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Epic Split: How You Can Encourage Users to Share

Whether it's a mini Darth Vader or Apple's 300% battery, every day articles, videos and pictures pop up on the Internet that enthral and move millions of people and spread across the world like wildfire. The rules that viral messages follow are unclear: It's hard to predict whether content will become a raging success or simply flame out. However, the creator of viral content has several options to help him set a spark that will carry his content to all corners of the world.

It’s a mystery: Standing between two trucks, an ageing action-movie star performs performs a hair-raising stunt to the tune of Enya’s „Only Time“ in the „Epic Split“. A musician produces a song about happiness, and people from around the world start dancing in front of a camera. A little boy is saved from a dog attack when his cat bravely comes to the rescue. In no time, social networks are abuzz with: “Hey have you already seen this?“, “That’s got to be a fake!”, or “Ooh, that’s so cute.”

Whether it’s a mini Darth Vader or Apple’s 300% battery, every day articles, videos and pictures pop up on the Internet that enthral and move millions of people and spread across the world like wildfire. The rules that viral messages follow are unclear: It’s hard to predict whether content will become a raging success or simply flame out. However, the creator of viral content has several options to help him set a spark that will carry his content to all corners of the world.

Why do we share?

Today, we share nearly everything: Our cars, bikes, and even our couch. More and more often, media experts refer a “a culture of sharing” that has established itself and spread with the help of the Internet. Sharing is not only useful, it educates and strengthens solidarity between people and even makes the sharers themselves happy.

Especially digital content and our opinion of it can be spread quickly and easily through social media and other forms of communication. One click is sufficient to invite all of our friends to “Hey, take a look at this!”

An individual can have various motives, ranging from a desire to help to simply wanting to show themselves in a good light. Companies, on the other hand, usually have three reasons why they want their content shared:

  1. Gain Attention: raise website traffic or blog traffic
  2. Raise conversion rates: e.g. gather new fans and followers, get more clicks, generate more profit
  3. Anchor the brand positively in the mind of their users and strengthen loyalty to the brand.

Increasingly, marketers and advertisers implement more-or-less elaborate viral campaigns to accomplish these goals. But this does not always succeed.

What you need for a viral hit

Although sharing content via clicks is easy for an individual, it’s simply not that easy for companies to create “super star” viral content. Results range from extremely successful content that propels a company all the way to the top, to absolutely ineffective campaigns or even ones that damage the company’s image.

Even though they may not automatically generate thousands of clicks, there are still factors to take into account that are vital to ensuring the success of your content.


1. The Right Target Audience

It is absolutely crucial to address the right target audience to ensure that your campaign is a success, with more likes, shares and traffic. Not only do you have to differentiate between client x and client y, but you also have to closely examine the emotions and motives of the users.

The New York Times (NYT) conducted a study in 2011 on the psychology of sharing (Edit 11 October 2018: Unfortunately, the source we originally linked to is no longer online). Researchers asked the 2500 participants about the importance of the sharing of content in their lives, their emotional motives and their aspired self-image. In the end, six types of sharers emerged.

  • Altruists shared content to help their fellow man. They want to be viewed as dependable and trustworthy
  • Careerists want, above all, to be perceived as intelligent, and they prefer to share high-quality content. They use posting and sharing for (corporate) networking.
  • Hipsters are creative, young and innovative “sharers”, who want to express themselves and show who they are through their posts.
  • Boomerangs want to discuss, provoke or are looking for recognition. They want to be perceived as dedicated individuals and use their posts as a means to take part in current events.
  • Connectors use social networks to stay in touch with their contacts and to organise their networks with the help of media. They portray themselves as creative and laid back.
  • Selectives are very careful with the share-button and the type of content they share. They want to be viewed by others as resourceful and informative.

These types do not necessarily have to apply to the audience of a company. However, if you categorise your users in a similar pattern, it will be easier to tailor content to individual target groups.



2. The Right Channel for the Content

There are many roads to success, and the same applies to viral marketing. There is very seldom that one perfect channel, so distributing your content across different channels is almost always a good idea. Advertisers should still be aware of where they are most likely to reach their users in order to communicate with them.

Different communication channels can be derived for each of the six different types of sharers established by the NYT study.

  • Altruists prefer emails as a trustworthy means of communication.
  • Careerists prefer professional networks such as LinkedIn or Xing.
  • Hipsters avoid emails and, instead, prefer to use the newest and most innovative communication channels.
  • Boomerangs want to be able to react quickly and reach a large number of users. For this reason, they prefer to communicate via social media such as Twitter, Facebook or Google+.
  • Connectors prefer email or Facebook to organise their contacts
  • Selectives choose their content and communication channels carefully. They prefer email.

The distribution strategy and the type of content should be subject to the preferred communication channels of the target audience. The better suited content is to a certain channel and the better it adheres to its rules, the higher the probability that it will be shared.


3. The Right Moment

In addition to the right target audience and the right communication channel, timing also plays a vital role in determining whether content will “go viral” or not. If the content provider knows when his target audience is online, he can post his content at just the right time.

Kimi Mongello provides advice on when to post (and when not to post), in the blog SumAll, with the help of a practical example.

  • Twitter: business days, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.
  • Facebook: business days, 1 p.m.- 4 p.m.
  • LinkedIn : Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, 7 a.m. – 8.30 a.m. and 5 p.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Tumblr: business days, 7 p.m. – 10 p.m and Fridays from 4 p.m.
  • Instagram: business days, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m, and Mondays at 8 p.m.
  • Pinterest: business days, 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. And 8 p.m. – 11 p.m. and especially on weekends
  • Google+: business days, 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.

