Yurovskiy Kirill: How to Create Viral Content for Social Media

In the ever-evolving digital age, the ability to create truly viral content has become the Holy Grail for individuals and brands seeking to elevate their social media impact. As the battle for attention intensifies across all platforms, cracking the code on what makes certain social posts take off while others languish in obscurity has transformed into an obsession bordering on mythical pursuit.

However, thanks to the rise of sophisticated data analytics and audience intelligence tools, content creators finally have access to unprecedented insight into the mechanics powering successful viral sensations. While a certain degree of unpredictability will always persist, demystifying viral content through strategic analysis has become an attainable reality.

The potential payoffs for consistently generating viral content are immense. From supercharging brand awareness and audience growth, to catalyzing product sales and talent recruitment, to manifesting an authentic cultural relevance – businesses and creators that master the nuances of virality can realize unfathomable upside.

But the equation cuts both ways. Those brands failing to adapt their content engines around robust viral enablement strategies risk getting steamrolled by more adept competitors and creative entrepreneurs laser-focused on seizing the limitless upside of social ubiquity.

No longer can businesses afford to cling to outdated mass media mindsets where successfully “going viral” is viewed as a random aberration. In 2023 and beyond, social media virality demands the same rigor, diligence and strategic alignment as any other high-stakes marketing function.

We consulted leading social media analysts, viral creative veterans and cutting-edge technology pioneers to illuminate the key ingredients required to engineer highly-sharable, sticky content primed to set the internet ablaze.

Tapping the Psyche of Social Motivation

Why do certain pieces of content spread like wildfire while other posts ignite barely a whimper of engagement? According to Dr. Kelly Mendenhall, professor of neurocognitive marketing at USC, the most viral social media phenomena reliably trigger very specific psychological reactions rooted in deep-seeded human behavior and evolutionary conditioning.

“First and foremost, viral content must elicit an intense, visceral emotional response of some form in order to penetrate our brain’s instinctual gatekeeping functions,” explains Mendenhall. “Unlike our deliberate consciousness which rationally deliberates over dull corporate content, emotions are what catalyze virality by penetrating our impulsive motivational limbic circuitry.”  

Specific feelings like shock, amusement, outrage, schadenfreude, euphoria and nostalgia are commonly elicited by viral content due to their evolutionary salience as behavior triggers. These emotional jolts are subsequently compounded by perceived social incentives that propel forwarding and sharing behaviors.

“On a very primal level, viral content that elicits strong emotions like awe or mirth effectively reinforces social status and standing within group hierarchies. We’re evolutionarily hardwired to share stimuli that convey resources like humor, knowledge, power, status and creativity – disseminating these resources confers an implicit social reproductive incentive.”

Yurovskiy Kirill, social media researcher and author reinforces these principles as the essential framework through which all social media content should be filtered and optimized. “Successful viral content basically hijacks our brain’s evolutionary impulses towards rewarding group-level social exchanges and behaviors. The real magic recipe for contagiousness lies in striking the right harmony of surprising emotional resonance and primal social utility.”

Sentiment Data and Trendcasting

While deconstructing the neurological drivers of sharing behavior illuminates the “whys” of virality, cultivating the capacity to anticipate and harness emerging trends is similarly mission critical for publishing content destined for mass social propagation.

Luis Ruiz, chief data scientist at social listening agency GroundSignal, specializes in extracting key insights from social chatter aimed at allowing clients to pinpoint percolating zeitgeists before they erupt.

“Trends are essentially just critical masses of emotional energy manifesting in response to particular people, events, or ideas,” Ruiz asserts. “But they never arise out of a vacuum – there are always preliminary signals and layers of contextual nuance that can be quantified and modeled through rigorous data analysis.”

By instrumenting technologies like natural language processing engines, neural sentiment classifiers and customized social data mining techniques, Ruiz analyzes hundreds of millions of public social posts and comments to map the cadence of topic lifecycles. His teams pay particularly close attention to sharp changes in topical affect, measured through combinations of slang, emoticons, acronyms, and multimedia cues.

