Gini Dietrich

How to Make Your Content Go Viral

By: Gini Dietrich | February 7, 2012 | 

We have an internal joke when a client or prospect asks us to help them create something viral.

We say, “Sure! Have two guys kick one another in the privates and it’s sure to go viral!”

The fact of the matter is, you can’t MAKE anything go viral. It’s not about how many shares you can get from your friends and family.

It’s about great creative, great content, and some fairy magic dust.

And, just because two guys kicking one another or cute puppies might work this week doesn’t mean they won’t be overshadowed the following week by a celebrity crying over a sloth.

According to an article in The Atlantic this month, companies are installing every imaginable share button on their content, writing articles, and then praying to the viral Gods that they would become overnight success because of all of the shares.

But then, surprise! An entrepreneur named Uzi Shmilovic examined eight ways Internet giants, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, have used virality as a vehicle for success.

Shmilovic emphasizes using a “Virality Coefficient” — “how many new users on average does one user of your product ‘infect'” — to measure to virality of a piece of information. A coefficient greater than one indicates exponential growth, the type that describes wildly successful Internet campaigns like the Old Spice Guy:


So now everyone is rushing to figure out what their Virality Coefficient is in order to make their videos, podcasts, blog posts, white papers, and more go viral.

The problem, of course, is “making” something go viral isn’t possible. It’s not a mathematic equation. There are human beings with emotions involved. There is nothing mathematical or scientific about that.

And, as much as we like to think everyone uses the social web, it turns out there are plenty of people who don’t. In fact, more people use email than social media, despite the growing number of users at Facebook. Most people create their accounts, spend a few days discovering what everyone is talking about, accumulate some friends, and never return.

I have a better idea. Determine your vision.  Invest some time (as in years). Work really hard. Build a community. Empower your brand ambassadors. Listen to your critics and detractors. Make changes. And someday, somewhere, you will have something that goes viral.

Everyone will think it was an overnight success because it’s the first time they have heard of you. But you’ll know the real secret.

Hard work, patience, and perseverance trump all.

Thanks to the Daily Mumbler for providing an image to prove my point.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • I do my best not to roll my eyes at the mention of making something “go viral.” It’s the Big Foot of social media.

    • ginidietrich

      @Anthony_Rodriguez It’s really hard NOT to roll your eyes. If you look at the success of the Old Spice campaign, people forget to take into account the MILLIONS of advertising, marketing, and PR dollars they spent before making those videos. Oy vey.

      • @ginidietrich And now P&G wants to have that same success without having to spend the money. I just heard that P&G is laying off 1,600 people, including marketers. Good luck creating the same creative advertising with no one to develop it.

        • @Anthony_Rodriguez @ginidietrich The thing is, good creative doesn’t have to be expensive. Look at the Super Bowl ads. Many of those just weren’t very creative, despite spending a ton of money. Then there were the Doritos commercials, where the ideas came from outsiders. It can be done. It just isn’t easy.

        • ginidietrich

          @Anthony_Rodriguez I have that article saved in my drafts for a blog post later. It’s amazing to me. This stuff still costs money. A lot of money.

  • It’s funny, but I’ve seen videos go viral several years after they were initially posted online. It’s like catching lightning in a bottle. You have to hit the right people at the right time…and you just can’t plan that. You can create great content that SHOULD go viral, but it has to strike a chord at just the right moment. I think this is why so many people are half-assed about their social approach. They try stuff, and it doesn’t take off right away. So in their minds, since it didn’t go viral, it didn’t work. But rather than give up they just have to keep plugging away with great content.

    • ginidietrich

      @KenMueller It’s kind of like the Millennium trilogy. It was years after Larsson wrote those books for them to catch on and make him a mint. Of course, it was after he passed away that they became hugely popular. Maybe the secret is you have to die first?

      • @ginidietrich I’ll let you test that theory with Spin Sucks Pro…let me know how that works out for you.

        • ginidietrich

          @KenMueller HA!

  • bryanwillmert

    Ok now I can not feel crazy about my response when people say that they want to create something viral. I alway follow with, well what do you have and I can tell you if it might go viral or not.. “no we want you to create something to go viral”.. then i pull out my harry potter magic wand, do a rain dance, and then charge them double! LOL..

    • ginidietrich

      @bryanwillmert You have a Harry Potter wand?!?! I want one!

