Virality is SUCCESS: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional StorieS
A year ago, I told my parents I wanted to create a living from writing. I told them I wasn’t making much money yet, but I was committed to working hard to improve. They didn’t give me credit, thinking it was only a silly hobby, and I wanted to prove them wrong.
However, after a couple of months, I didn’t notice that much improvement. And I started asking myself if I was taking the correct steps.
I never understood how to create viral content. It happened to me once, but I could not replicate it. So I reconsidered my entire content creation process, dissecting my writing technique.
How do I produce content?
This was the first question I asked myself.
How do I produce content?
Do I just sit and write? Or do I have a secret formula for achieving great pieces?
Content creation is easy, but doing it efficiently enough to make it viral requires skills on another level. So for my last couple of articles, I tried to refine my strategy to make its virality higher and create better content. Until one day, I found a course on Coursera explaining viral content, so I rushed it, trying to extract every drop of information I could use to improve my articles.
One of the most fascinating concepts Jonah Berger shared was the possibility to reach more people thanks to the 5 golden rules of content creation. He simply called these rules SUCCESS: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, and emotional stories. And here is what I learned.
1st — Make simple content.
The first golden rule of content creation is disappointing — to create viral content, you have to make it simple. Hence, find the core of the idea you want to share with your readers and highlight it.
There is a close connection between the virality of your content and the entry-level required to consume it. The simpler the content, the wider the public.
Your close fans will consume whatever you produce. But if you want virality, you need to lower the entry-level and simplify concepts to make them easier to absorb.
However, simplifying is sometimes trickier than expected. But thanks to analogies and real-life examples, you can explain your idea and allow people to imagine situations they can understand better.
2nd— Create a sense of the unexpected.
An expectancy is a delicate trait to create, especially on the Internet. Here, we have seen all kinds of things and madnesses. But with the correct technique, you can still surprise your reader.
One effective way of creating the unexpected is to craft patterns that you break without any evident reason. For example, you can start an article leading the reader in one direction and then completely change it at the last minute.
Create a pattern, then break it at the last minute.
However, breaking a pattern is not that easy. Some people use absurdity, but this often doesn’t work because it cannot hold the consumer’s attention. Instead, you should open a curiosity gap — a mystery people want to solve.
So throughout your content, you should spread little information to help consumers reach an answer without revealing it until the end. But make sure to use different paths every time. Otherwise, the pattern becomes familiar, and the unexpected vanishes.
3rd— Talk about concrete ideas.
Because of our evolution, we understand better things we can experience or have experienced in the past. For example, when acquiring a practical skill, our brain develops muscular memory to help us retain the information and repeat it.
On the other hand, abstract concepts are harder to acquire because there is no direct experience our body can rely on. And for this reason, you should always add concrete details to your content to make it unforgettable for the people consuming it.
Urban legends are a great example of concrete and experience-related details. Usually, those stories contain much more information than needed because the narrator wants the listener to perceive the same feelings as the character. So they use concrete words that create imagery inside the audience’s mind. They will narrate about crimson blood, for example, or putrefied smell.
4th — Make your content credible.
If you want your content to go viral, you need to make people believe you and give them reasons to listen to your point of view.
Usually, content creators use statistics to gain credibility. But people are not that good with numbers, especially when they are hard to remember. So, you may convince them at first. But once they finish consuming your content, they will forget about you.
One way of making something credible is to compare it to things people know and understand. So instead of filling your content with numbers and percentages, place those statistics in authentic contexts. For example, instead of telling people that YouTube has more than 2 billion active users, tell them it has 47% of the world’s total users. Or, even better, around two times the population of India, five times the population of the USA, and a quarter of the global population.
These are examples of testable credentials, which means data that encourages people to trust the content while also gaining interest in what you are saying.
Another way of making credible content is to convince people through direct exposure. Promise your readers an improvement and make them experience it through simple daily actions that give immediate results, and they will be all ears.
5th— Narrate emotional stories.
There are many ways you can reach more people, but if you want your work to become viral, you need to respect the fifth, most important rule of content creation: emotional stories.
Do you know why gossip is that popular? Because when consuming something, people not only want to understand what is happening but also care about it. They want to get involved, feel emotions, and cheer for someone. Sometimes, they already know who to support. Some other times they will help the weaker part of the party. But they will care.
So if you want people to remember you and talk about your content with their friends, parents, and families, you need to involve them personally with your message.
A simple technique to achieve this kind of involvement is to ask yourself why the consumer should care for at least three times. Here is an example applied to this article.
The technique of the five whys
Why should you read this article?
Because you want your content to reach more people.
Why do you want your content to reach more people?
Because you want to make more money with your content.
Why would you want to make more money with your content?
Because you are sick of working for someone else, and you wish to become independent.
And why would you like to become independent?
Because you want to show everyone that you can live from your passion.
So now, why do you want to read this article?
Because nobody gave you credit when you tried to show them how good you were, so it became an act of retaliation. And this was the emotion that caught your attention at the beginning of this article.
When I still didn’t know anything about writing, and my English was still so poor, I wrote an article that scored over 36k external views. A month after its publication, that piece started outperforming anything else I was writing.
At the moment, I didn’t know why it did so well. It was no more special than any other article (you can find it here). But then I understood — I could reach more people because of the rules of content creation. And analyzing the article, I figured why it performed so well.
First, I started with a simple idea: how to lose weight. Then, I created a sense of the unexpected by sharing with people how much weight I could lose in only 2 months.
I built credibility and concreteness by sharing everything I did to reach that goal. And finally, I narrated the struggle I endured to lose that much weight. I wrote about a challenge everybody fought at least once, and I was rewarded with virality.
So if you want to reach more people, adopt these 5 golden rules, and see how it goes.
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Cover photo by Quan Nguyen on Unsplash.