Your Viral Content Stinks (and How You Can Fix it)

Dive into social media and soon you’ll see the good, the bad and the could’ve-been’s out there. I want to address the latter. So many pieces out there get little attention due to one or two small things that could make a good thing, great.

Here are a list of the things I’ve seen make a piece fall short, and my own personal recommendations to remedy them.

Top 10’s are SO 2008

Don’t get me wrong here, Top X type lists are great; they do well on social news sites and they are easy to digest for your readers.  However, some blogs out there overuse it. If you find that lists are your primary form of content, you may want to consider a bit of variety.

One site that pulls this off well is Cracked.com. Practically all of their most popular posts are in the form of a list. Cracked.com has taken the list-type articles and evolved them. Rather than a post about “10 Reasons Why Unicorns are Awesome” (which is a post I’m still looking for), they produce unique, well-researched ideas and top it off with stellar content.

Another new favorite site of mine that does well is ThisorThat.com. They’ve built their content focus only on comparisons. What better way to build activity on your site than to make a little controversy and pit Coke vs. Pepsi, or Madonna vs. Lady Gaga? Get your visitors to promote your site for you with a little competition.

Solution: Vary your content. Instead of lists, think of how you could produce that content into a how-to post, or a comparison-type post that puts it against a similar competitor. Some of my best pieces have been comparison posts, and, even better, ones that create a little controversy.

You rely too much on your images/video

I love pictures, especially in the blogs I read (picture books are my personal preference). I’m a huge fan and proponent of infographics as well! They’re trendy, eye-candy that just do well in the social sphere. One downside to an infographic, though, is the lack of content that could be indexed by the search engines. Sure, the added content may or may not affect whether your story hits the front page of Digg, but it does lose in the grand scheme of things (isn’t that why infographics are produced and promoted, so they can gain attention and links for better rankings?)

Solution: Add a summary to your infographics. Provide a general outline of what you are getting at with your piece. A couple of places that do this (and do well on social sites) are DegreeSearch.org & ChaCha.com. These give you all of the benefits that viral content can provide along with SEO factors that will help with better indexing from the engines.

You rely too much on your content

Building off of the previous segment, great content should be incorporated with great images to help the reader visualize your point. Images can be a great addition to any piece, and an absolute MUST if you will be putting it in list form.

Solution: There’s no need to beat a dead horse with this point, but if you’re investing a good deal of time and/or money into your content, be sure to add pretty pictures to illustrate your point.

There’s no fire under my feet!

People always say this, and maybe I’ve just come to realize it, but people can tell whether or not you believe in what you’re writing about. Now, I know some of you are asking, “Hey, Vince, I’m doing an article on people with STDs, does that mean I should get passionate about THOSE?”  Absolutely (but not in the gross way)! The love for what you write doesn’t have to be in the subject itself, but the DATA behind it.

I personally am extremely happy with the results of my last physical, however, articles like STDs Across America are somehow fascinating to me. Not so much that I now know where I won’t be taking any of my future vacations, but to see the statistics and demographics of the info.

Solution: Take a boring scenario or subject and find a way to twist it and make it viral. The Oatmeal does this every time he makes a comic.  Sure, your stuff doesn’t have to be so crazy or in-your-face as his, but you can create great ideas off of just about anything.

All problems, no solutions

I’m not the biggest fan of the “Why this place sucks” type of posts (personally). Some people like them, but it does nothing to add any value to my day and my time I spent reading your post seems to have been more of a waste than anything else. To be honest, when I initially started brainstorming and writing this post, it was going to be just a “Your content sucks” kind of a post. I then realized that I provided no real value to anyone reading this (all 4 of you).

Solution: How-to’s are one of the great ways to trump this. Providing a wrong and right way to do things will ring well with your readers and give them actionable items to take away after reading your post. Give them the good and the bad and help them to understand the distinction (I hope that’s something I’ve been able to do, even a little, here).

Not enough supporting data

bad infographic

What are they trying to say here?

Above all, this has got to be the one that irks me the most, especially when it comes to infographics! I don’t know why, maybe it’s the fact that it’s one of those pieces that “could’ve been” or was “almost there,” but didn’t have enough data to get me pass it on.

A map of the U.S. that shows the amount of foreclosures in each state isn’t THAT great of a piece. However, add another section below the map and include more information about the percentage of foreclosures compared to the previous decade, the number of abandoned homes and maybe some additional data about the amount of foreclosed homes that have sold over the past few years.

Solution: Give your readers something to digest! A simple graph that explains the fat content of a Big Mac is not going to cut it. Delve a bit further in your research and provide data that puts meaning into your piece. Adding more data, such as how a Big Mac a day would affect my body, weight and overall health would be much more appealing to read and share with those in my network. Get. Great. Data.

When creating viral content, it’s important to go the extra mile with your research and your writing. That’s what makes the difference between an article and a viral article. Let me know in the comments if you have any other pet peeve’s or recommendations about what you can do to better your work.

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3 Comments

  1. James Green says

    People just being plain wrong and not knowing it drives me the most nuts. It makes me want to grab them and yell:

    “Mr. Blog Writer, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on this site is now dumber for having read it. I award you no links, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

    • says

      Good point, James. I think it’s fairly easy to get a big head in the SEO industry. From what I’ve seen, people get a keyword ranked or get a viral piece to FP on Digg and they think they’re the master.

      I believe everyone has their right to voice their opinion, but getting advice and researching the social community can definitely go a long way.

  2. says

    Great post, Vince. I really enjoyed your “solution” approach.

    I realized I haven’t spent nearly enough time on This or That. It’s a great site is so many ways. Great example of user-generated viral content.

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