What Makes Content Go Viral?

I uploaded a video once entitled “women lose their power in their 30’s, men in their 40’s” on my personal YouTube channel.

It was about a talk Jordan Peterson gave and my thoughts.

When I first uploaded it, it was safely ignored and got a few hundred views. I deleted it because I changed my mind about the video and thought I could do a better job on the topic. In particular I played horrible music behind Jordan Peterson’s talk which I wanted to delete.

A month later I casually re-uploaded the video not thinking much.

That second time the video got A LOT of views, peaking at 3,000 views in a single day. It was going viral, it was cringy and I ended up deleting the video because it was quite embarasing upon reflection.

But why was it ignored the first time and the second time it took off like a rocket after a few weeks of being uploaded?


I had another video on Jordan Peterson and the specific topic of that video got a lot of attention from the media. My “women lose their power” video was a suggested video and eventually started to go viral after a month of being ignored.


To make viral, compelling content is an inexact science, there is no one thing you can do that causes your content to explode, or one thing you forget to do or neglect to do that causes it to go no where.

One thing is for certain however. Beyond the headlines, beyond the grammar and writing quality… what will determine if your content becomes addictive or not is this:

Your ideas 

Brainstorming ideas is a topic covered to death and talked about ad nauseum online. Instead, let’s talk about making content that ranks and also attracts by going to the core of what your content is about, your ideas and how to make them better, stronger, more convincing and worthy of attention.

Better ideas start with design

We live in a weird time right now. Ideas can spread not based on who makes up the idea, how important that person is, or how much money that person has. Ideas now spread based on how good the idea is. How novel it is. How it moves you emotionally enough to want to share it.

Sometimes these ideas are deep and important like this, other times they’re humorous memes with entire web business built around them (I Can Haz Cheeseburger anyone?). Regardless, a quote, funny cat picture, video, or a blog post can spread through a network of people faster today than at any other time in history. Ideas have in them the power to change the world, to connect people around a singular idea or notion. To make us feel more connected (not less – the web is evolving away from a broadcast platform, and into a second life.. and it serves us better as such).

We have the ability now to become catalysts ourselves for the ideas we care about.

No longer are our ideas restricted to our close nit circle of friends or acquaintances at cocktail parties where are our ideas would never materialize from anything more than a passing thought. Now, despite the world pushing us to connect less in person, we can connect our ideas more through new mediums. Reaching and convincing the right people to care and take action.

What makes content addictive and so compelling?

How do ideas spread? How does content go viral? What is exactly the structure of compelling content?

Keep reading.

Ideas, and the ability to reach people with them is a tremendous gift. You are very lucky to be alive at this moment with the ability to crowd source funding for your project, build a profitable audience for your website based around the idea infused content you create… or to just share a silly picture of your cat that everyone seems to love!

How to make your ideas better

To make your ideas (and your content) better, you must devise ways to connect what it is your publishing to knowledge and concepts already familiar with your target audience.

How do you do that exactly? Here’s how…

The complete guide to not giving a fuck has been liked over 70,000 times on Facebook. Why? What are the elements that made it go viral?

The author (Julien Smith) was able to craft compelling content that connected what he was publishing to knowledge his audience already had. Moving them emotionally.


  • The story telling
  • The sharing of the vulnerability of being concerned with what other people think
  • Admitting to foolishly wasting time.
  • A novel, high quality headline that grabs your attention
  • Metaphors
  • Instructing people what to do next:

Take back your self respect. Do it today– try it right now. Wear something ugly. Do something stupid. Tell someone the truth. It doesn’t fucking matter.

This was a perfect example of driving out a strong emotional response in your readers… and this is not an easy thing to do at all.

Playing the heart strings 

Viral content obviously induces strong emotions (usually positive). After reading Juliens article which speaks to you about the things you already know are true but have simply been unable to put words (no worries he did it for you) you feel like you spent your time well. That you got something profound out of reading Juliens work. That you will approach your life slightly differently from that point on.

Same goes with this post by Adam Baker over at Man vs Debt about “How To Not Suck at Blogging“. This post is much more practical for everyday use. Also, it’s only relevant if you’re a blogger who is struggling or someone who wants to become a blogger. While appealing to a smaller audience, it plays to the frustrations of a specific group and it still follows the same guidance of having your published content match concepts your target audience knows while also inducing a strong emotional response.

Steve Kamb over at NerdFitness.com credits this post as being the foundation for turning around his then struggling website. After reading Bakers work, Kamb went about his publishing a radically different way which eventually enable Steve to build a full time income from Nerd Fitness. This is why Bakers content went viral. It had a profound emotional impact on people.

Does any of your published content do that?

Emotional responses

Positive content is the easiest to get shared. But any content to have a chance of going viral at best and being compelling at worst has to hit some sort of strong emotional response:

  • Happiness 
  • Fear 
  • Anger 
  • Amazement 
  • Joy 

Benefiting from beginners luck and Seth Godin

Seth Godin publishes and extremely popular blog that reaches 100,000 readers every single day. He writes short, pithy ideas at about an average of 150 words a post.

Do you think you could do that? It’s not the publishing part that’s hard…

Craft and mold the ideas you already have like they’re clay or rely on beginners luck. Beginners benefit from beginners luck because their approach is totally random. It’s like striking the lottery. Professionals, especially those dealing with the trading of ideas can’t simply rely on beginners luck however. They need to develop a methodology for how they present their idea. They need to quit the stuff that does not work, pay attention to what is working, understand why it’s working, make it better and stronger, then do more of it.

The results?

You’ll end up over time with an amazing skill to craft better ideas. It’s no accident that Seth is able to publish 50-200 word posts everyday that reaches 100,000 readers. It’s because his ideas are good, it’s a type of genius he has developed in that his good ideas are always so close together and he knows how to best present them.

10,000 visitors vanity trap – A cautionary tale

Why do you want to create compelling content?

We’ve gone over the structure of it. How it needs to have a powerful headline. How it needs to connect to information your audience already knows. How it needs to induce a strong emotional response. But one last thing before you set out.

Whats the point of it all? Why do you want traffic? Traffic is not the end all and be all of websites.

It’s fun to get a ton of traffic based on something you created, but if that traffic does not convert to any sales or subscribers it’s all in vain.  Another way to put it, if 10,000 people were to hit your website tomorrow would your website be ready?

Me getting a bunch of views on a silly dating video I made resulted in a lot of attention, but little else.

Compelling yes, viral no

Viral content is surprising. There is a structure to compelling content. A structure that makes it much more likely to get shared, to get read, to have it paid attention. But is there a structure to viral content? I don’t think so.

Take the Kony 2012 video:

This video went viral and has been watched 100 million times. It breaks every conventional conception of “viral” content:

  • It’s long
  • It’s sad
  • It’s drawn out
  • It’s not funny BUT it does induce a strong emotional response.

Once something works well, the door closes on that process for a period of time. You can’t re-engineer the Kony 2012 video for your own content because it won’t work. It won’t be original. It will simply be an echo. Did the creators of this know it would have ended up being viewed over 1/10th of a billion times? No way. You can’t create something with that goal.

So what do you do?

Just focus on the structure of compelling content. Craft and mold your ideas. Make them better and stronger. Focus on your headlines. Focus on inducing a strong emotional response from your readers. Connect your content to ideas and concepts already familiar with your target audience.

This is difficult to do if you’re starting out, but you will get better at this over time. Eventually you may become Seth Godinesque. Able to publish 150 words that will be read by 100,000 people because you know something most do not:

How to make you ideas better, stronger, and more compelling.