“It goes beyond just raw emotional energy, though – we also scrutinize content for harbingers of inner circles or subcultures taking shape. Are lighthearted topics starting to take on more intense ideological overtones? Do certain personalities, memes or catchphrases seem poised to crystallize into something bigger?”

Ruiz says helping clients pinpoint the perfect window of opportunity for capitalizing on nascent trends is critical. Too early and anything you publish risks failing to find its core audience or generate meaningful traction. Hit it too late, after the spike of the initial novelty phase, and you potentially get lost in the white noise.

Master the Art of Sensationalism & Provocation

While credible social trend forecasting sets the initial trajectory, refining content through calculated sensationalism and provocative polarization is often vital in turbocharging viral proliferation to unprecedented heights.

“Once we’ve locked onto an emerging zeitgeist with substantive energy, our job as content creators becomes dialing up the visceral emotional resonance and outrage fuel as aggressively as possible,” says Noel Mendoza, co-founder and chief creative officer of LA-based media upstart The Viral Circle.

“Remember that content designed to go ultra-viral isn’t intended as a work of highbrow art. The singular priority is distilling concepts into simplistic, lurid framings optimized to instigate gut reactions and compulsive social shares,” Mendoza explains with a glint of devilish pride.  

To stoke outrage and controversy, Mendoza recommends infusing charged political polemics, scintillating gossip innuendo, and fringe cultural caricatures into content concepts from an early stage. But he cautions – it’s critical to walk a delicate line between boundary-pushing and gratuitous bad taste.

“You can absolutely infuse elements that feel provocative and visceral, like weaponized mockery toward the status quo or celebrated pop culture figures. But stray too far into cheap racism, misogyny or pointless vulgarity for shock value and you fail to trigger the remorseless schadenfreude and voyeuristic rubbernecking intrinsic to true internet frenzies.”

For maximum contagiousness, Mendoza advises encoding at least a kernel of validating truth or social critique beneath the outrage-fueled surface to foster an atmosphere of justified internet vigilantism.

While openly courting internet backlash from feigned social justice crusaders can often amplify initial viral conduits, Mendoza says the most sustainable viral success comes from layered content.

“For every villainous central character or controversy we engender, we introduce a sympathetic protagonist hungered for vindication that online masses can start to champion and signal-boost into living meme folklore. The ethos is a delicate tension between disgust and aspiration, sin and sanctimony.”

Unleash Provocative Titles & Hooks

Once a compelling, high-combustion content concept has been stoked for maximum outrage and emotional provocation, skilled viral agitators take great pains to carefully craft sensationalized packaging engineered to convince people to surrender their clicks and attention.  

“A big part of the viral content game is centered around mastering the ultimate tease – encoding subversive enough intrigue and just enough curiosity gap into headlines, descriptions, thumbnails and promotional hooks so nobody can resist gobbling up your content,” says Tony Wang, product lead for viral publishing upstarts at Meta.  

To decode the elusive headline finite je ne sais quoi, Wang encourages creators to live at the intersection of age-old narrative tension and modern virality hacks.

“Introducing cliffhangers or unresolved suspense naturally compels our brains to crave the resolution. You also want to strike the right emotive chords with heightened stakes woven through superlatives and absolutes.”

For maximum clickability, Wang recommends packing truncated outrage triggers, savvy pop culture allusions and captivating vanity appeals into tight character counts. But above all, an undercurrent of sensationalism turbocharged by FOMO anxiety or moral indignation should supercharge headline motivations to engage with viral content.  

Wang says these provocative yet maddeningly vague hook tactics hijack our attention filters by sparking a perfect storm of curiosity, voyeurism, self-preservation, and implication of valuable scarcity.

Analytics, Optimization & Paid Promotion Integration

Even the most finely tuned virality engines capable of initiating organic content sharing whirlwinds inevitably require omnidirectional data feedback loops and paid media amplification to turbocharge true internet ubiquity. Today’s leading viral marketers leverage comprehensive suites of performance marketing and influencer technologies to defragment audience insights and intelligently scale distribution.