  • debdobson62

    Ahhh, it is so hard to not roll your eyes when getting that request. My favorite sentence in your post is “Hard work, patience, and perseverance trump all.” I always tell people it is important to focus on their goals, do the hard work, be persistent. I think there are many who don’t understand that there is no magic way to make something go viral.

    • ginidietrich

      @debdobson62 It’s the same thing with overnight success. Or, as @BobReed said, the Oprah effect. Living in Chicago, prospects would say to me all the time, “Can you get us on Oprah?” I’d look at their product or service and say, “Have you watched her show lately?” Just because she’s down the street does not mean she’s going to take my call on a product that doesn’t fit her show.

  • “Go viral” is the new “Get me on Oprah.”

    • ginidietrich

      @BobReed RIGHT?!? I almost wrote that in the blog post. Great minds…

    • @BobReed Oooooooo, spin off post please?

      • @Tinu Good idea! I’ll add it to my editorial schedule!

  • This is what I desperately needed this morning. Funny thing is the dudes kicking each other in the nuts was something I labeled stupid people tricks when looking at what worked on YouTube a whiles back, which was by far my most fun month of work/research…

    • ginidietrich

      @jeffespo And, unfortunately, that’s mostly what works.

  • minutrition

    @ginidietrich RT @MarketingProfs: Hear @tomfishburne at our Content Marketing virtual event [it’s free!]: #in

  • When I want something to go viral I just sneeze on an airplane or add something to the drinking water and then I blame it on the aliens. Sorry Howie.

    Hard work, patience, and perseverance trump all.

    Those words need to be pasted, posted and remembered. Far too many people think that there are shortcuts, especially online.

    • ginidietrich

      @TheJackB Did you ever announce the secret message to be found in your status update?

      • @ginidietrich I sure did. I blogged all about it. Ah, now I see that you don’t read my blog. Excuse me while I go hide under my desk, well I would except there are three dogs trying to sleep there.

        Damn, I hate when that happens. Next life I am coming back as a dog.

        • ginidietrich

          @TheJackB Ah. I haven’t been over there yet.

          You have three dogs?! JB would be so jealous.

        • @ginidietrich Technically only one is mine. I have been dog sitting two for the past 6 months or so. If JB barked at the others as much as these guys bark you might go stir crazy.:)

  • ryancox

    I’m great at math, and Uzi forgot to carry the 2. #goviral

    • ginidietrich

      @ryancox Ha!

  • SamiAri

    @jackielamp I hear viral and I think of people dying of an epidemic. Couldn’t they come up with a more glamorous word?? @ginidietrich

    • jackielamp

      @SamiAri HAHA! You would say that! When I hear viral I think…DO SOMETHING INTERESTING

    • ginidietrich

      @SamiAri @jackielamp LOL! When I was doing my research, I found TONS of stuff on HIV. So you’re right, Sami

  • Christ, I hate math. The best day of my life was the day I called my mom and told her I hired a CPA. I always told her I’d hire someone to do my math for me.

    • ginidietrich

      @RedheadWriting That was the best day of your life?! We need to get you out more!

      • @ginidietrich no *insert expletive* kidding, Gini 🙂

        • ryancox

          @RedheadWriting @ginidietrich I agree with Gini. In my best #RedheadVoice “I need to replace the best day of my life, CPAs should NOT be involved.” =)

    • @RedheadWriting I thought that said “I hate meth”. And I was all like, I should hope so! But how would you know that you hate it? And that’s how my mind works.

    • @RedheadWriting no doubt, that formula gave me flashback nightmares!!!!

  • ginidietrich

    @karlsprague And some hard work

    • karlsprague

      @ginidietrich Amen!

  • ginidietrich

    @Smarter_Email You chose the nicer of the examples to highlight 🙂

    • Smarter_Email

      @ginidietrich let’s call it a strong bias against the other example.

      • ginidietrich

        @Smarter_Email Ha!

  • ginidietrich

    @BoydNeil THanks!

  • ginidietrich

    @Shoutlet Or science!

  • ginidietrich

    @Synthesio Thanks!

  • ginidietrich

    @jackielamp And you know you’ll be asked again

    • jackielamp

      @ginidietrich Oh for sure! We just had a request for that earlier this week. We all had our internal jokes too

  • I love the picture. And I love the fact that you immediately made it clear that you can’t make content go viral. Unless that content is the flu. Math can tell you how something happened – even the Google algorithm is literally an equation. That doesn’t mean that math can MAKE something happen. I can say one plus one is two all day, but if I have an apple and you have an apple, I don’t have two apples until you give me yours. Consistent action is how you get viral, you just have to accept that how can’t be controlled.