The launching time of a viral campaign can be vital to your success and should be carefully planned. When the viewers and “sharers” of your campaign are online is, of course, dependent on the respective target audience. Determining when a viral should be released requires extensive analysis of the users, and it almost always pays off to post your viral on different communication channels and at different times. Reposts as well as refreshing of the content are not considered taboos and can, in fact, help you reach more users.

A viral campaign often lasts up to several days, weeks or even months. Therefore, you should also take seasonal and one-off influences into consideration. Good weather, a summer slump or a World Cup final make it harder for you to reach your audience. On the other hand, world events can also provide a great opportunity for launching a successful campaign; plenty of viral content is created for current events, such as the Olympics, and becomes known within this context. Good content-strategists should, therefore, keep their eyes peeled for current events that offer an opportunity to launch a viral campaign.


4. The Right Content

Once you have determined your target audience, the perfect channel and the optimal time to launch your campaign, you can create the content.

Whether you opt for image, video, text or any other format, content tends to spread especially well when it meets certain criteria:

Added Value for the User

Content should inform, entertain, or help if users are to share it. Good content provides added value to the user, and the current trend towards content marketing makes this abundantly clear: high-quality and useful content turns readers into fans.

Trigger Emotions:

Content that triggers emotions speaks to users especially well. This is evidenced by plenty of videos such as the video “Best Job” by P&G that shows the 2012 Olympic Games from the athletes’ mothers’ point of view. Several studies have shown that positive emotions are more effective than negative emotions. Especially content that makes users laugh, amazes or at least amuses them, spread well as long as the content appeals to the target audience.

Animate Users to Share With Each Other

The New York Times study showed that many users share in order to stay in contact with friends and acquaintances, to interact with or to help them. If you offer them content that encourages them to interact with others or evokes a sense of community can trigger a viral effect – for example when users try to solve a puzzle together and discuss the possible answers.

This is where memetic is often thrown into the mix. Memetic triggers are defined as stimuli content utilizes to animate users to pass Meme (Richard Dawkins: a communicative information unit, e.g. a thought) on to others. Currently, there are several different theories on memetic triggers and the number of existing triggers. However, no matter which theory, advertisers assume that content that contains triggers like “real vs. fake” ( one of the triggers in the “„Epic Split“clip) are usually more frequently shared.

Address the Need of Users to Express Themselves

Nearly all people like to talk about themselves. This is not just true for reality but also for the Internet. If you want to appeal to the “Boomerang” or the “Hipster”, and you offer them a chance to present themselves, you heighten your chances of viral success. You can for example supply controversial, exclusive or brand-new content that enables the user to stand out from the crowd. Content that call on the user himself can also be implemented. This can be a creative contest, for example, that not only encourages people to take part but also to share, if it allows them to showcase their own creativity.

An Appealing Design of Content and Post

The layout of the content has great influence on its viral success of a text, video or image, and there are many factors to take into account. A study conducted by BuzzSumo, for example, showed that longer texts ( approx. 3000 words and up) spread better than short texts. It also established that users tend to share articles containing pictures nearly twice as often on Facebook and Twitter as their “UN-pictured” counterparts.

The design of the post on Facebook and Co. also decides if users will share it. An Austrian study has shown the following:

  • Pictures in posts raise virality by about 70%.
  • Videos and links in posts, on the other hand, decrease virality.
  • Posts should not be longer than 1-3 lines.
  • Those who post seldomly are shared more frequently
  • Posts should be simply worded

The NYT Study came to the same conclusion that simple and clear messages are more successful than complicated content. It is also helpful to make it easy for the user to embed and share content, through, for example, pre-worded Tweets or URLs for embedding images.


If and how well content relates back to the brand can influence viral success as content and brand should be compatible to ensure that the message remains authentic. At the same time, the brand should not draw too much attention to itself. It is crucial that the content is branded to ensure that users can connect the content with the company. The credibility and image of the content provider can also play a role here. Who wouldn’t rather share a brand they can identify with?


5. The Right Seeding

Haphazard and uncoordinated Facebook posts waste valuable potential.

A functional network aids good seeding. The first step towards creating such a network are commenting on other blogs and sites, taking part in forums, answering users on your own website in order to start a dialogue with other users. Mentioning or citing those who influenced you in your own posts and articles can also help to build a community. It is also important to regularly keep in touch with other content providers once you have established contact. This way, you can set up a well-functioning network in the long run – and key building block to success, not just for viral campaigns.

Tools can also influence successful sharing and seeding. Programs like hootsuite allow you to plan, automate and monitor posts. ifttt (if this then that) creates automatisms that react to certain events in social media channels, and providers like Addthis supply various tools and buttons that you can implement on your website and make it easier to share content.



Good content can develop momentum of its own that can make it known across the Internet and beyond. Still, noteworthy content seldom spreads on its own. Those who want to create viral content need to plan carefully and first answer the following questions:

  • Who is my target audience? How do they handle content?
  • Through which channel can I reach them? And which channels do they use?
  • When am I most likely to connect with my users? Are there current events I should take into consideration?

Extensive testing and analysis are key components to finding the answers, and once they have been found, you can create the appropriate content. Content that

  • has added value so that users want to recommend it
  • triggers emotions
  • animates users to interact with each other
  • addresses the need of users to express themselves
  • is easy to share
  • contains the branding of the brand to a reasonable extent

Once you have the right content, you can focus on the seeding. But the work doesn’t stop here. You still have to manage discussions, talk to users and produce follow-up content.

Viral success stories are a hard piece of work and hardly ever happen on their own. If you follow certain rules, however, chances are good that you can create your own “Epic Split”.


Now it’s your turn. Do you like to share? What kind of content do you like to share most? We look forward to your comments, likes and shares.


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