What Makes a Story Go Viral


Image: io9.com

Every PR communicator dreams of their story becoming the next big social media sensation; the story that rocks Facebook and Twitter and provides legitimate brand lift. The odds against creating such a successful campaign are astronomical, but that does not necessarily mean that creating a viral story that spans all of social media is a random phenomenon.

Annalee Newitz, editor-in-chief of io9.com, has made very some interesting observations on the nature of viral journalism.

PR pros, who are grappling with how to create more shareable content, need to take note.

According to Newitz, there is a “valley of ambiguity” in which many stories fall, garnering scant interest in social media. These stories may be thoughtful and well written, but they don’t grab widespread attention. These are the hard scientific reports, data-driven pieces, long form opinion essays and complex political stories. These items are not widely shared because they are intricate and can be misunderstood. And who wants to share a story that might make them look like a fool or offend friends and colleagues?

Communicators want to place their story not in the valley, but on the peaks on either side. This is where viral stories reside. On one side are the memes, those simple bits of information that are positive or make us laugh. On the other side are the investigative, truth-telling pieces that provide hard evidence. These are stories that are informative, but they don’t call for critical thinking and they are not open to opinion or interpretation.

So, if you really want your story to go viral:

  • Keep it simple
  • Be straightforward
  • Appeal to people’s sense of humor
  • Give them straight facts

It won’t guarantee the next social media hit, but it will certainly increase the number of eyeballs that see your message.

Follow Richard Brownell: @RickBrownell

Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off


About Richard Brownell

Richard Brownell is Group Content Manager at PR News. He has several years' experience in developing and producing online events. Richard is a published author with several titles for young audiences to his credit. He has also written political commentary for several popular websites and his stage plays have been produced in New York and other major cities.

Deals of the Week

Get $150 Off PR News' Measurement Conference 

Media Relations ConferenceJoin PR News at the National Press Club on Dec. 11 for the Media Relations Conference, where you'll learn how to tie your media relations initiatives to business goals, use the right metrics to prove the success of your efforts, incorporate social media in a brand crisis and more.

Use code “150” at checkout to save $150 on the regular rate.

Get $50 off PR News' Crisis Management Guidebook


Crisis management is an art, not a science. In this edition of PR News’ Book of Crisis Management Strategies & Tactics, you will discover many different views on this art, and you are certain to find takeaways that will transform the way your organization handles crises. 

Use code “50off” at checkout.

Save $100 on a PR News Subscription



Let PR News become your weekly, go-to resource for the latest PR trends, case studies and tip sheets. Topics covered include visual storytelling, social media, measurement, crisis management and media relations.

Use code “SUBDEAL” at checkout.

Comments are closed.