    • ginidietrich

      @Tinu “I can say one plus one is two all day, but if I have an apple and you have an apple, I don’t have two apples until you give me yours.”

      I love you.

      • @ginidietrich Love you right back. Can’t wait to buy you a drink. 🙂

        • ginidietrich

          @Tinu Ohhhh! I can’t wait for that, either!

      • @ginidietrich @Tinu And she wouldn’t give you her apple but I bet you would try and steal it!!

        • ginidietrich

          @rachaelseda@Tinu OMG! Am I that predictable?!? I ALMOST commented, “Yes, but I would never give you my apple so then you’d still only have one.”

  • ginidietrich

    @paultrout LOL

  • ginidietrich

    @michaelsantoro And, as you well know, being in Chicago that’s the request we heard quite often

    • michaelsantoro

      @ginidietrich I heard it very often and we work almost exclusively in B2B tech. Try getting accounting software on Oprah. Fun stuff!

      • ginidietrich

        @michaelsantoro LOL!! Yeah…Oprah loved that kind of stuff. Not.

  • bobledrew

    You’ll be hearing from Mike Judge’s lawyers shortly:

    • ginidietrich

      @bobledrew See! That’s funny!

      • @ginidietrich@bobledrew I can’t believe I’m saying this, but that is funny.

  • I just opened this for the second time today, and for the second time, that photo made me laugh out loud.

    • ginidietrich

      @Lisa Gerber I was so happy to hear your reaction this morning.

      • @ginidietrich @Lisa Gerber Me too!! If I didn’t already read the blog religiously, I would’ve read it just because of that photo!

  • This post hurts – OUCH!

    • ginidietrich

      @Mark_Harai LOL!!

      • @ginidietrich@Mark_Harai You think that hurts? DId you see the video Bob Lewdrew posted down below? that even hurt ME. ouchie.

        • @Lisa Gerber @ginidietrich Actually the pic initiated the memory of that uncomfortable sensation… The video prompted my comment : )

  • ginidietrich

    @razoo Great minds…

    • razoo

      @ginidietrich For real!

  • Concerned about all the women who’v commented that they think the photo is funny. Curious how you got ken mueller to come to Chicago to be in the picture!

    • ginidietrich

      @KensViewsken mueller It’s not just the women who think it’s funny. Look what @bobledrew posted!

      And we got @KenMueller because we promised him bacon.

      • @ginidietrich ken mueller@bobledrew speaking of bacon, here’s what @KenMueller and I are getting you for your birthday!

        • ginidietrich

          @KensViews That is disgusting @KenMueller

        • @ginidietrich @KenMueller My work here is done.

        • @KensViews @ginidietrich THAT is a thing of beauty

        • ginidietrich

          @KenMueller @KensViews Not true. Even for a bacon lover it’s disgusting.

        • @ginidietrich , when @KenMueller said “THAT is a thing of beauty” he was referring to me! And if you say I’m disgusting, you risk your Friday treat 🙂

        • ginidietrich

          @KensViews @KenMueller He was referring to that disgusting cup o’ bacon. We all know YOU are not a thing of beauty.

        • Does anyone who reads @SpinSucks have a birthday this Friday? Because we now have a vacancy in our Happy Birthdaze Status Updates! @ginidietrich @KenMueller

        • ginidietrich

          @KensViews You don’t scare me!

        • @ginidietrich @KensViews @KenMueller OMG, as an avid support of the “Occupy Bacon” movement, which is basically a bunch of people eating brunch on Kevin Bacon’s lawn, I have to say, that I too, found it a bit off putting.

        • @ExtremelyAvg @ginidietrich@KenMueller If “Occupy Bacon” has the $, we can arrange to have @ginidietrich pop out of the cheese sauce in the center of the bacon!. Now THAT is a video that would go viral!

        • @KensViews @ginidietrich @KenMueller Bacon + Cheese + Gini = Viral <That is Nobel worthy formula, to be sure.

  • ginidietrich

    @susanavello Thanks!

    • SarahRobinson

      @ginidietrich have you seen @lesmckeown? He hasn’t pulled my ponytail in days.

    • susanavello

      @ginidietrich always my pleasure!

