnline Media, Evolve Media's male lifestyle division. His main expertise lies in growing influential vertical publishing markets, while finding ways to allow advertisers to align and integrate within these desirable audiences in new and effective methods by marrying content and advertising.
Paul holds an undergraduate degree in Business Administration with concentrations in Marketing, Finance and Accounting from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is currently pursuing his MBA at UCLA Anderson School of Management.
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March 19, 2014