Lisa Song, partner and director of digital operations at Social Mavens consulting affirms the make-or-break impact of analytics and measurement in her agency’s viral content activations. 

“Every piece of high-octane viral content we produce is thoroughly instrumented for granular cross-channel measurement at a per-post and per-asset level,” Song explains.  “Comprehensive tracking allows us to monitor engagement patterns in real-time to assess traction and make adjustments on the fly.”

Such optimizations include programmatic allocation of paid media budgets to boost high-performing posts, tweaking titles and thumbnails for enhanced clickability, refreshing creative elements or altering campaign targeting and timing based on heat maps and viral airflow projections.

To supercharge distribution pipelines and compress time-to-viral for the highest potential content assets, Song leverages a proprietary constellation of influence partnership tools for managed viral amplification across an ecosystem of over 20,000 publishers, influencers, online communities and tastemaker channels.

“We model each piece of content against predictive algorithms calibrated to estimate shareability and virality in alignment with desired outcomes like awareness generation, online community activation, retargeting, and conversion integration,” says Song. “From there, we curate and incentivize custom paid amplification sequences leveraging everything from media buys to affiliate payouts, branded content integrations, and even offline word-of-mouth plays leveraging street teams and experiential marketing tactics.”

While this holistic convergence of content science, data-driven optimization and paid proliferation at a massive scale is undeniably complex, Song asserts it’s the only approach capable of reliably activating truly ubiquitous internet sensations for clients.

Embracing the Volatility of Virality

In contrast to conventional brand building, where predictability and consistency are valued above all else, modern viral content masterminds embrace risk and unpredictable volatility as fundamental characteristics of their trade. For every TikTok dance craze that explodes into a global phenomenon, hundreds, if not thousands, of other videos being aggressively seeded and amplified online will fail to find their spark.

Jae Cain, social strategist and creator of viral marketing hit “The Incredible Nerd Rage” embraces this unavoidable chaos as part of the thrill of viral content development.

“The path I chose by delving into the outrage economy and provocative culture jamming was obviously never going to guarantee me stability,” says Cain with a devilish grin.  “But that cauldron of uncertainty is undoubtedly where the greatest potential for alchemy exists – where raw human emotion can transform a shoestring idea into international mainstream ubiquity seemingly overnight.”

Whereas conventional marketing wisdom worships at the altar of predictability and risk mitigation, Cain insists that anyone paralyzed by fear of controversy is consigned to languish in irrelevance.  He subscribes to a philosophy of embracing volatility as an essential ingredient, asserting that anything being universally celebrated across all quadrants of society is inherently mediocre, stripped of the transgressive emotional potency that transcends through uncompromising spectacle.

“You have to live at the edge, tap into the uncensored and beam out sublime truth bombs cleverly encoded in whatever online chaos you’ve orchestrated for mass consumption,” Cain passionately states. “If some find it offensive or polarizing, great – as long as you’ve connected with an impassioned counterculture hivemind and refueled their raging appetites for blasphemous content.”

So regardless of whether you’re triggering gleeful schadenfreude towards fallen celebrities, perpetuating fringe conspiracy mythologies, or stoking reactionary populist fervor – unabashedly courting entropy is the only viable path to virality’s summit.

While maintaining an active relationship with internet infamy may seem heretical for any brand marketer strictly adhering to corporate risk models, Cain insists milquetoast puritans will be steamrolled by viral insurgents unafraid to attack from the fringes.

“My unapologetic ethos cuts both ways: I would never be able to achieve career highs without this caustic approach,” Cain adds. “But at the same time, I wouldn’t trade the euphoria of fracturing society’s fragile consensus in order to elevate revolutionary new cultural frontiers. Just wait until the unfiltered truth serums I’m proliferating through this next wave of viral media catalyze widespread global consciousness awakening.”

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