  • JulioRVarela

    You can’t force it. And anyone who thinks there is a formula to it is missing the point. Bingo on the posting great content consistently that speaks to your audience. Going viral is like playing blackjack in the casino. You sit there for hours on the table, and then you get a lucky run. It is funny to see how people are “trying” to go viral but 1. Taking content that has already gone viral and stealing credit from the source and 2. Trying REALLY REALLY hard to be funny. Most of the best viral moments are authentic, simple, and real. You have 1 second to gain a reaction and have someone share the content. Use it wisely and buy some a rabbit’s foot too.

    • ginidietrich

      @JulioRVarela REALLY good analogy about playing blackjack. When I use that, I’ll credit you. 🙂

  • Completely agree! The term “going viral” seems to have lost all meaning these days. Everyone wants a piece of “going viral” but they try WAY too hard in order to achieve it. When, instead, they could just create awesome, valuable content! 🙂 I’ve actually stopped working with clients who have the expectation of going viral; because it usually leads to a lot more impatience down the road.

    • ginidietrich

      @MorganBarnhart Yeah…the whole unrealistic expectations thing doesn’t make it easy to be successful. We once had a client hire us right after Thanksgiving and expected to be on the front page of the New York Times by Christmas. As we resigned the business, I said to the owner, “Please don’t do anything silly like burn down the White House in order to get on the front page by Christmas.” He was not amused.

  • AbbieF

    Darn it — no wonder I can never find the “go viral” button on a post. Shoot!

    • ginidietrich

      @AbbieF I’ll make a go viral button for your blog. Don’t you worry!

  • A mathematical formula may help you understand HOW viral a piece of content was, but it will never, ever help you understand WHY that content went viral. Ever.

    • ginidietrich

      @Sean McGinnis So you agree with me?

      • @ginidietrich There’s a first time for everything…

        • ginidietrich

          @Sean McGinnis This so is not the first time we’ve agreed.

        • @ginidietrich Shhhhh. Don’t tell everyone that! We have reputations to uphold!

        • ginidietrich

          @Sean McGinnis Oh. Right!

  • This was a great post. I do like an impressive equation.

    I became part of something viral on Super Bowl Sunday. A twitter friend, who does not like sport, had just bought my new book, “Two Decades and Counting: The Wins, The Streak, The Hawkeyes Thru the Eyes of Roy Marble”, and while we were tweeting back and forth, I noticed he had slipped in a mention of a game called “Minecraft”.

    I asked him about it and he said it was a low-tech game, built by one guy, that had gone viral. I could do a search on YouTube and see it, if I wanted. I did want! The first video I found was part of a series, 1 of 81 videos. Wow, I thought. It must be some game to have someone make 81 episodes about it. Then I saw the number of people who had viewed episode 1, it was approaching 6 million.

    Now, keep in mind, these guys who did the video didn’t create the game, they were just playing it in Alpha. The creator was a guy in Sweden. This was at 10:30 am Sunday morning. I watched the first video. The graphics on the game are on the cutting edge of technology…for 1982. The two guys playing the game, who were British (everything is better with a British Accent), were very entertaining. After the 10 minute video, I decided to watch the next one.

    I watched close to Eleven hours of someone else playing a video game on Super Bowl Sunday. I missed the commercials, 98% of the game, and was very much entertained. All the videos had over 2 million views and each one ran an ad.

    I have no idea how much money one makes from that sort of ad penetration, but with 81 videos (I’m only half way through) it is sizable. Good for the guys from the UK.

    The story doesn’t end there. I decided to purchase the game from an equally unimpressive web-site. It has a tracker which shows that I was NOT one of the first 4 million people to buy it. The cost, $27.00. Yes, one guy wrote an addictive game, and unless I’m missing something, has already yielded over 100 million in sales.

    Now, I’ve told all of you.

    I’m curious, have you heard of the game “Minecraft” before, today?

    Or the “Yogcast” videos?

    I’m guessing no, but I would like people to answer regardless. I may not respond very quickly, though. I am probably going to play the game until I pass out from exhaustion. It is fun.

    • Oh yes, I slipped in a plug for my book. Who knows, maybe it will go viral?

      • ginidietrich

        @ExtremelyAvg For sure mentioning your book here will make it go viral. We have the “go viral” button.

        I’m kind of astounded you would spend that much time watching videos of guys playing a video game. Does it tell you how to get to the next level or something?

        • @ginidietrich To be honest, they are only playing the alpha and beta versions. The levels hadn’t really been figured out. The draw was how funny the two guys were. Their interactions and humor kept me from leaving. It wasn’t as much about the game, though the game is fun, as it was about their personalities. Also, I was curious about, “What they would do next?”

