3 brainstorming tactics for viral content inspiration


Eyeballs are the most valuable commodity on the Internet. The only reason you can get free apps is because people are willing to give you the app in exchange for access to your eyeballs.

Everyone is looking to get their social media posts and advertisements in front of as many eyeballs as possible. There’s only one thing that modifies this: When you’re in business, you want to get your content in front of as many of the right sets of eyeballs as possible.

The dream is to create viral content – stick with me, I’m going to tweak that statement in a minute – and that is a hard dream to realize. Whenever I see a post that purports to tell you the secret to creating viral content, I skip it because there is no secret method that will allow you to automatically create viral content.

I tried to avoid that in the title I gave this article. I want to show you a few ways to brainstorm for inspiration. I also want to point you in the right general direction – or at least away from some dead ends – regarding the type of content you need to create if you have your sights set on creating some viral content…and let’s start there.

What gets shared

Steve Rayson has written a lot about viral content over on Buzzsumo. One of his articles on “Lessons from the most shared content” is loaded with data-driven insights. For our purposes I want to pull out three important facts. Most of the “most-shared” content is:

  • Emotional,
  • Visual, and
  • On topics of general interest: trending, health/fitness, cats/dogs, babies, longevity, and love.

For content marketers who aspire to creating viral posts, this is generally bad news. A guy with a house cleaning service in Duluth is going to have a hard time hitting all of those targets.

But all is not lost (and here’s the tweak I mentioned above): While you may not create truly viral content, the brainstorming tactics I’ll suggest for viral content inspiration will give you the power to make your content more shareable. In other words, you may not get a million hits, but maybe you can go from 10 shares to 75 shares on a given piece of content.

A boost like that is no small thing, so let’s get down to the brainstorming tactics.

Brainstorming tactic #1: Stay on top of trending topics

Check Twitter each day to find trending topics. I’m writing this on a Wednesday and I see that #WednesdayWisdom is a trending Twitter hashtag. It may be too late to pull together something great for today, but there are plenty of Wednesdays coming up! I also see that there’s a new movie that’s trending. For example, an Entrepreneur article I wrote, What Small Business Can Learn from the Force of the Star Wars Marketing Blitz, received a good number of shares.

Brainstorming tactic #2: Uncover viral content in your niche

Don’t always be trying to reinvent the wheel. A wise king once said that “There is nothing new under the sun,” and he wrote that some 3,000 years ago. Virtually everything we create is at best a variation on something that has come before. The secret is to put enough of your own “secret sauce” on it to give it a new and appealing flavor!

There are three tools I like to use to find viral content in various niches:

Each of these has unique strengths and weaknesses. With Followed, it’s highly likely that you’ll end up on a page with dozens of categories; these might help you find related categories to your own. Buzzsumo limits your searches and the number of search results returned in its free version but it allows you to search specific competitors as well as topics. Ruzzit is fantastic for visual content and letting you focus on single content types.

Brainstorming tactic #3: Discover how to communicate in different formats

I don’t have anything against long blog posts (this one may hit nearly 1,000 words before I’m done), but it’s a fact that content that has a visual appeal outperforms long screeds (unless you’re the New York Times).

When you have the kernel of an idea you think would appeal to your audience and prospects, find ways to express it in a strikingly visual way. Warning, don’t jump to the conclusion that all your content marketing must include cats clinging to ceiling fans. A famous quote or your own insightful pearl of wisdom properly formatted will often do the trick.

Not long ago I worked on a project with a company that was pulling together short pieces of small business advice from various experts. They were almost like Tweets. The company formatted them nicely in a way that promoted their brand.

You can use visually formatted content like this to pull prospects and customers into your website. I should also mention that lists posts are in many ways visual and I believe that, in part, explains their popularity. Also, don’t be afraid to venture outside of your specific area to post visual content. Heck, if your cat did something funny and you have the video, share it! It humanizes your company and strengthens your relationship with your audience.

Make a habit of using all three of these viral content inspiration brainstorming tips on a regular basis. One week you might hit gold with a trending topic. The next you might see how you can tweak an idea that has been successful for someone else. Occasionally you may discover a graphic or photo you can add words to that will be a hit with your fans.