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How to go viral. Insights from the most shared content of 2015

Viral posts are exceptional. Once having a viral post, companies tried to do it again, but most frequently failed. Why are viral posts so special? Steve Rayson, non-executive Director of BuzzSumo, analyzed the most shared posts of 2015 and made his tips on how to make our content more viral.

If to look at the most viral content, we can see different categories of posts. Let’s analyze them.

  1. Surprising content

This kind of content is different from what people are expecting. Here go research data, facts & images that are different from what you expected. There was a post stating that ‘drinking 3 glasses of champagne can prevent from Alzheimer’s disease’ and it got almost 1 million shares.


  1. Leverage a trend

These are the posts around trending content. In 2015 we had quite a popular TV program about Zombies. Later on Fox News had a post about Zombie-Themed Cruise. The article itself was not so special, it did not have a great catchy title, but just because it was around the Zombie theme, 400 000 people visited it and it got 1,5 million shares, which is really huge. It was just thanks to the trend of Zombies.


  1. Inspiring content

There was a post ’51 of the most beautiful sentences in literature’, which basically got the great quotations. It was quite a simple list post, but really inspiring. It was one of the top 5 most shared posts in 2015 and it got 1.4 million shares.


  1. Picture list posts

People like sharing images and even more groups of images. The post: ‘52 places to go in 2015’ with 52 pictures all around the world. It was a top post on New York Times and got 0,5 million shares. It combines several viral factors like pictures, list-post and curation?


And the pictures don’t have to be beautiful. The post from Guardian on dangers of overconsumption showing some stunning images from Mexico was second most shared their post.


  1. Cute animals and babies

People just like them. There is an army of people crazy about their pets – cats and dogs. The post of the site offering stuffed clones of your pet got 683000 shares. Also, the most popular posts on Halloween were posts with pets dressed up in Halloween costumes.


  1. Amusing content

People like to be amused and to entertain their colleagues. There was a research of New York Times on why people share content and one of the main reasons was ‘to entertain my friends’. This was a very amusing post stating that people actually do not believe facts anymore. It was the most shared post of the year for New York Times. Amusing videos also do very well.


  1. Controversial posts

Controversy seems to sells very good. It is getting attention and shares. It is divisive and dangerous at times, but people tend to jump into the controversy. The classic example here is Donald Trump with his controversial posts, which are very popular and driving engagement with his audience.


  1. Quizes

People like quizzes. They are designed to be viral. There are mostly 2 different types of quizzes: self exploring quizzes like ‘what does it tell you about yourself?’ and knowledge quizzes like ‘how much do you know about something?’. The quiz of playbuzz got 3,9 million shares, so they are really popular and quite easy to produce. Quizzes are great for building awareness, but they don’t build links. I know examples when quiz got quarter of million shares, but not a single link. Interactive quizzes are also very popular.


  1. Warnings

People like to share warnings to warn their friends. Posts with warnings are always very well shared.


  1. Provide the secrets of success

People are always looking for the secrets of success. I also think that the word ‘success’ in a headline helps a lot. This particular post from Linkedin, where usually posts are not getting many shares, got 127 000 shares.


  1. Health, diet & fitness tips

People seem to like to share this stuff. Nice images always help. Buzzfeed made nice fitness post with a group of big images to pin easy on Pinterest and they were pined about 5 million times.


  1. Secrets of love and dating

Second most shared post of New York Times is about falling in love. This was a post saying you can really fall in love with anyone if you ask someone 36 questions and it got 885 000 shares.


  1. Secrets of long life

We are all anxious, as we all going to die. We all want to live longer. The post about 109 years old woman saying that, the secret of a long life is avoiding men got 1, 9 million shares.


  1. Hart warming story

People like to share these stories. A story of a couple being married for 82 years got 580 000 shares.


What can we learn?

Viral posts are outliers. The secret is not just the content itself, but in its ignition and amplification. Usually the most sharable posts combine several elements of popular content.


Key elements of the most shareable content:

  • Emotional element

(amusing, surprising, heart warming, beautiful, inspiring, warning, shocking)

  • Content element

(images, facts, charts, quotes, video, interaction)

  • Topic element

(trending topic, health & fitness, cats& dogs, babies, long life, love)

  • Format element

(list post, quiz, story, curation, research insights, practical tips)

If you use some of the elements above in your content, you have a better chance to make it sharable.

Content Creation Questions

When writing a post. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the content have an emotional element?
  • Does it include shareable content types such as facts, images and quotes?
  • Does the topic resonate with your audience? Is it trending?
  • Is the format working well with your audience, such as practical tips or quiz?




Great headlines really matters. Here you also can use the rule of sharable elements.

  • Emotional words e.g. Surprising
  • Topic e.g. Zombies
  • Type e.g. Facts
  • Format e.g. List post

Irina Titova