          I love that we live in an age where entertainment can come from anywhere. I found the series as enjoyable as anything produced in Hollywood.

        • ginidietrich

          @ExtremelyAvg That’s so funny! What a great lesson.

  • ginidietrich

    @martinwaxman It’s the magic bullet you’re always searching for

    • aakomas

      @ginidietrich Hello Gini!

    • martinwaxman

      @ginidietrich yes. Though not to be confused with the Magic Bullet ™

      • ginidietrich

        @martinwaxman Right!

  • ginidietrich

    @aakomas LOL

    • aakomas

      @ginidietrich Hehe! Where did the snow go?

      • ginidietrich

        @aakomas Stupid Mother Nature

        • aakomas

          @ginidietrich Ohhhh, you’re going to piss her off! Maybe it’d bring the snow 🙂

        • ginidietrich

          @aakomas I wish it would!

        • aakomas

          @ginidietrich Me 2! So cold & no white stuff to justify it. Not good mother nature, not good.

    • aakomas

      @ginidietrich Ok, that’s a viral “not viral” post, or it should be 🙂

  • ginidietrich

    @beckyewert Right?! It still is, though. Lots.

  • Haven’t read through the comments yet but SIGH. I can’t believe people still ask that question. People are idiots. /rant

    • ginidietrich

      @maddiegrant Oh. ALL THE TIME. It’s gotten to the point, when asked, we have to try REALLY hard not to giggle.

  • ElissaFreeman

    Personally? I prefer the ‘cute puppies’ to an equation any day! Sure you can try and process your way to a successful SM execution, but some things are just organic. But explain ‘organic’ to a client or a CEO who was raised in the CPG sector? Oy.

    • ginidietrich

      @ElissaFreeman Heck, not just CPGers. Pretty much any CEO who has watched the success of a competitive company.

  • bouchane

    When is something viral? Recently someone insisted to me that a video online had gone viral. It had 1,500 hits and had gone our to a list of people who were likely to at least have a look. Is there a numerical benchmark for truly viral?

    • ginidietrich

      @bouchane I hate to say this, but I think it depends. If you’re in a highly niched industry, 1,500 views might very well be viral. But if you’re a consumer business, that’s kid’s play.

  • It seems like with people that forget that patience and working hard really does pay off that coming up with a formula won’t really matter. If your looking for content to be shared across the world wide web then be consistent with your message and try and voice your opinion on multiple communication channels.

    • ginidietrich

      @Justicewordlaw Exactly! A great case for that is Old Spice. You think they didn’t spend millions of dollars and years to get that campaign?

      • @ginidietrich Yeah the old spice campaign makes me upset every time I stop by their Twitter page.

  • ginidietrich

    @corianda LOL! I had to use that photo!

  • ginidietrich

    @elissapr Totally not serious!

  • ginidietrich

    @CristinaMariani No, no secret at all. I’m a smart @ss

  • If you like my two cents Gini things go viral when they create an emotion, either positive or negative. Things who make you cry, things who make you laugh, or angry and so on. I still remember that wonderful video about the lion who recognized his human friends after a year in the jungle. 🙂

    • @Andrea Hypno I love the lion hugging video!!!

    • @Andrea Hypno Really? And I thought Steven Tyler’s sweet background serenade was what made me choke up… I stand corrected. 😉

    • ginidietrich

      @Andrea Hypno I have no idea what to say now that @ExtremelyAvg and @jacque_PR have jumped in.

      • @ginidietrich @ExtremelyAvg @jacque_PR

        Thanks for your replies, and actually Steven Tyler’s song added magic to something that was magic in itself. And added emotion to emotion. Well there are many other examples but for me the lion hugging is magical. Sorry for the repetitions. 🙂

  • John_Trader1

    @joeldon I’d have to say that @ginidietrich was pretty spot on (and a little fired up) on this post.

    • ginidietrich

      @John_Trader1 Fired up is good sometimes!

      • John_Trader1

        @ginidietrich You get fired up with the best of them. That was, by far, my favorite post of yours in 2012.

        • ginidietrich

          @John_Trader1 It was?! Wow. Think I can beat it tomorrow?

        • John_Trader1

          @ginidietrich As long as the post isn’t about how cute koala bears are (including video), it’s beatable. Love it when you raise the bar.

        • ginidietrich

          @John_Trader1 I have to think about this

  • SpinSucks

    @frank_strong But maybe you can make viralicious-ness?

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  • ginidietrich

    @CharlieCurve LOL

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